It all started when Gautam Malaiappan, Founder & CEO, StayHappi.com, used to travel a lot for his business trips. He realised that there is a huge demand gap in travel industry and he wanted to bridge the gap and thus StayHappi.com was born. His aim is to make StayHappi.com the number 1 travel aggregator portal in India. Gautam agreed to take some time out for an interview on Startup Simba and here is his startup story.Tell us what StayHappi.com is all about in a nutshell.
StayHappi is an aggregated online platform where we help travellers, especially business travellers and sales professionals; find better hotels at best prices in the industry. StayHappi is a platform where we facilitate ambitious entrepreneurs and high profile business professionals to enjoy the luxury of success at an affordable price. Our ultimate aim is to provide them quality stay at bargain prices, so that they are able to live their dream, while still in pursuit of their dream.
How and when the idea about StayHappi.com did come to your mind?
I was an Analytics Sales professional, so I had to travel around the globe on business trips and stayed in a lot of business class and 5-star hotels. I experienced the luxury and the ambience that will give a lift to your mood and how well it impacted my mind-set when I was in front of my client. I found that lot of such hotel rooms were vacant and I thought this as a waste of money and resources. At that time, I was travelling on company paid trips, but realised that if I had to travel on my own after starting my company, I couldn’t have afforded that luxury. I could easily make out that there was clearly an overflow and demand gap. That is when I thought, we can do something about it and StayHappi was born.
Tell us about the founder of StayHappi.com? What is his background and what was he busy with prior to launching StayHappi.com?
I am the Founder of StayHappi.com. I come from a dynamic entrepreneurial city, Coimbatore. I had completed my B.E. from KCT Coimbatore and got into Mu Sigma in 2012. I was a Business Analyst and soon realized that is not what I wanted to do, so I moved into the sales team of Mu Sigma. After little over a year at Mu Sigma, I got an opportunity as Director to head Sales at Marketelligent. It was little less than 2 years at Marketelligent, when I got an opportunity to head the Business Development activities for Casino & Hospitality Vertical at Karvy Analytics. I had moved there, briefly about 3.5 years of professional career, no management background, grew at a tremendous pace in the corporate world heading team sizes of up to 10 MBA folks at a time. I had always wanted to do something on my own and the entrepreneurial bug finally bit me.
In which year StayHappi.com was launched? What is the current team size? What is the current revenue size? Where are your offices located? Who are your target audience?
I have been contemplating about StayHappi since mid-2014, we had changed a lot of models since then. It only became a reality and usable for customers on December 2015. We have currently 4 team members. Revenue numbers are confidential. We are based out of Bangalore and our main target audience is entrepreneurs and sales professionals who travel a lot on business trips.
How is StayHappi.com different from other travel websites in India? What is the USP?
If we have to position ourselves – I would say, we are an online travel aggregator (OTA) by large.
OTAs like MakeMyTrip simply offer the ease of online booking, while OYO or ZO rooms are providing sub-standard hotels with very ill-mannered staff in the name of so called “cheap prices”. If you have to position us, StayHappi = (MakeMyTrip – Price) * (OYO + Consistent Quality).
We cater the ambitious section of the population, who want to make a change in the world, to experience the luxury of success, by giving them luxurious stays at affordable prices.
How difficult was it for you to hire quality, skilled and talented people, when you said you are hiring for a startup?
It was not easy; we went to college and university campuses. They were not very receptive as we were only going to recruit 1-2 resources. We tried online portals, but we couldn’t find skilled people. On the other hand, if we could found anyone’s resume matching our business requirement, they were not upto the mark when we spoke to them. Hiring outside of your circle for a startup is pretty difficult here. Finally, two of my friends who believed in my vision agreed to join as founding members of StayHappi.
How has been the journey so far? What did you learn?
It has been too short so far to describe, however, I just enjoy the fact that I am responsible for my own decisions and charting a course. It is exhilarating to put it short. I learnt with power comes great responsibility and accountability.
How tough has been the competition, with leading travel portals already operating in the country?
Honestly, we are going to operate in a segment that is currently being served by a lot of other companies; however we believe that we are going to create a niche market for us. We are not an “everyone’s travel portal”, we are a portal designed only for the ambitious business travellers.
Did you receive any seed funding or raise money to go really big? Are you considering any such things?
No seed funding as of now. I started with $100,000, which is my savings from salary and sales commissions in 3.5 years. We are adequately funded for one year, we are right now focussing on execution rather than funding.
What were the initial hiccups you faced? How easy or tough was it for you?I didn’t know anything about technology when we started. We had to figure out everything as it happened. It was hiccups all the way, not one or two. It was a pretty tough decision to quit a high paying job, being in the leadership position of your company, made my parents and friends tell me not to quit. My company was offering a H1B for relocation, but, I decided to quit the same day, if somebody can believe that I can do wonders at 24, I thought, “why not do the wonders for myself?”. I quit without telling anybody at home and it was a very bold decision when I look back.
What do you want to tell wannabe young entrepreneurs?
I still consider myself as a young entrepreneur, nothing much to say. If at all I had one thing to say it would be “You can get a job any day anytime – just do what you want right now, don’t fret.”
What do you feel about the current startup ecosystem in India? Where is it heading to?
Very conducive! The government, the investor ecosystem, and support system everything is gearing towards a better startup ecosystem in the country. It is great. I seriously doubt the cash burning model of startups and how sustainable it is in the long run.
How supportive was your family with your idea of launching a startup? What was your friend’s reaction?
My family was very supportive, but they told me only one thing – you have a good salary – employ three good people and get it done. You don’t have to quit your job. However, I felt it was me who had to show the way and not my employees, so I quit without telling them.
My friends are all very entrepreneurial – they were the ones who told me – do it dude! It will obviously happen.
Do you think the Indian government is providing enough support to the startups? What else according to you the government can do to encourage startup growth in the country?
It is much better than what it was earlier. I personally think the present government is doing as much as they can. Rest is up to the entrepreneurs to find a way.
What is your plan or strategy to sustain in the long run?
Provide quality stays at really affordable prices to our target customers. Making the customer go WOW at every point.
What are your marketing strategies to promote your company? What kind of branding activities you are doing?
We have digital marketing presence and we have few promo videos lined up for our branding and positioning strategy.
Are you using any specific technology to increase overall efficiency, customer engagement, boost sales etc.?
Yes we are. Coming from an analytics background myself, all of our systems are mathematically powered and the algorithm behind the system is our core strength.
What are your immediate plans to expand and grow?
Right now we are focusing on partnering with more hotel groups and individual hotels. Post which, we will get into aggressive marketing.
Where do you want to see StayHappi.com 2 years from now?
I want to see StayHappi.com as the #1 portal for travel across India.
What do you have to say about StartupSimba, being the first of its kind video blogging platform for startups?
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