Startup Spotlight: mygola : Planning a Trip? Let mygola Do It For You
What’s the most time consuming and tedious process in a Trip? Is it the trip planning stage? or booking stage? or trip sharing stage? mygola confidently puts its bet in the “Trip Planning” stage. Mygola was founded by Anshuman Bapna (Ex-Googler, Stanford & IIT Bombay Grad, CEO of mygola) and Prateek Sharma (IIT Bombay, COO of mygola). We met one of the founders (Prateek Sharma) of mygola at their office. The office atmosphere was electrifying, relaxing and inspiring – people in shorts, everyone uses a Mac, a fridge, foosball table, guitar, lot many bean bags. To top this list, the founders are planning a robot beer dispenser in office.
Read on to know what Prateek tell us.
What mygola is into and what problem are you trying to solve?
Both Anshuman and I are very enthusiastic travelers. Time and again we felt how big an effort it is to plan a trip, especially if it’s a long trip or a trip to an unknown part of the world. We were trying to understand whether this is a problem that only we have or its universal. When we looked at the market data, we found that travelers looked at 20-30 websites to plan their trips; also they spend 4 to 8 weeks in research. But, in spite of that enormous effort, they will be confused. Problem with travel industry is – there are plenty of content available and traveler has to sift through so much data to make a decision. That’s when we decided to come up with a service that removes the pain of travel planning; a platform that’s built on the huge amount of intelligence that already exists on the web. That’s how mygola was born. We both are techies. We understood that we need to build a technically sound and cool product; on top of that we needed human-curation to bridge the gap between user and technology.
Are you also into holiday booking and flight booking service as well?
We have started doing it. Our users wanted these services.
How old is mygola?
We started in the end of 2009.
When did you conceive this idea, during your IIT Bombay days, work days?
Anshuman passed out in 2000 and I in 2002. We went separate ways. In 2009, we started discussing that travel planning is a problem and we can create a solution. We encountered the problem ourselves.
Prateek: My wife was very supportive; she was my classmate (in IIT Bombay). We both are in the same wavelength about how to perceive opportunities, but rest of the family had some other thoughts thinking its risky (smiles). But overall, family was very supportive.
Did you rise any funding?
We raised about 1 million from VC in valley – Blumberg capital, Dave McClure.
We read in your website that you are planning to have a robotic beer dispenser at office?
It’s still in the pipeline, has to be done. Our mechanical engineer is busy coding
Is your website design inspired by Pinterest?
Little bit, yes. We realized that Pinterest kind of interface helps in the discovery of content that we are creating. But this is a very small part of the overall experience, which is quite deep.
How big is mygola team?
22 people full time, several thousand part-time – huge community of freelancers. We have a very sophisticated process, we look out for travel planners, have them take an entrance test, conduct a special training program for them, then they start working with us.
What do you do in “mygola Labs”?
“Labs” is usually the result of our hackathon event. For 48 hours everyone stays at office; we come up with an idea, build a small product and push it to our website. “Fake My Trip” was one of the products from our labs.
In the “pay as you wish” pricing plan, can I pay any amount I wish? Even 10 rupees?
You can literally pay any amount. It’s a contrarian approach that we took; we are seeing good conversion there. Some customers pay very low, some pay good amounts as well.
When you started mygola, did anyone say that this model is not going to work?
Lot of people said that. They said it’s an un-scalable model. We kind of agreed, there are potential challenges to it. But that’s where the real value of the product is – to understand what the traveler is looking for.
Why do you think customers will come to mygola than not read reviews in Tripadvisor and get suggestions from friends in social media?
Trip reviews are a very small part of trip plan; it’s like seeing the tip of iceberg. Tripadvisor might do a very good job in weekend trips. Because, in those short trips, customers visit one or two locations and stay at a hotel. If it’s an extended trip say a 7 day trip and you are going to the place for first time, that’s where the complexity kicks in. In this scenario, customers need to research about flights, hotels, all possible activities, local transports etc. This is just a start in the trip planning journey. Then customers do the next level of research like – “Is there an ATM near my hotel”. Tripadvisor will help in planning for the tip of iceberg, but beneath the tip lies a humongous and complex work, that’s what mygola does for customers.
Did you face any challenge in mygola?
Initially, framing itineraries were difficult, finding hotels were difficult. Everything took lot of time, but slowly we built the expertise around it by using our freelancing network. We also built lot of sophisticated tools that help in doing research and planning for customers significantly faster. We struggled a lot in the start, but as a result of it we understood how to tackle it and we did it.
Do you also have international customers? (Non-India)
It’s fairly balanced right now. Majority of our customers are from India and US, others are from rest of the world.
What’s your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
There are plenty. Persistence is very key skill that entrepreneurs need to have, they need to stick to the system longer and longer. In terms of execution, I am a big fan of lean startup approach; I would recommend people not to burn too much money at start, if they are trying to break new grounds then an iterative approach helps a lot.
Author: Karthick Prabu