Indian road trip planner ScoutMyTrip treks into Indonesia: Startup Stories

ScoutMyTrip puts the road trip planning industry at USD 6.6 billion.

Deepak Ananth, ScoutMyTrip. Photo: ScoutMyTrip

In 2007, Vineet Rajan, 34, was on his way to Mumbai from a 20-day-long road trip on his Royal Enfield—the quintessential two-wheeler for solo bikers—when his bike that he had lovingly named Laetitia after the Roman goddess of happiness, broke down.

Luckily for Rajan, his to-be co-founder Deepak Ananth was traveling through the same road and stopped his bike—also a Royal Enfield—to help him out by offering his spare tube. They rode together for a while but finally drifted apart as Ananth was on a different route.

Rajan says over the years they maintained the contact and later even started a bikers club together to share travel stories and learn from each other’s road trips. Their friendship grew, so much so, that they started a company together to help fellow travelers plan their trips better.

“Being a part of a travel community allowed us to talk to a lot of travelers, understand their problems and it made us realize a market gap,” Rajan says. Together, they started toying with the idea to streamline people’s travel plans.

After six years of planning and discussing around the theme of road trips, the duo launched ScoutMyTrip at the end of 2016.

ScoutMyTrip specifically targets vacationers wanting to go on a road trip as the company believes it requires a lot more planning than, say, going scuba diving. It further classified its target clientele to mainly families or couples who plan to go for a road trip on a four-wheeler. According to Rajan, bikers typically travel without a plan and travelers who drive a car with families are the ones who actually require a plan beforehand, “which is a larger market with a higher share of the wallet compared to bikers.”

“When you are travelling with your family or as a couple, it’s important to know where the toilets are, which restaurant is hygienic or serves vegetarian food, among other such concerns. These are the things that even Google is not able to solve,” Rajan says.

After speaking to around 5,000 travelers the company started to digitize such information on their platform that eventually had enough data for it to learn on its own and evolve to help people plan a road trip.

Not just a planner

The company that started with offering just technical assistance to plan road trips, has since then evolved into a full-fledged service armed with scouts—travelers who know the ins and outs of specific routes—to give personal assistance to people before and during their journey.

In the middle of 2018, the founders learnt that even after using their platform to plan the trip, travelers still wanted to talk to someone who has already gone on that particular route and can advise them on the road condition and possible alternate routes to give them a higher level of confidence. The company started creating a network of ‘scouts’ and by the end of 2018 they were ready with around 100 scouts who could “confidently advise fellow travelers on small yet critical information.”

After planning their road trip on SoutMyTrip, if customers still feel they require human assistance, they can hire a suitable travel expert from a list of 100 such scouts on the platform. Rajan believes the company has now evolved from a road trip planner to a marketplace of travel experts.

Twenty-year-old Rabiah Kahol is one such scout who has been working with ScoutMyTrip since April this year and has already assisted around 25-30 travelers. New-Delhi based marketing executive, Kahol is a self-proclaimed travel expert who knows the roads and almost all eateries that come on the way from New Delhi to the mountainous Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, her home town.

“Till now I have helped three groups of travelers who were going to Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. Once one of the group members was craving for a plate of hot maggi—a comfort food on the hills which is similar to noodles—and they called me for suggestion. I knew exactly where to lead them to for a perfect plate of maggi,” Kahol explains.

Many a times, these scouts go with the clients on their trips, but Kahol who regularly visits the hills of Ladakh and Himachal, has till now assisted her clients over phone. Working with ScoutMyTrip, the travel experts earn anywhere between Rs 5,000-6,000 (USD 70-97) monthly after the company deducts a commission ranging from 30-50% on each trip.

Raking the moolah

For the first one-and-a-half years, ScoutMyTrip operated without any revenue model in sight. But with the addition of travel experts, the company has “found a way to earn money and at the same time improve the service.”

“A traveler can plan the trip free on our planner, but usually they need some help in terms of fine tuning the plan and that is when they hire a scout. When customers hire a scout we charge anywhere between 30% to 50% of the ticket value and the remaining amount goes to the scout,” Rajan says. On an average it costs around Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 9,000 (USD 27-125) for a customer to hire a scout depending on the place and duration of the road trip.

Rajan claims around 35,000 people have used the ScoutMyTrip platform till now, out of which close to 6,000 are paid users who have hired a scout. “On an average 1,500 trips are planned every month on our platform,” he says.

Apart from scouts, the company has also partnered with eight travel and hospitality companies such as OYO, Agoda, Treebo Hotels, Zoom Car, among others for customers to book all their requirements from one platform.

“The third iteration came when customers told us it would be really convenient if they could book hotels and taxis as well from our platform. That is when we started partnering with other players and we have also built our own network of hotel and room stays which gives us more margin that can go as high as 50%,” Rajan explains.

Till now the company has raised an undisclosed amount of money in 2017 from the Mumbai and Silicon Valley-based accelerator Z Nation Lab. Rajan says they are in talks with various investors to raise a bridge round of USD 500,000.

“We want to further build the technology and expand our scout network from the current 100 to 250 with the next round of funding,” he says.

 

Vineet Rajan at the Digitaraya accelerator program in Jakarta

India to Southeast Asia

For the large part of August this year, Ananth and Rajan were in Jakarta participating in a Google-backed mentorship program called Digitaraya, which works with startups from APAC countries.

“As an accelerator program Digitaraya wants successful Indian startups to set shop in Jakarta as a gateway to Southeast Asia. This goes in line with the country’s aim to be the biggest holiday destination in the region, because right now they are lagging behind Thailand and Malaysia,” Rajan claims.

The company is aggressively looking to expand in Southeast Asian market and is one of the reasons it’s seeking an institutional round of funding. The funding will help the company make in-roads to Indonesia, the first market it wants to enter in Southeast Asia.

“We realized 80% of travelers who look at Indonesia for their holiday destination go to Bali. So there is a huge scope for scouts to promote tourism to other destinations as well,” Rajan says.

However, the company is evaluating whether to go with the same model in Indonesia, as the founders believe road trip might not be the ideal way of traveling in the region as it largely consists of islands. It makes more sense to “build a multi-mode transport planner that will intuitively suggest people where to go depending on the number of days they have.” It will also partner with third party hotel, taxis, and airline platforms, with the option of hiring its flagship product—scouts.