With a vision to promote Asia, Ichiqoo started its journey a few months back. It is an easy to use online travel portal, co-founded by Ashwin Panicker and Bavani Srinu. However, the decision to launch this platform was taken almost two years back after they identified an existing problem related to planning a trip to the East. Today, in this session, Ashwin tell us their story.
Hi, welcome to conflatingVisions. Please tell us a few lines about the founders of Ichiqoo.
It is our pleasure to talk to conflatingVisions. Ashwin Panicker & Bavani Srinu are the founders of Ichiqoo. We left behind our comfortable corporate careers to pursue a vision – create a platform for like-minded travellers to explore Asia. After two years’ of preparation, Ichiqoo was born.
What were you both doing before starting Ichiqoo?
I am an architect by training. I moved on to specialize in transit railway design and planning. In over 20 years as a Designer, Design Manager, Project Manager and a Civil Servant, I have been responsible, across three countries, for some complex multi-disciplinary projects with roles at senior levels. Prior to starting Ichiqoo, I had been working with Governments of both Singapore and Dubai.
With a Marketing background, Bavani has over 11 years of experience in Brand Management, Operations, Public Relation Management, Strategic Alliances, Advertising, Media Planning, etc. She has had stints both in Dubai and India across industries such as Real Estate development, Fashion Retail and Events Management.
Please tell us about Ichiqoo. What is your working model?
Ichiqoo is an easy, simple to use, home-to-home trip planner that promotes Asia. Unlike popular OTAs, Ichiqoo has a clear focus on a niche market – that of travellers who seek experiential holidays by going local. We provide a platform for carefully chosen properties and experiences promoted by locals of that land. Travellers can choose from these curated options to build their own itinerary by picking and adding, while the system intelligently provides relevant close-to-the-ground tips, during that process. Imagine a travel agent sitting across the desk and telling you where to go and what to do – but virtually! For the less adventurous, there are ready to buy packages as well. Either build your own trip or buy off-the-shelf is the concept.
As a start-up, we are currently promoting Sri Lanka and aim to spread to the rest of Asia soon.
Image Courtesy: Ichiqoo
What made you create this online travel portal?
Both Bavani and I have been avid travellers. In my case I have been a backpacker in my earlier days, transforming into a flash packer later on. We realized that, when we had to plan a trip to the East, it weren’t easy as planning to the West. The moment we booked a room which was not part of a branded hotel chain, it was always a game of chance. Sometimes we were lucky while most times we ended up in rooms that were far from the flashy pictures on the website. This got us thinking. There are some well-run properties in Asia, run by passionate people who love to meet travellers. Yet, there was no way of knowing who these were. We wanted to bring these properties to the front. We wanted to show the travellers that a trip to the East need not be that stressful. We also wanted to create a single stop service for all travel needs to Asia.
Image Courtesy: Ichiqoo
But that is not all, we wanted to bring the locals to the forefront of the whole process. We wanted to be able to let the locals lead the travellers, with their insights of the land they know so well. Rather than a travel service provider operating out of the US.
How was the first 90 days of your journey? What were the initial challenges you had to overcome?
We haven’t completed 90 days yet! Ichiqoo went live for revenue operations only by end of May this year. As any other start-up in this stage, our initial challenge is to rake up traction with practically non-existent marketing budgets. But we resort to creative ways to reach out to people. Talking to conflatingVisions would also help, I think!
Share your investment details.
We have a couple of stakeholders who have invested in the idea and we are in the process of raising funds to expand and scale up. Details would be revealed as and when that happens.
How has the demand for your service grown since inception?
Initial growth has been through referrals which mean the graph is not steep yet. The probability of an online platform closing sales is always a function of the interest it generates. Going with that our portal has been getting increased attention. The good part is that all our customers who have gone to Sri Lanka are uber happy with their choice. We believe that as we continue to focus on quality, quantity will simply follow.
What are the present challenges? How are you tackling them?
There are a few challenges. Since what we promote are invariably vetted by us on the ground, acquiring new properties and experiences is an intense process. This takes time and would continue to be so until we have a critical mass of customers whose reviews will replace this ground effort. We do not go by reviews in other rating platforms since we believe that existing review systems can be manipulated. The other challenge is to let the world know what we are and who we are, without the usual marketing channels.
What are your plans to further scale up the business?
Ichiqoo was started with an aim to showcase Asia to the rest of the world. To get a system that worked well before scaling up, we chose a small emerging market such as Sri Lanka to start with. Now that our confidence has been growing we are beginning to look to other countries in the region, that fits with our target customer base.
Anything else you want to share…
We are often asked, what the name Ichiqoo means. In languages known to us, it does not have any meaning. But we would like to think that it means ‘a way of travel.’ The hard truth though is that it is a likeable sound that most tongues can pronounce it without sounding alien. We also think that it sounds peppy, it sounds Asian, and that’s us.
And, one last question of this session, if you have had one wish…
If we had one wish, it would be to travel the world like a local and call every place, our home!