Archive for August, 2007

Interivew with Sandeep Murthy at Cleartrip.com

Written by: gaurav

On Aug 24th, 2007

The online travel business is a fast growing market segment due to increased travel in India as well as growing number of travel service providers like airlines and hotels. This market segment is also competitive with multiple players including travel agencies like Yatra, MakeMytrip and travel search portals/aggregators like iXigo, Zoomtra. Apart from these startups, the airline and hotels themselves are also setting up a strong online presence.

Online travel agencies typically build close business relationships with the service providers, transact on their own site and have offline operations to complement the Web Site. In contrast, search portals are typically online only and scrape the web to aggregate data from any and all sources possible (including online travel agencies) and redirect users to the source’s Web site to buy the ticket. Online travel agencies have higher expenses since they invest more in building relationships and need to have transaction capabilities on their site.

We recently interviewed Aloke Bajpai of iXigo. The following interview is with Sandeep Murthy, CEO of Cleartrip.com. The interviews themselves reflect the difference in beliefs of how to address the market.

I also have done a thorough analysis of which business model is more likely to success in this growing market. You can view at my blog at http://techtrends.in/2007/08/24/the-online-travel-space-%e2%80%93-large-opportunity-with-different-business-models/

What is Cleartrip.com?
Cleartrip is an online travel agency; we intend to make travel simple and booking online a pleasant experience. We currently focus on the domestic (India) air tickets segment with hotels across the globe.
  
Who are the founders of Cleartrip.com?
Stuart Crighton, Matthew Stacey and Hrush Bhatt, all of whom have a background in the travel and/or online industry are the founders of Cleartrip.

When did you join the Cleartrip team ?
Sherpalo and KPCB Ventures made a first round in investment in Cleartrip in September 2005. I joined as CEO a couple of months later

Whose decision was it for the insider to be brought in as CEO and what was the reaction of the founders?
Since I had been involved in the business from its inception, that is before the funding,  I share a  good rapport with the founders it was a joint decision between the founders, the investors and myself to have me play a more active role in the management of the business. Due to a shared vision and direction everyone, including the founders, were very supportive of this decision.

How much investment has Cleartrip received?
The exact number is not disclosed but it is in the millions of US dollars.

What is the uptake on the site?
The site is performing really well. We process upwards of 5000 transactions a day. 30% of our registered users who search on the site end up buying. We are also seeing repeat usage around 25-30%

What, in your opinion, are the critical factors of success in this business?
Providing the best customer services and exclusive deals with airlines/hotels are the key. Good customer service is attained by having a fully integrated solution for people’s domestic traveling needs.

We don’t believe that lowest price is a sustainable advantage. It’s not feasible/relevant. Take for example the airline business. The airlines are selling online and hotels will soon follow the trend. Hence all aggregators will have to have same prices. (or very similar). Can’t have any higher since no-one will buy and can’t have any lower since then there is channel conflict with the airlines and no margin in the business.

A better approach is to have a tight business relationship with the airlines and provide joint promotions and find compelling ways to add value to customers, with features such as fare calendar (you can see the lowest fare across the whole month in one search and ticket printer.)

So what do you do to provide good customer service and promotions?
The simplicity of our Web site we believe is a differentiator. In addition we also provide a very efficient customer support for any users that get stuck while using the Web site. For airlines that require a paper stub of the ticket we will even mail the tickets to our customers.

We’ve had several promotions with our partners (airlines). E.g. we had a scheme for a 15% discount for Indian Airline flights and a gift voucher for Kingfisher flights. We’ve also announced multiple promotions with hotels including Oberoi, Trident group and more recently the Fortune group.

What about hotels?
Hotels are a fragmented market and it is important to provide users with an exhaustive list of options. We currently have over 3,200 domestic hotels and over 40,000 International hotels available on our website. Where we can check availability and book it from our site itself. Initial response has been very good.

How do you market the site? What is the cost of acquisition?
Marketing site is a combination of online marketing, TV and print advertisement, word-of-mouth and various creative promotions with our partners or otherwise.

Cost of acquisition is not cheap in this business. However the demographic is fairly niche so can have positive returns.

How do you make money?
We get a commission for every ticket processed on our site. This is between 4 – 6 % for airlines and 15 – 20% for hotels.

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Indiatimes’ push into personalized home page

Written by: Neeraj

On Aug 14th, 2007

Do we see Indian portals opening up? And trying to cater not only to masses but also to niches?

A personalized home page, according to me, helps us consume the content we are most interested in, at one place. It also enables us to decide the way our stuff gets displayed. Most importantly, we can add content from multiple publishers and blogs.

Indiatimes launched its personalized home page with my.indiatimes.com today (beta version). This is the first such offering from any Indian portal. my.indiatimes.com is a way to customize content from Indiatimes and from around the web. You can drag and drop the boxes, delete content, add whatever you prefer from any site. It requires you to sign in with your Indiatimes id. As far as content goes, I see quite a limited set of content right now. However, the ease of use and functionality is quite neat. There is no clutter and it is easy to add and delete stuff. I am sure content feeds and widgets would be ramped up soon enough.

My Indiatimes

This is an encouraging move from a publisher which is trying to go content neutral by providing content feeds from the likes of Hindu, BBC, CNN and Newsweek. Under each content category there is a clear distinction between Indiatimes content and other content from around the web. It will be interesting to see the adoption pattern of such a site in India. I would like the audience to share their views on what they want the most from a personalized home page. And yes, there are no advertisements on my.indiatimes.com (yet!)

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“We are sitting at the verge of a perfect storm” – Darpan Munjal on ecommerce in India

Written by: Madhur

On Aug 5th, 2007

Ecommerce has been one of the recurring themes here at iLeher. On this topic we have have covered various stats, strategies, and new ventures. The reason why its so interesting to study this area is its at nascent stages, its upcoming and most importantly its rise will create new avenues for generating revenue for Internet companies across the board – including logistics, advertising, transaction processing, referrals and lead generation. I am personally very excited to watch new companies and businesses coming up in this space and observe how this market shapes up. Web 2.0, community sites are all great (and good to see Indian companies are getting noticed), but ecommerce is what will directly impact lives of general people. An example is how it has changed the rules of the game in travel industry.

Various issues that have been discussed are how our market is different from others in terms of customers, logistics, pricing models and what is it that will get us to the tipping point and more. We discussed these issues with Darpan Munjal, the CTO – eCommerce at Indiatimes.com. He has closely seen this industry as he led the ecommerce division of Sears Holdings (A $55 billion retailer in the US). He has shared some excellent view points on the topic of ecommerce with us. Some of the important points that he touches on in the conversation are:

  • the current underlying infrastructure supporting the ecommerce eco-system in India
  • the value additions that online shopping sites can provide to customers
  • pricing models
  • muti-channel retail strategies
  • supporting businesses to online retailing

Read on below for his insights on all these topics. Love to hear your views/questions.
Read the rest of this entry »

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