NextPlan is a platform that providers travelers with a personalized and customizable vacation itinerary. Its mobile app integrates elements such as AI-based pricing and social sharing capabilities.
The Palo Alto, California-based company was founded in late 2018 by Mukul Gupta and Mahesh Kumar - both technology and business experts who are new to the travel space.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
NextPlan is a one‐stop vacation shop that makes custom vacation planning easy. Leisure travel has become an exercise in optimization across tens of thousands of experiences, time available for taking a vacation and the individual’s budget constraints.
(flights, routes, hotels and accommodations, ground transportation) should exist to serve up and support these experiences and experience seekers and not get in their way. Yet, today the hapless traveler goes from tab to tab on their desktop browser stitching
together their vacation across multiple providers and purveyors of air, hotel, attractions, tours and experiences at large.
NextPlan’s one‐stop shop (an iPhone application; Android coming soon) allows users to focus on their dreams instead of
worrying about the logistics necessary to support it.
Our platform provides the following core capabilities:
- Search ‐ Search and choose from thousands of destinations, events and attractions
- Estimated trip cost – AI-based Smart Pricing™ engine lets you plan with accurate air and hotel costs
- Best time to travel ‐ Narrowing down best pricing and routes from thousands of options
- One-click planning ‐ Simply drop the destinations you want to visit into your cart
- Optimal routing ‐ Route Efficient ™ engine for optimal routes to multiple destinations and back
- Social recommendations – Itinerary sharing for feedback and recommendations
- Flights/Hotels ‐ NextPlan uses AI to bubble up optimal flights and hotels
- Customization, booking ‐ Customize flights, hotels and book with integrated online travel agencies (Kayak, Booking.com)
Lastly, our capabilities can be embedded by experience providers to provide complete and contextual vacation plans for their patrons.
Palo Alto, California
What inspired you to create this company?
Travel has been both a passion as well as a pain point for us. As founders and travelers, we have found the travel industry wanting to provide a one‐stop shopping experience.
Instead, modern travel has taken a disaggregated approach, which has resulted in customers having to engage with multiple stakeholders (inspiration, air, hotel, ground, attractions) as they try to stitch together a vacation.
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happened to centering things around the customer and the experiences they desire? It is not like we have not solved for this in the past. The travel agent on main street usually did a good job optimizing on our behalf in designing our vacations - soup
We felt this approach had a lot of merit. Of course, this approach does not scale - travel agents cannot deliver across thousands of destinations and tens of thousands of attractions and experiences. It cannot satisfy the time constraints
of the “I want it and I want it now” era we live in.
Against this backdrop, our technological and business experience obtained by building successful startups made us realize that if we had an issue with the state of affairs, we needed to do
something about it. NextPlan is the result of that opportunity meeting personal passion.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- Strengths – Technology platform advantages include our AI-powered Smart Pricing™ engine, Route Efficient ™ engine and social sharing. Our backgrounds and experience building, growing and selling successful startups have equipped us well for this journey.
Additionally, we are not travel domain experts. That said we are astute travelers and as consumers we feel we will respond to the true voice and frustrations of travelers. Sometimes it is out‐of‐box thinkers who bring about much needed innovation.
- Weaknesses – Our first use case on the NextPlan platform is a direct-to-consumer play. We are aware of the giants in this space who are content selling flights and hotels, but have deep pockets to fuel customer adoption.
- Opportunities – While we plan to integrate with other providers (ground, car rentals, tours and attractions) the big opportunity we are chasing is establishing NextPlan as the one‐stop travel shop. Literally every other vertical has been transformed
with the advent of the internet. Travel is ripe for disruption and we believe we are perfectly suited to seize the opportunity and deliver.
- Threats – Our approach is steeped in AI and deep learning, customization and complete automation of travel planning across destinations, attractions and experiences. We believe this is the right approach that can scale and provide instant answers.
Yet, we are also aware of other solutions for custom vacations which are layered with human touch points. Could this complement, compete or threaten our approach? Time will tell.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
As travelers increase, the industry is not at all ready to serve their needs.
At best, the travel industry is highly fragmented. Consumers are left to sift through mountains of data, web searches and website or blog visits to stitch together
a vacation. Across airlines, hotels, destinations and experiences, the end user is faced with the onerous task of putting together a vacation.
Suboptimal at best, it is further aggravated by the lack of ability to socialize and refine travel
plans on the fly. Lastly, users lack the ability to insightfully book (when to fly? when to buy? what is the best route across multiple destinations?) vacation itineraries.
With NextPlan, we provide a one-stop travel shop that solves for
these issues ‐ from inspiration, to multiple destination plans that implicitly include routing, pricing and timing for air, hotel and soon ground transportation.
When it comes to the industry, we have seen similar pain points echoed. On the
one end, travel solution providers would like to integrate with a platform, such as NextPlan, to be able to leverage our platform capabilities such as bundle estimation and smart routing. At the other extreme, NextPlan could simply provide shop‐as‐a‐service
capabilities to logistics and experience providers.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
We are relying on a four‐pronged strategy to gain mindshare and subsequently market share:
- One of its kind – NextPlan is a unique solution that offers a one‐stop vacation shop. We have been purposeful in offering our solution as a smartphone app. Given the era we live in, this makes our value proposition more compelling to end consumers
looking to build complete, custom vacations with a few taps on their device.
- Social virality – We have built social sharing capabilities right into the vacation shopping workflow in the app. With a single tap, a potential traveler can solicit recommendations and incorporate them into their itinerary. We believe this will
aid in raising awareness about NextPlan.
- Targeted outreach – We have studied the market and segment preferences across millennials, Gen X and baby boomers. While we will try for a broad reach, we are aware of our sweet spots across generational segments and other characteristics
(location, income, education, etc.). Targeted advertisements connecting potential travelers to our app will be an approach we will take from the outset. Our primary go‐to‐market is online and social. To this end, we will be leveraging Facebook
and Instagram ads, Instagram influencers, Google Ads and Twitter to increase awareness, as well as to generate and consummate demand for our app.
- Shop‐as‐a‐service – We are speaking to a few large logistics (air and/or hotel) and experiences providers who are very interested in the shop‐as‐a‐service model to reach their customers with relevant custom vacation bundles at enticing price points.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We started out by studying the travel vertical from the standpoint of size, segments, players, technologies and opportunities. Leisure travel is a huge market by any yardstick - whether one is measuring worldwide spend on leisure travel ($2.5 trillion
approximately, $718 billion in the United States), or the number of unique travelers (again, hundreds of millions).
Yet, and soberingly enough, in the U.S. alone, a large percentage of vacations lapse unused. We feel this is a
massive market waiting to be tapped with the right approach.
Second, we are currently in an experience economy. This is also the era of instant gratification. Millennials and Gen Xers are traveling more, spending more and experiencing
Lastly, we looked at the competition. Many companies have solved or are solving for individual elements in the value chain - be it destinations, experience or logistics.
NextPlan is the only solution that will bring the elements
of a complete vacation (namely inspiration, plan, pricing, routing and logistics) together. Our simple UI/UX coupled with deep knowledge will set us apart from the competition, which up until now has led to a very fragmented, and dissonant experience
for the leisure traveler.
How and when will you make money?
NextPlan is free to use. Our service has no hidden costs and we do not charge the user a fee for using any of its myriad features and functionality.
Yet we will have revenue from the outset. Strictly commissions on the back end is the
model we are adopting. We have entered into commercial agreements with major OTAs with revenue share agreements in place. Every airline seat booked through our app and every hotel room booked will result in NextPlan getting paid by the OTA with
the customer never seeing any increase in terms of what they have to pay.
Additional sources of income could include shop‐as‐a‐service offerings to established travel players.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?
- Mukul Gupta ‐ CEO and founder: Past ‐ co‐founder/CTO Arkin (acquired by VMware, led to $200 million ARR), Playdom (social‐gaming, acquired by Disney), Microsoft (XBOX, cloud computing)
- Mahesh Kumar ‐ co‐founder: Past ‐ head of marketing Arkin (acquired by VMware), VMware (cloud services, SaaS), Symantec, Duke University
- Nitin Agarwal – co‐Founder: Past ‐ founder – SkoolRunr, founder – RedTandoor, COO – Maximojo, IIT Kanpur
- Jeff Palmer – advisor: president Kespry, (Past ‐ COO GetThere/Sabre)
- Alif Khalfan – advisor: vice president products and revenue, Disney, (Past ‐ executive producer – Playdom (acquired by Disney)
We believe we have a very good mix of consumer market experts, a balance across technology and business and experience building successful startups in the past.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
While nothing has been a showstopper, we have had our share of startup hurdles to overcome. Establishing partnerships across the spectrum of travel players has been a very interesting journey where we have learned quickly from early successes.
second area we encountered was travel-related data and analytics. While there is no dearth of data, it is spread across multiple providers – airline schedules, historical fares, hotel inventory and rates, events information, attractions and
tours data are all spread across more than a handful of companies. Coordinating access and usage has posed its own interesting twists.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact ‐ so why are you going to be one of the lucky ones?
Travel startups have often been compared to the restaurant business when it comes to success/failure rates.
That said, we believe if the use case is ripe, the technology is sound and the solution is built putting the customer first,
then one can build a win‐win business that benefits the consumer and NextPlan.
We believe NextPlan offers a one-of-a-kind custom vacations solution. Our app helps travelers focus on experiences while relying on us to provide them
an optimal vacation package. Our innovations across smart routing, intelligent price estimation and social allow us to solve a genuine customer problem.
This we believe will help us scale to many satisfied users and an impactful solution for years to come.
If you could show us a snapshot of how NextPlan works what would that be?
They say pictures are worth a thousand words. NextPlan’s one‐stop custom vacation shop allows you to build any vacation with a few taps on your device.