The Tarzan Way
The Tarzan Way wants to revamp the entire traveler experience by making it more streamlined and customer-friendly.
Founded in 2018, The Tarzan Way books traveler experiences directly or through its AI-based platform, explains founder and CEO Shikhar Chadha.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
The Tarzan Way: "A go-to local friend for a traveler offering experiential and tailor-made travel programs."
We are a flexible and transparent platform where users can find unique and immersive experiences, something like living the lifestyle of a villager for a few days or learning the traditional handicraft. Or our users can just fill out a small questionnaire and get a highly personalized tailor-made travel plan in seconds through bookings in a click and a 24/7 live concierge while traveling.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
Business model: We aggregate tours, unique activities, accommodations, transportations and so on, and either offer tours in the form of experiences directly, or through an AI-based platform to provide tailored experiences. We charge a small service fee from the customers rather than any commissions. We aim to charge a very small yearly membership fee from our suppliers as well. (Currently we've offered them one year free as per our agreement.)
Technology: We've been offering our services manually, i.e., we've been creating our personalized travel plans, doing all the bookings for the past two years. We also provide 24/7 customer service, and that's a lot of effort for every customer. An example is Ruby, an ex-client from New Zealand.
Her itinerary took seven days to build, and it took us another four to five days to do her bookings, and we offered 24/7 support. Through AI we can reduce this time to around one second (itinerary building and booking). As for now, we are finalizing the first phase of our product. In future phases of our product (we've divided it into five phases), we want to convert it into a utility app with a combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, which helps a user to understand a location he or she is traveling to, or is already in, something which helps in terms of audio guides/video guides, improved functionality, daily travel plans, recommendations, tips and tricks and a lot more.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
1. Early to market; there are not a lot of AI-based travel apps focusing on personalization
2. Proprietary AI-based product
3. A mix of unique and generic inventory
4. Ease of use for the customer
5. Scalability of the product
6. Users do not have to learn the new workflow and can easily shift to our solution
1. We still take 12 hours to build travel plans
2. More and more data is required, which is difficult to gather immediately at this stage
3. Currently bootstrapped
4. Still finding the right spot between human intervention and technology for customer support
1. A lot of potential in Tier 2 and Tier 3 villages and towns to create multiple experiences and activities
2. We plan to build an AR plus AI-based utility app for a traveler, as a one-stop solution while they're traveling
3. We can also personalize these immersive experiences for corporate groups and institutions
1. The major threat is that no one knows the future of the travel industry, which has been affected by the COVID-19 situation.
2. Big players with a lot of data and financial resources
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
Currently, for leisure travel there are only two broad options - either a travel agent (with a pre-prepared package), or self-research and various OTAs. There's no favorite travel company for any user, because the customer journey hasn't been worked on in years. We're building our product to change the customer journey a traveler goes through: Rather than throwing multiple options of hotels, activities, buses, we try to personalize the entire platform according to the user, with curated recommendations from the homepage to the point he or she builds a plan and books.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
Talking about our go-to-market strategy, we're implementing different approaches for B2B groups and the B2C audience. For the B2C audience, i.e., Indian and international travelers, we're putting more focus on inbound marketing.
An important point to note here is if we talk about personalization and AI, it may not be as attractive as if we talk about unique and immersive experiences, and that's where we'll push. Once the user reaches our platform, that's when AI will come into play, and we'd ensure a highly personalized and gamified DIY journey for the traveler.
For every campaign, we implement a 360-degree marketing strategy, including content-based marketing, email/SMS, SMM, PR, on ground, SEM, SEO and others.
For B2B, i.e., groups, organizations, communities, we're putting more focus on outbound marketing while including LinkedIn and Google Search Ads as well for inbound leads. We have a business development team to reach out to the audience, as well as to find out more unique collaborations. It also ensures client relations.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
While I was running The Tarzan House (my previous venture, which was a backpacking home-stay), we got an opportunity to meet 1,200-plus travelers from more than 80 countries, and we saw many problems that travelers faced.
We realized the lack of transparency and flexibility in the industry. We realized how we were not achieving our full potential, and looking at so many problems at the ground level, we felt that we needed to start The Tarzan Way to create impact in the travel industry.
Unlike many entrepreneurs, it was not an instance of having an idea, it was of problems that we saw. We went back to our whiteboard, made some pivots, persevered some ideas and, after looking at the customers, we thought of working with AI.
Today, I'm a part of The Tarzan Way because of two reasons: 1. The kind of impact we create for the local communities - in fact we recently collaborated with the Changpa Tribe in Ladakh. We're trying to empower these communities by generating self-employment opportunities.
And 2. How we're empowering a traveler. Whether it's a solo female traveler visiting India for the first time, or a family trying to find the best vacation, I feel it's an impact that does not stay for days, but a lasting impact that stays for years, decades and even more.
How and when will you make money?
It's not a question of "when," since we believe in Frugal Innovation. Though we started out with almost no capital, we've been cash flow positive since the beginning and have generated revenues over $100,000.
Currently, we aggregate tours, unique activities, accommodations, transportations and so on, and either offer tours in the form of experiences directly or we offer our AI-based platform to provide tailored experiences. We charge a small service fee from the customers rather than any commissions. As our users increase, we aim to charge a yearly membership fee from our suppliers (currently we've offered them one year free as per our agreement).
Future plans are to create a go-to local friend for travelers. We want to combine AR with AI to create a utility-based app, which helps a user while he or she is traveling including tips, tricks, recommendations, itineraries, bookings and 24/7 support. We have a couple ideas for monetization of the same, including a freemium subscription-based model and ad-based revenues.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?
We're four people in the management team, and while I've previously been a founder in the hospitality industry, our CTO Shivaank has worked with companies like Samsung and has been a part of the tech team in early stage startups in the B2B space.
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Our operations head, Devansh, who's also handling front-end development, is highly skilled in operations management, as well as one of the best at organizing and planning. Lastly, our marketing head, Naman is a 360-degree marketing expert, who focuses on a brand-first approach.
A small note on our team - 1. Not all of us are gifted, but we're hustlers. We keep finding solutions to problems and we won't stop unless we finally wrap something up.
2. If we don't know a skill, we learn it. In fact, just like at college, all of us create our own curriculums (learning curve), and we learn those things accordingly which helps us grow. We believe that institutions are just not reliable enough to take the decision of what we want to learn.
3. We are not always calm and easy, we can be aggressive, we can be angry, we can fight but that's only because we care, and we're very transparent with each other for everything.
4. We arrange criticism meetings, feedback meetings, discussions, innovation discussions and idea-only discussions to ensure a strong and a very trustworthy bond.
5. Our team is reliable, and we like to take accountability of our work, our actions, and our mistakes. Here are our values, and we wholeheartedly stick by them: integrity, reliability, sportsmanship, growth-driven ideology, self-awareness, innovation, solution-oriented approach, maturity.
How have you addressed diversity and inclusion within your business?
To be extremely candid here, the core idea is to get the most deserving and passionate people on board, no matter which color, caste, race, country, gender group, sexual orientation or whatever other factors are that they belong to. First of all, we do not take resumes; rather we have a long and comprehensive questionnaire that helps us understand the applicants, their intent and if they'd be a culture fit or not. While this question helps us understand more about the applicants, it also helps them understand more about themselves, and then accordingly we interview the applicants.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
The most difficult part of founding a business, according to me, is taking your failures and successes in stride and moving on.
To be honest, I’ve faced much, much more failures than successes - we even started with a negative balance in our accounts and no cash, with a lot of meetings in CCD, spending 10 to 11 hours every day trying out different things. This journey has been challenging.
However, the biggest challenge was when my co-founder, who I had been living and working together with for the past 2-2.5 years, started facing some personal problems, and due to depression, he had to step down as the COO of The Tarzan Way.
I’ve not yet expressed it to him, but those two months were completely devastating for me since at some point he stopped responding to our messages and calls as well. He was one of my best friends, and this sudden development hit me hard. Those few months were a disaster, things took a 180-degree turn for us.
Finally, I went to Chandigarh with my CTO to meet our advisor, who was not aware of the situation and he told me to immediately start building a team again.
Both of us went home and had a long three-hour discussion, after which we decided to move on.
I started meeting new people, showcasing our plan to many, and finally, I was able to cut down to four people who became a part of our core team. Together we started focusing a lot on earning revenue since the last few months hit us hard financially.
Currently, I’m managing a team of 50 people including full-time and part-time employees, work-from-home interns and freelancers.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
I believe it's not about being lucky, and more about sticking to your vision and mission points. We want to innovate and simplify travel; we want to ensure that we're a platform that is transparent, personalized and simplifies travel for all the individuals out there.
We aim to empower local communities, abandoned villages and towns by creating travel experiences and creating alternate sources of employment in these areas. We want to bridge the cross-cultural gap and instill youth leadership by promoting unique and curated travel experiences that help them grow as individuals. We believe that travel is not just about vacation, but an art of experiencing different realities.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?
In regards to technology, we will have launched the second phase of our product, which would be a go-to travel app to help travelers while they're traveling, and in future we want to convert it into an AR- and AI-based product that is a utility for a traveler.
Otherwise, we have a smaller target in terms of traction, which is approximately 15,000 travelers for 2021. Meanwhile, considering the COVID-19 situation, we're implementing safe travel measures including: 1. touchless CRMs for our suppliers; 2. emphasis on recreational vehicle rentals and road trips; 3. unique destinations, which have been less affected by the crisis; 4. slot bookings.
What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)
There's no exact answer to this question because there can be unlimited scope of opportunities available in the future. There's a precedent for travel companies in similar spaces being bought by some already established players (Inspirock was acquired, Mezi was acquired), or we might become a large established player ourselves and distribute dividends.
I would personally go with the latter, and focus on creating a huge brand for ourselves, because there are a lot of things that I personally want to execute in the industry, which are not limited to our product right now. Once we've built a brand, and a utility product that has the potential to become a habit for our users, there'll be no limit to the growth.
How have you been surviving and generating better revenues?
We are surviving by offering tailored plans to international travelers manually, though this takes time but we charge slightly higher service fees. Meanwhile, we've started collaborating with organizations - e.g., schools, universities, women's groups, LGTBQIA groups, corporates, startups - and we solve their travel problems by creating highly unique and personalized experiences connecting to their vision.
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