36hrs.in, the Delhi and Boston-based startup, enables users to discover interesting travel activities, experiences and details about destinations across the world.
The Pinterest-style website has "boards" - a collection of interesting travel experiences in a destination, and it also allows users to create travel itineraries by adding tips/notes to each place in the itinerary.
36hrs.in was founded by Ravijot Chugh and Jen Blumberg in October 2013, graduates from IIT Delhi and Harvard University, respectively. Prior to this, both founders worked at The Parthenon Group as consultants.
In 2013, the company received seed funding of $30,000 from Startup Chile accelerator program, in addition to this, the founders are also using personal funds.
The company is planning to raise $300,000 in the next few months to further develop its web product and implement mobile apps, among other things.
In 2013, when Chugh was planning a trip with his girlfriend to Singapore (from Mumbai), he found it difficult to find the "hidden gems" (the not-so-touristy spots) in the city.
When he asked for recommendations from a couple of his friends in Singapore, all he got was three email recommendations, and he found some good restaurant ideas by referring to a popular food blog and Lonely Planet.
However, Chugh found it tough to organize all of this textual information into Google docs and spreadsheets to create a final itinerary.
This pain point led to the launch of 36hrs to develop a platform that could make the process of sharing recommendations as easy as a few clicks and removing the hassle of reading through emails or long articles and gathering information manually.
Q&A with Chugh below:
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
The core team consists of four people - two founders and two team members: Manpreet Khurana and Amit Mondal as back-end and front-end software engineers, respectively. Also there are two interns: Farheen Hussain and Aastha Sharma who work in the content and marketing team.
Estimation of market size?
The travel activity booking market is about $100 billion in size, with a CAGR of 9%. A recent survey by Red Rocket Media revealed interesting insights into this market:
- 55% of travellers are influenced by online searches
- 63% are influenced by others’ testimonials
- 33% of travellers would create content if they thought it would benefit their friends/family
Place pins by Pinterest is our biggest competitor. Pinterest announced Place pins while we were developing our MVP. In concept it is broadly similar. But, having an itineraries feature is our biggest differentiation. We can use the fact that we are a travel only website to our advantage.
Pinterest is a much bigger platform but it doesn't offer a travel specific experience. Searching for "New York" on our platform shows public boards and itineraries shared by other travellers and the list of your friends that have been to NY, whereas, Pinterest shows hundreds of boards of different categories.
Gogobot is the big competitor in terms of being a social travel product. However, we believe we offer a cleaner, more specific solution than Gogobot.
Gogobot is playing both in crowdsourced local business recommendations, and also in sourcing advice, but it feels noisy in both.
Our focus is on facilitating easy exchange of recommendations between travellers and their network.
Content discovery platforms such as TripAdvisor are competitors for the point of view of "things to do in a city". We consider it our biggest threat; however we believe personalized recommendations on "things to do" from a friend are more valuable than crowdsourced (mostly Western) perspective on different local businesses.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our first and foremost aim is to build a compelling travel advice and itinerary sharing product that breeds user engagement and loyalty. We are exploring two revenue channels:
1) Affiliate revenue through booking of travel activities:
a) Careful curation and exclusive offerings would provide a 20-25% commission on direct bookings, and 5-10% for lead generation and booking for third party merchants. Assuming a conversion rate of 2% in an average of 1000 page views per day per city would amount to 20 bookings. Average ticket price of $100 and commission of 20% (direct booking platform) would account to an annual revenue potential of about $150K per city.
b) Exclusive experiences offered on 36hrs.in: Conservative estimate of one exclusive experience per day, at an average price of $200 and a revenue share of 40% represents an annual revenue opportunity of about $30K per city.
2) Licensing the 36hrs platform:
We have had interest from third parties such as travel agents and event organizers in using our itinerary-generating application to help them collect and categorize their opinions and suggestions for their customers. Thus, there is a real possibility that we could license our itinerary platform to third party sites (in the form of iFrames, widgets, etc.). We will also target other businesses that need to communicate recommendations to their users such as Airbnb, Vayable etc.
We are currently exploring feasibility and pricing options for this second model.
What problem does the business solve?
The core value proposition of the platform is to enable content creators to share recommendations with their network easily and quickly, without the need of writing long articles, and in a form that is easy for the audience to interact with and organize into actionable itineraries.
It is much easier to get crowd sourced recommendations on local businesses around the world through the likes of TripAdvisor. However, that usually turns out to be mass Western-tourist perspective.
It is much harder to get recommendations from your friends, and people who know the city well - this is actually the kind of recommendation people can trust.
Currently, people rely on Google docs or emails to share recommendations with their network, or by reading long form blog articles or other publications to get a different perspective on interesting spots in cities around the world. This takes a disproportionate amount of time and effort to plan their time in a city.
Our product removes the barrier for people to share such recommendations, by not requiring lengthy reviews or long articles. It simply relies on people choosing their favorite places which other users can then interact with, add to their collection or itinerary or view on a map.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We started in October 2013 in Chile in form of a very simple MVP of 36 hour itineraries for eight South American cities contributed by travel writers.
We even created a form for users to share their perfect itinerary, and there were two key takeaways for us:
1) We need to make the product much more interactive rather than keeping it content focused
2) Users wanted an easy way to record favorite places in a city they visited and then share it with their networks as their recommendation.
Based on these feedback, we created the platform and launched the public Beta in April 2014.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Our site enables travellers to share their recommendations with a few clicks in a visual and interactive manner rather than having to write long articles. They can see which friends have gone to the city they are interested in, what they like and whom to ask recommendations for certain places.
Our product can help any business or publisher who needs to communicate travel recommendations to its readers do so in a manner which is easy, visual and increases engagement of the reader with content.
For example, food and travel blogs, often with a large and loyal reader base, bring interesting recommendations of spots in cities. However, it is often hard for readers to get specific recommendations among a maze of articles from these blogs, and hard for the bloggers to communicate these recommendations to readers in an engaging manner.
Similarly, companies such as AirBnB, hotels, or travel agents who need to communicate local travel advice or put together itineraries for their customers will find our product useful.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Inbound marketing: We’ve been posting in travel forums, Q&A boards and Quora with answers to people seeking recommendations in the form of boards and itineraries that we create just for them.
Bloggers and travel writers: We’re partnering with travel and food publications that create boards through business accounts, similar to Pinterest’s business accounts, to provide visual and succinct recommendations to followers.
Social sharing and invite:We've built few features in the product that encourage social sharing. Chief among them is a map that users can fill with cities in the world they have visited. So far, we have had a positive response and we are further going to add gamification elements to this map.
We have lots of other ideas for the future. So far, word of mouth is working pretty well.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years time, we see 36hrs as being a one stop shop to discover, plan and book activities and experiences for cities around the world, useful for both travellers as well as locals of the city.
We want to be the go-to platform for any individual, content publisher or business that wants to share travel recommendations or an itinerary with its readers for any city.
We intend to integrate more practical tools, such as booking links for any hotel, restaurants, travel activity being recommended, and also have a curated list of activities and experiences for certain popular cities.
In general, it is a challenge to build a sustainable business in an industry where the nature of usage is highly episodic. The biggest challenge for us is to build a product that is not held back by the episodic nature of leisure travel, and provides value above and beyond the number of times a person travels.
We believe this means (quite ironically, for a travel website) that we’ll need to go "local". In other words, we’ll need to provide a product that locals of a city will be excited to use over and over again.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
We're a young and small team, so we're still forming our culture as we go along.
As we grow, we aim to emulate the great startups like AirBnB whose teams are passionate about the mission and work incredibly hard to ensure that critical operating values, such as delighting customers and making beautiful products, persist.
We also like the early Facebook motto "move fast and break things" and hope it will help us to produce new and innovative products.
36hrs' key features can be segmented into: Trip planning, content about destinations, curating related destinations into a "board", and leveraging social media to let users know what their contacts think.
The company's services are clearly not new in the industry. 'Social', and 'trip planning' sectors have seen numerous startups in the recent past. On the content side - there are various regional and global players as well.
There are two things that 36hrs highlights in a different way than many other players:
a) Focusing on short and crisp tips/information about a place than long form content. While this might work out better for mobile/on-the-go/at-destination scenarios, there might be users looking for long form content during the trip planning stage
b) Focusing on travel content from known-network of people in social media, rather than going the crowdsource style. But, the success factor of few travel content related sites such as TripAdvisor, HolidayIQ (for India), and FourSquare Tips, is its crowdsourced content. The rich diverse content and various perspectives these platforms bring are its USP.
36hrs rightly pointed out that its competitor is also Pinterest. Certainly it is. One shouldn't be surprised if Pinterest shows a user what his/her social network friends have also pinned. When that happens, the only real differentiation for 36hrs will be its curated content for each destination.
The company has also mentioned this point. If the company can crack the code to encourage users to create meaningful, and useful content/itinerary, then the platform will have its play in the market.
Also, for the platform to recommend experiences to fellow users, it needs to have sufficient content in place to slice and dice. This might not happen immediately as content gathering is a long term process. So, the quick revenue source could be the first point (Affiliate revenue through booking of travel activities) it had mentioned above.
Licensing the platform is an interesting revenue source for this business model.
Vine video about 36hrs.in