The most difficult thing when you want to go on a holiday is the part that most of us would like to skip and that is to plan the holiday. Holiday planning takes a lot of effort and more important a great amount of patience and even after that you are not 100% sure of getting it right. Well, there is a startup called Tripigator that is working to save you from the boring part and give you a perfectly planned holiday.
Tripigator is a Bangalore based travel planning engine which operates in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India. The portal aims to provide a one stop solution for all the travel needs including travel itineraries, flights, hotels, cabs, weather, places to visit, etc. The company which was founded by three IIT Kharagpur graduates Mukul Garg, Piyush Grover and Karteek Narumanchi uses technology to generate a range of travel itineraries on the basis of inputs from the user and then ranks them as per the user’s experience.
Interview with Piyush Grover, Co-Founder at Tripigator
We caught up with Piyush Grover, the co-founder of the company to know a little more about this travel startup.
Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.
After graduating from IIT Kharagpur in 2009 with a major in Computer Science, I joined Novell Inc. as a key developer for its Identity Manager product. In parallel to regular work, I started working on the idea of Tripigator with Mukul & Karteek. I quit my job in October, 2012 and since then the idea has evolved from a product to a business and continues to evolve regularly at a good pace.
When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
Mukul, Karteek and I used to discuss ideas during our college days. And when we graduated, Mukul and I ended up in Bangalore and shared the same flat. We researched many ideas during that time. Travel, despite being the oldest and largest ecommerce market, has inefficiencies and lacks technology adaptation. PhocusWright, a pioneer in travel research, published in its survey that majority of the crowd spends 21 days on an average to plan a trip and gets frustrated while doing so. Eventually Karteek shifted to Bangalore and we started working on the idea of personalised trip planning since we found it to be a potential problem worth solving.
What were the early days at Tripigator like?
We started building the prototype while pursuing our jobs. Once the prototype was ready, we spoke with many people and were convinced that it had a good scope. Finally, we quit our jobs to devote 100% of our time to it and develop it further. My room was converted into an office. We hired our first interns in the summer of 2013 from IIT Kharagpur and launched our website in May 2014 in partnership with Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India as its official trip planner. Within six months of the launch, we brought out our Android app in the market which was not only acknowledged in India but internationally as well.
The next 4-5 months were spent on analyzing customer behaviour. We found that the travel planning piece is unsolved if it doesn’t include hassle free booking. So we started our operations and over a period of 6 – 8 months built a good reputation with the wholesalers. Now, we are operating in 12 countries.
Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?
We are a team of 35 and 90% of us are less than 25 years old. So you can guess what the energy around is like. There are new challenges everyday. But with a passionate team, it’s always fun to dive into these and solve them. Recently, we launched the ExoticTravel Fever campaign where we offered additional discounts to our customers. People worked day and night to make it a success. (You can read about it on our blog. It will give you a glimpse of the kind of passion people have shown during the campaign.
Can you tell us about the technology stack used at Tripigator?
The technology stack is hosted at Amazon EC2. It gives us the freedom to manage hardware without putting much effort and also creates the possibility to scale the system within minutes, for that matter.
Though, the trip planning problem is theoretically unsolvable at present (reason is here: https://medium.com/tripigator-app/trip-planning-hardest-of-the-hard-problem-4591e487a48e#.scjvjbd8h), we have come up with an IPE (intuitive planning engine) which is based on Greedy-Backtracking approach. It works perfectly for almost 80-90 % of the practical scenarios. To manage it, we have created our in-house library on top of JPPF grid computing. Right now, we are using Tomcat7 as application server and nginx-uwsgi with Django as the web-server. Since we need to pre-process 100s of GBs of data on a regular basis, we use hadoop & hive to do the job.
Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?
Information flow is increasing exponentially on a regular basis and so is the user persona and user’s expectations from a product. Keeping that in mind, we have designed our stack in such a way that it can cope up with things easily, as and when required. For example, the library we have created on top of JPPF, works so smoothly that you just need to execute one file in any computer (node) connected in the same Wi-Fi or LAN and the computation load gets shared with the newly added node automatically.
Personalisation is the core of our product and we need to process 100s of GBs of data everyday to achieve our goal. We are using clustering mechanism over EC2 for automating the heavy tasks and it works like a charm. For example, if you want to run a heavy job at 8:00 AM in the morning everyday, you need 100s of processors to do the job. But you cannot purchase so many computers for a daily job which runs for 10-15 minutes only. So, now this is what our system does. It creates multiple nodes exactly at 8:00 AM in the morning, installs all the requirements, processes the jobs and terminates the instances one by one as soon as the job is processed. And you are charged for those ec2-instances exactly for the time they were on.
How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?
Mukul & Karteek worked with HSBC’s business analytics team so analytics had to be an integral part of Tripigator by core design.
We have recently added mixpanel for the user analytics in conjunction with the Google analytics and other internal analytics tools. Most of the business decisions which were based on gut feelings in the beginning, are now completely data driven. This way, we can make & break our hypothesis, understand it easily and move the product in the direction of the user’s adaptivity. In the end, it’s the users that matter.
How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?
Tripigator’s primary focus is to build the best customer experience for holiday planning and booking. Let’s say you want to plan a budget holiday with your family in North India, in the month of January or on a particular date but do not want to visit Kullu & Manali. Can you think of a tech solution which can create a holiday plan meeting the needs mentioned above? You either have to to do a complete research by yourself or leave a query with various agent websites which will be responded in 24 hours. You will also have to deal with multiple agents who serve you with multiple non-comparable travel itineraries. Our system does it for you in just a couple of seconds taking budget, weather, popularity, your travel partner and many more parameters into consideration. And on top of that you can do customisation as and when needed.
Now, the same technology is being used in our booking process as well, where the personalised itineraries are created within seconds and the same itineraries are booked with the wholesalers. For the customer, we are adding value by removing the travel agents and other intermediaries leading to better prices for their holiday plan. And for the wholesaler, we are removing the pain of long buying cycles, which means they can sell more inventories with the same effort. (You can read more on it here: https://medium.com/tripigator-app/how-to-save-30-on-your-next-holidays-fc3c43acaf1a#.48jef12jv )
What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running Tripigator?
No challenge is big enough if it is already solved.
Yes, we do face tech challenges every now and then as we are growing. And I feel that’s pretty good as every challenge once solved brings a good learning. As you know by now that the problem we are solving is too complex but the good thing is that the system has been designed keeping the simplicity in mind. I would like to share one instance.
When we were about to launch our website, it was only the three of us working on this product and focussing on many of its features. But when we launched the website with Govt of India, we were covered almost everywhere in the media. And when the user experienced the website, they judged it based on issues related to broken links and some of the additional features rather than our main core product Trip planning. But as I said, every challenge brings a good learning. So we worked hard on the issues and the feedback helped us improve our core system. We made sure that our entire focus would be on the things which we want to bring to the customer upfront. The users’ overwhelming feedback brought us back on the track after the Android app’s launch.
What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?
Hiring is one of the difficulties in any startup. And for the tech hires, it becomes a little more challenging. Though every profile has slightly different requirements, we prefer those candidates who bring a different perspective to things and are able to look at any problem from various angles. I personally look for the “zeal to learn attitude” in the candidate. Because skills can be developed, not the attitude (at least it takes time).
How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?
Apart from Product Hunt & techcrunch, I generally explore what technologies are being used by
the unicorn startups in the valley and in India. We recently came across Siftery which does it in a very fine way.
What gets you excited about coming to work every day?
As a millennial, I have seen technology moving on a very fast pace. In the next 4 to 5 years, everybody will have a supercomputer in their pockets. We talk about AI advancements and discuss fears of singularity but the growing travel market still relies on the old technology and is not adapting to the current state-of-the-art. Think of a day, when I take my phone out and say, “Hey Tripigator! Plan a holiday for me for the coming weekend. Karteek and Mukul are joining me as well”. I get the trip plans, choose one of them, and book it then and there. Days of effort is reduced to 5 minutes. That’s the value we are aiming for and this is what excites me everyday!
What sets Tripigator engineering culture apart?
“Work hard, play harder” is the motto we follow. Everybody takes ownership and responsibility for what they do and everybody is entitled to take decisions for the same. We do not believe in the hierarchy but make sure that the people with expertise in one field guide others. We have also maintained a digital shared library for online courses where people can take up courses apart from their work and can learn new technologies and skills.
Which Tripigator value resonates best with you?
Bringing transparency and convenience to the customer are the two values on which Tripigator’s soul lies on. Think from this perspective; when you buy a phone online, it gets delivered to you. But if the phone is broken and you do not get a replacement for it, you lose your money in the whole transaction. Now, if you book a holiday and due to the unprofessional handling, your holiday gets ruined, you do not just lose the money but also your precious time where you could have had good memories. This is what we are eliminating to give users a good travel experience. We are here to do business but not at the cost of honesty. We are always transparent with our customers and never make false promises.
Any piece of advice for the techies out there?
I have seen many people confused about choosing the right tech stack in the initial days of their startup. I guess, there are a few things they should keep in mind while choosing any tech stack.
- Whether the current stack they are going after easily solves their problem compared to other technologies.
- Whether it has an active online community.
- Whether the new graduates have adapted / are adapting to the technology.
- If the technology is very old or very new, I suggest that you avoid it.