NewsStartup pitch: Tripmule is competitive lead generation for travel agentsThis article was originally published onBy Nick Vivion | February 19, 2015 Tripmule has positioned itself as a direct lead generation tool for travel agents. Interested travelers land on the site and submit a request for replies related to a specific trip, including the dates, destination and type of request (flights, hotels, etc).Travel agents within that particular area of expertise are then pinged to respond, creating a competitive environment for queries that both aids travel agents in generating new business and encourages better pricing for the traveler.The idea is to make it easier to plan trips using real live human beings by reducing friction and increasing visibility of the travel agent community. And for travel agents, the service brings them qualified leads without managing an intensive advertising campaign.Read on for a video breakdown of the service and our startup Q&A.Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you jump in and create the business.We founded the company on the premise that if you are one willing to pay a lot of money for something, you should be the one sitting back and listening to offers.What is the size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?We're a 4 person team, Louis Skoutellas, Mario Vassiliades and Prashant Tiwari. Louis Skoutellas, CEO, Mario Vassiliades CTO, Christiana Drakou CMO and Prashant Tiwari Product LeadWhat are your funding arrangements?We have received funding from Virgin Start-up (£6,500) and raised a further £20,000 from a small seed round.What is your estimation of market size?The UK travel market is estimated at £30 billion, with an average spend of 10% on marketing; the addressable market size in the UK is approximately £3 billion.Who do you consider competition?In the US Tripology offers a similar service for the US market; arguably Tripmule is a travel search platform and, therefore, competes with the large OTA's such as Expedia and Booking.comWhat is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?The revenue model is based on a "pay-per-lead" model. Travel providers can run digital campaigns at a competitive pay-per-lead rate than they would get for a pay-per-click campaign.What problem does the business solve?Planning and booking a trip can be extremely time-consuming and expensive, from a consumer's point of view we hope to make this process easier, more efficient, and cheaper.Travel agents are finding it more and more difficult to compete online; if their technology is not up to scratch, or their web design doesn't have the new <insert new design feature here>, people simply drop off. We hope to provide a solution where travel agents are competing at the most important level - the actual product.How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?The initial idea involved a strategy of taking commission from agents. While we haven't completely excluded that as a strategy, we prefer the pivot to "pay-per-lead" for two main reasons. One is that, if we charge a commission, most agents will most likely add this to their price and customers wouldn't be getting the best deal. By charging per lead we hope to incentivize agents to pay attention to each request they receive.Why should people or companies use the business?Tripmule is a free service for travellers which allows them to potentially get better deals, as well as more personalized and customized service.Today travel agents are forced to compete with large online advertising budgets, slick websites that are constantly evolving, and not so much on the core element; the traveller and the traveller request. Tripmule provides Travel agents with a cost-effective way to reach their potential customers.What's the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?We want to do a lot of offline marketing campaigns where we have customer interaction, we've even thought of hiring a donkey for the day!Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?In three years we want to be a serious competitor in the online travel space, we want to be a "go-to" site for planning and booking holidays. One of the major challenges we will face is getting our name out to consumers, and build our trust with them to continue using our service.What is wrong with the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?When you look at booking a complex trip, that is when you start to test the functionality and technology behind the travel industry. The tech in the industry has advanced to such a scale that it could take 5 minutes to book a honeymoon suite on an exotic island; but there's no customer service, and limited customization.What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?We aren't there yet but we hope to align ourselves with the culture and style of Airbnb, who have an awesome way of turning complexity into simplicity with their design and structure. Airbnb is one of those businesses which prove that tech is a means of bringing actual people together and we hope to mimic that.Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?Perhaps a large ad-tech company, or one the large meta-search engines since they are purely tech focused while we consider ourselves a "human-powered" meta-search engine.Describe your startup in three words.Human powered planning.Tnooz view: Lead generation is a good business model, as it provides a clear and measurable value to both sides of the transaction. Travelers are able to select from the best options, while travel agents receive a specific and actionable query. Rather than tweaking AdWords and landing pages to determine what's working best, TripMule offers a direct connection to an interested traveler. The main issue for the traveler will always be quality control. The startup has a light verification procedure that includes checking licensing and ensuring that the business is a legitimate operation. However, it seems that they should take a page from the Airbnb playbook, and focus on trust to build the community. Perhaps agent profiles, similar to Virtuoso's Advisor Catalog, would also allow users to have more trust and understanding upfront of what they are getting into. Right now, the way that the agents are presented for future trips is very basic and doesn't include photos. It also doesn't include expertise, beyond simply what types of travel (hotel, flights, car) the agent can book. There's some improvement needed there, and it's still early on for this startup. The concept is promising however, and it seems that a startup focusing on organic lead generation could really thrive and see exceptional success with a strong product and savvy marketing to both travelers and agents.Share this quote Check out Tripmule here.NB: Magnet image courtest Shutterstock.