TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Singapore-based Roadhop, a social media-assisted travel search engine for non-air transportation.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Roadhop has two founders, Kel and Wyn.
Wyn is a quantitative finance and economics graduate who found her passion for programming after learning it to create Roadhop.
She is fairly proficient in Ruby and Rails, has knowledge of Python and PHP, and vaguely remembers some C++, Matlab, and R from her college days.
Kel was a supply chain analyst and an excel enthusiast who quit her desk job to start Roadhop. She worked in Toshiba, where she did analysis for procurement operations throughout Asia.
Prior to that, she was an analyst at Lorenzo, where she designed and implemented the supply chain system of their factory in China.
Both are avid backpackers with a common love of making people’s lives easier through technology.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
We received a YES! Startups grant of Singapore $50,000 from SPRING Singapore in September 2010, and put in another Singapore $15,000 of our own savings.
What problem are you trying to solve?
There is very little consolidated and organized information long distance and interstate bus, train and ferries around the world, especially in emerging economies like South East Asia, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Describe the business, core products and services?
We provide a transport search to help travellers find timings, ticket prices and how to get to their station easily. There is a voting mechanism where better operators, routes and cities will win more votes.
This enables fellow travellers choose how best to get to where they want to go.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Backpackers and any traveller who wants to go from city A to city B by non-flight travel.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes. We travel a lot even and faced this problem umpteen times even before we created roadhop.com. In South East Asia where we are, there is no information at all.
When we talk to our fellow backpackers in the hostel, all of them can relate to this problem. Our friends face problems in Europe (especially Eastern Europe), Latin America, China, even in advanced countries like Japan and Korea – data on their bus providers is not in English.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We give transport providers without the technology an internet presence to reach out to their current and potential passengers at a small fee.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Crowdsourcing: Right now, most flight and surface transport search do not engage the users. We allow users to rate and comment on the accuracy of our static data. Users can add more data, which is also rated and commented on by other users. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to integrate user-generated content in a structured manner. Roadhop leverages on a social media strategy. Travellers contribute in a fun way by creating their personal trip log on Facebook. They can see where friends are going and have been and get ideas for future trips. When someone logs a trip, Roadhop consolidates schedules and fares with travellers in their location who have the same destination. Our ecosystem of travellers will attract transport service providers to come on board.
- Our team is very small, consisting of only two founders and part-time interns / designers. We face resource limitations as we need to prioritize which functionalities to develop first.
- We have just completed intensive research on long distance coach operators in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Upon visiting long distance bus terminals, however, we unearthed many more companies and branches that were not listed on any directory. We found that less than 30% of long distance coach operators have websites, and most display route information through flyers and pieces of paper stuck outside their booths. Roadhop can focus on aggressively digitizing more primary data and enhancing our technological features so that we can provide the most complete bus, train and ferry route information on the web. As much of the data is cumulative, we expect an initial low user base and exponential growth at a later stage.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Google Maps currently has a directions search feature which contains information on shorter distance public transportation for some regions. Websites like Easibook, Nakedbus and Redbus that allow passengers to book their bus journeys online, but they cover only select regions and partner companies. Some independent bus companies have their routes and prices posted on their website. Online booking is also available at times. However, to compare various prices and timings, users will still have to sift through various websites. Travel guides like Lonelyplanet, Tripadvisor and Wikitravel give general directions on how to get from one place to another.
Nobody actually thought we were not going to succeed. We had many people who really believe in us and try to tell us what to do.
The problem we face is after starting up is that there is no shortage of opinions on what you should do to succeed. We have received advice from people with general business experience, people in high ranking managerial positions, and many others.
Over time we have accumulated a dozen different directions to take and a million things to look out for. If we tried to follow them all, we will have no consensus, no time and no resources.
Hence, we had to spend time thinking about our direction and be very discerning who we seek advice from.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
- The number of countries Roadhop can cover and the depth of our coverage.
- The number of transport operators signed up with Roadhop.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.