Success Story Of ScoutMyTrip CEO Deepak Ananth & Vineet Rajan
Please introduce your Startup and give a brief about yourself.
ScoutMyTrip is an AI driven road trip planner and marketplace of travel experts called Scouts. Customers can either use our freemium planner or hire a Scout by paying a fee. Once a plan is made, travel agents can bid for fulfilling the user journey via their dashboard. That is us in a nutshell!
Both Deepak and I have one thing in common and that is our love for road tripping. Both of us are proud owners of the evergreen Royal Enfield bikes. We even named our bikes; Laetitia and Arya!
Cumulatively we would have clocked more than 600,000 km on Indian highways. That’s more than the NHAI network in India. We like to think that with each road trip together, we’re only setting new travel goals and achieving new milestones. Not just as individually but as a team!
It is because of this undying passion of theirs that the idea of ScoutMyTrip sprouted and well, not many can boast about converting their passion into reality, can they?
How can you describe your Startup?
As a road trip planner, ScoutMyTrip ensures that a customer is fully covered. And it’s not just for the longer road trips, but the short weekend getaways, or trips where you fly in to hire a car or self-drive vehicle.
In the last three years, we’ve made heavy investments into making the road trip planner intuitive, present information and crowd source information from various travel enthusiasts & experts. This today is the planner we all can see and use. The trip planner is a product of various partnerships like Google Maps, Agoda, MyChoize self-drive cars where a user gets a collective experience. One of the best ways we describe our product sometimes is – Google Maps on steroids.
But along with the all the tech that we are building, we didn’t forget the human intelligence. Scouts jump in to help if one is struggling with planning. A customer can purchase one of the various subscriptions depending upon the duration of the trip. So instead of banking on all things digital, you have a person guide you from scratch throughout the road trip.
The Scout marketplace is pegged to be a global phenomenon; which is one of the reasons why ScoutMyTrip has even been invited by DIGITARAYA, an accelerator program powered by Google Developer Launchpad in Indonesia to expand business in South East Asia. So, it is safe to say that they’re ready to take on the global markets too.
What were you doing before?
Deepak left his full-time role as a payments professional in 2015. Apart from that, he is an avid traveller who has more than 20 years of experience in that. He setup India’s first ever private ATM network for Tata communication. Handling a budget of over $1.5B, he setup the entire network smoothly to ensure maximum profitability. He was also responsible for a team of over 150 members in both on ground operations and technology to launch the product in India.
This is my second venture after IndiBlogger (co-founded in 2007), the world’s largest Indian blogging network. I managed strategic business and grew it to one million dollars in revenue. I exited IndiBlogger in 2016. I have a background in content marketing, paid marketing, email marketing and product marketing.
Also, to make ScoutMyTrip function smoothly, we got Neeraj Sinha on board who is an an avid road tripper and a tech brain with over 20 years of experience and now a full time CTO. Neeraj with his team have been investing a lot of time on predictive analysis and data science which are the next frontiers in the space of road trip planning. Incidentally, Neeraj too is a biker and he fondly calls his machine (TB500) – Toothless; inspired from ‘How to train your dragon’.
What is your inspiration behind your startup?
ScoutMyTrip is a teamwork of six years of planning, discussing and finally executing! Of course, there were some highs and low, but a road trip always brought some clarity. Every trip, we learned something new about nuisances which only travellers would understand. Whether it meant not having information about decent and adequate highway pitstops or for that matter basic information on petrol pumps, toll booth costs, restrooms etc that travellers usually struggle with. This made us research further into these issues that travellers face and come up with a solution to it.
Describe Your Startup Name, why you are using this Name?
The term ‘Scout’ is our way of telling the customers that we have travel experts to cater to every travel requirement of theirs. Scouts help curate the perfect itinerary for your dream road trip. They’re virtually assisting you throughout the trip, helping you enjoy a local experience and discover destinations on the go.
We also have interest specific Scouts who one can choose to hire depending on what kind of travel – food, heritage, religious and so on. So with the human intelligence at the forefront, we decided to call it ‘ScoutMyTrip’.
One can also apply to become a Scout if they think they have adequate knowledge about destinations or the skillset to be able to plan a trip! So do check out https://scoutmytrip.com/scouts to apply and know more.
What was the idea behind starting Startup?
The travel industry is so huge right now and everyone is spoilt for choice as there are tons of online travel agents, offline travel agents, travel websites that deal with destination bookings and more.
Furthermore, they studied the market and in particular this niche of travel by road. Adding to that, they asked some fellow travellers too. When it came to deriving information on these, there was either very little or no information. Also, if you consider the condition of roads which play the most important part of your road trip, you never really get any information on that as well. Whether it is road blockages, no access, landslides etc, you can never be prepared and hence it hinders the flow of your journey. Hence, they realised that in a year, Indians spend up close to 1 billion hours planning road trips. A traveller has to first traverse 17 touch points to make a road trip plan; and still deal with uncertainties. All this, with no help on the road.
They were keen to give the customers a taste of all the vast knowledge they had about roads and destinations. Then came about the idea, concept and brainchild called ScoutMyTrip.
What are the services you offer to your clients?
On ScoutMyTrip, the customer has three ways he benefits from our services.
Use the planner: Do it yourself and traveller uses our planner and makes his/her own itinerary which includes hotels, toilets, petrol pumps, routes, places to see. The detailed itinerary can be used for mobile navigation as well when exported into the navigation of Google Maps.
Hire a Scout: Travelers hire an expert (Scout) who does all the planning along with providing the virtual trip assistance during the entire road trip. Scouts are virtually part of the traveller journey and assist and make the road trip better with ideas, inputs and connects. This is the real time assistance which is highly valued. Scouts can earn upto Rs. 200 ($3) per day of itinerary planning and real time assistance with variables. Scouts are virtual and never meet the customer in person. Customer can however talk to Scouts over a call
Make Bookings: Once the itinerary is finalized, we send it across to empanelled travel agents who receive it on their agent dashboards. Agents then upload their bids for the business, and SMT team carefully studies all of them to then finally present the most suitable and cost effective one with the customer.
Other businesses in the travel category can use ScoutMyTrip planning engine by subscribing to our API services.
What are the factors which influenced you to start the ‘Startup’?
60% of all vacations today are either a road trip or involve a road trip for some leg of the journey. Road trips add to the experiences and memories as it entirely depends on how you plan it. This inspired them to get into this space and build something for the customers.
So, we were definitely staring at a large industry and not a niche. We started sizing the market and arrived at $6.6 Billion which was the addressable market for leisure road trips. A lot of road trips today involve a commute, a bus or carpooling. These are areas where we cannot add much value.
How did your journey start towards your startup from planning to funding?
Deepak and I initially seed funded the venture with our savings. We used the lean startup fundamentals and focussed on getting an early release into the market to a closed set of users. This was called the ‘Insider Access’ which was subscribed to by over 5000 users – much before we even had a product in the market. Having a digital marketing background helped here; and started focussing on assets like social media and our blog till the time the product was ready.
In October 2016, we were accepted into Z Nation Lab’s first startup bootcamp which was a rigorous 3-month programme where we got the first taste of investors and funding principles. Our first investment was from them in April 2017.
We are in talks with various investors to raise a round of $500,000 USD and then move towards a pre-Series A round of $2 Million to expand globally starting SE Asia and China.
What your stack on the competition? who are your competitors? How you are overcoming them?
Our biggest competitors are the airlines and railways which make up over 80% of all travel spends in India. Also, Google Maps; which is most suited for providing us with routes. However, it doesn’t plan your road trip for you.
If we look at organizations, globally we compete with road trippers and furkot which are slowly increasing their footprint in India. In India, other players in the space include easy roads & highway delite.
ScoutMyTrip from the beginning has followed a very community centric approach. Be it a community of travelers or that of Scouts. It's always about the people with technology which revolves around it.
Road trips are all about personal recommendations and advice from real people. It's just not as simple as booking a flight ticket or a hotel room. No matter, how much information you provide online; people still need a safety net of a real person being around and available. Our Business model helps the user connect to a local at each of the regions that the user is road tripping. Therefore, with the technology backbone, there is a personal touch point for every user. This personal touch point or travel expert is called a 'Scout'.
Is the Startup growing at good phase according to your plans? What are the upcoming plans from your end?
Certainly! On ScoutMyTrip, 1500 trips are planned every month of which 300 are fulfilled by Scouts. There are 100 scouts on the platform who are helping between 2-4 customers on an average every month. Scouts can earn anywhere between 4000 – 6000 rupees a month helping other travellers. This has been a major success for us as a marketplace.
The market traction for us has been good, and so has the word of mouth. Customers have been consistently rating us on Facebook, Google and spreading the word to their friends and family. Today, most of our user acquisition is via either references or inbound traffic through organic means like search engines.
Our next plan includes going mobile on which a lot of work is being done. Road trip planning is usually a little tedious compared to other forms of planning; hence making this planner available for a smaller real estate like a mobile screen is a challenge. But thanks to all the midnight oil the team has been burning, we see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I think everyone has some inspiring person in their life and some taglines? Who are they, what is their role in your Startup life?
One of my role models is Bill Gates. One of his quotes, - “The most important speed issue is often not technical but cultural. It’s convincing everyone that the company’s survival depends on moving as fast as possible” is something we live by every day.
A lot of what I do in business is inspired by this man, and I aspire to be him one day.
What is your experience as an Entrepreneur?
I am a first-generation entrepreneur in my family. The first experiences for me as an entrepreneur started in engineering college when I had started a couple of college magazines. I heard that they are still published in college, however I have not seen them in many years. If I ever go back to college one day, I am sure to ask around for it. It was called – CRAP. No kidding!
In 2007, I had started two ventures – reltoK and IndiBlogger. Of the two IndiBlogger survived and I saw a higher potential which made get into it full time in 2009. ScoutMyTrip happened in 2016, where I had met a good partner in Deepak Ananth.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
ScoutMyTrip is heavily investing time and resources in AI and machine learning. The predictive analysis road travel is going to be a huge step forward for the industry not just in India but globally.
But other than that, in 5 years, we would have wanted to penetrated the global markets, become angel investors ourselves and positively contributing to the startup ecosystem.
What do you suggest people who are interested in starting their own business?
Go the whole mile! There’s always kilometre zero before your journey but what matters is the journey and what you’ve achieved so far. Make the learning process enjoyable and you won’t have to work a day in your life. But all this is only possible if one takes the leap; which is the biggest hurdle. We tend to get caught up in accumulating money sometimes; but starting up like getting married. There is no right time; one just has to take the leap and do it.
Personally, both Deepak and I spend time advising startups through the maze of venture funding and managing one’s time and energies to achieve goals quickly.