Travalour was born out of sheer necessity when Nithin Mathew the founder and his friends got stuck during one of their travel expeditions in Malaysia. Sooner he along with Suraj and Sanjay co founded Travalour and TripPlanner to help such travellers go on with ease. Speaking to Nithin Mathew who explains the need for the app for travelers and how they are different from their competitors.
Give a brief info about your startup?
TripPlanner makes your trips and travels planning easy by helping you create, store and manage the locations you want to go to. With TripPlanner you set a starting location and all points of interest you want to see and the app recommends a route based on the shortest distance.
Four features make it easy to plan your next trip:
- Automatic routes
- Interactive maps
- Create notes
- Shareable plans
Let’s say you want to visit four sights in one city and only have a day to see all of them, Trip Planner shows you where to go first and next.
Multiple locations in a Trip Plan are automatically arranged to give you the most efficient way to visit them all. We will connect you to google maps to deliver turn by turn navigation based on the routes entries.
Once you have visited a place, you can mark it as complete and it will no longer be included in the route. Plans inside TripPlanner are equipped with a map view that help you visualise different stops in your schedule and see your locations.
Travelling in a group? You can write your notes on each location inside a TripPlan and then share the plan with your friends.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
The story of TripPlanner can not be told without giving a little context about “Travalour”- the travel app that we are building at the moment.
The idea for Travalour was born from pure necessity. Some years back myself Nithin Mathew and my friends wanted to visit Taman Negara, the oldest forest in the world in Malaysia. We went by motorcycle and got stuck in Chukai near Pahang due to bad weather conditions. Being in a remote place and not having access to information about sites nearby was unfortunate and none of the travel books were helpful at that location even though they knew there are plenty of interesting places in the area that our friends had visited. In the end, we had to change our plan and travel to Penang, some 650 kilometres away on the other side of Malaysia with only one pit stop at Fraser’s Hill, a hill station 100 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur.
Fast forward to today we -myself Nithin Mathew, Suraj KV and Sanjay Bhaskar is on the way to launch a helpful app called Travalour – for the next traveler to hopefully be able to explore more without getting stuck.
The idea of Travalour is to help travellers to discover, plan, and explore new destinations. One key functionality of the app is a trip planner that helps users to quickly add locations they newly discovered to a plan so that it is much easier for others to explore these places. The whole idea of the trip planning feature was to replace pen and paper planning with an easy digital method with an interactive map. This particular function was initially of great help while the teammates did their trips in Tanzania, Doha and in India and that resulted in the further development of the function as an independent lightweight app called TripPlanner.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
This is the first start-up of the team with no previous “start-up” experience. Before working on the apps I was working in Singapore for a multinational digital security company deploying new technologies for customers from the banking sector. Suraj KV and Sanjay Bhaskar are working full-time in tech companies as project managers and work on the apps part-time. We are also recently joined by Nele Lenze as a part-time communications director.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
TripPlanner and Travalour are getting built and maintained at Infopark in Kakkanad, Kerala. We are currently incubated at the KSIDC Business Incubation centre at Geo Infopark building. The location is an ideal place to be at, considering the infrastructure and enthusiastic neighbours.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
I am constantly looking for solutions to improve the apps to make them more user-friendly by implementing user feedback. The work gives me great joy but also keeps me busy. As the user base of TripPlanner increases, so do the requirements and feature requests. While users want to have new functions immediately, these can take some time to develop, test and deploy resulting in losing some of the users who were hoping to see these functions in the first place.
Also being a B2C product, we are yet to find a revenue channel that works well for us and the users. The larger the user base, the higher the maintenance costs and we need to find a permanent solution to cover these costs.
Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?
TripPlanner is unique in comparison to its competitors. We are free to use, we do not serve flashy advertisement and we do not track our users. TripPlanner focuses only on trip planning and that helps it to be more lightweight, easy to use, and importantly – to listen to, research for, and to fulfill user’s planning needs.
So far we have no competitors in Kerala but you can find other planning apps in PlayStore. These apps are either not free, full of advertising or tracks a lot of user’s activities. Some apps even have small trip planning feature as a secondary function that stays hidden for most of its users because trip planning is not the primary reason why people use them.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
Work-life balance is hard to manage because we want to deliver the best product. Since we are a small team, we have to work almost on all days of the week. Family commitments are sometimes in the way.
Nature is a good stress reliever. I often take travel breaks with the people I am close with and that takes off the stress and offers new perspectives.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you’re looking to raise?
We have not started fundraising yet because we want to do the app on our terms. At the beginning of the year, we had an investment deal but we decided to carry on without them due to some intellectual property interest conflicts. The development and maintenance costs are currently funded by friends and family and we will start to look for funds after our main app “Travalour” is launched. Meanwhile, we are also finding ways to generate revenue and achieve break-even.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
People assume because we are working at a travel startup our lives are mostly filled with vacations and exploration but every time we are away from the desk each adventure also becomes a research. We gather information to increase the usability of Travalour and TripPlanner and find out what works best for travellers on the road. People only see the pictures on our Instagram at the end but all of this is a part of our work.
What gets you excited about this company?
With TripPlanner, we see our metrics and user feedback every day and it is extremely satisfying to know that they like using the app. TripPlanner was launched without much fanfare however we did our app store optimisations and search engine optimisations right so that it organically generated downloads that we were not anticipating.
TripPlanner is also helping us to be more prepared for the launch of our next travel apps as we have a lot more experience in deploying, maintaining and marketing apps to the PlayStore. This is indeed an exciting period for us with two more travel apps in the pipeline and we can’t wait to launch them both as well.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
My day starts at 6.30 AM with news from regional, national and tech newspapers. I usually reach the office at 7.30 AM and go through all analytical data from the previous day for about an hour. The morning session is usually reserved for coding, as I am a lot more focused in the morning to code logics and functionalities of the app.
The afternoon is spent on approving content for our social media and blog channels. The brainstorming sessions with the teams, conference calls, meetings are held in the afternoon as well. Whenever I have free time, I fall back to write more code.
I end my working day mostly at 6.30PM. Any evening activities or dinner happens between 6.30 and 9.30 PM and will be in bed by 10.30 PM latest. Without a minimum of 8 hours of sleep the next day is usually very tiring for me.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
I have known Suraj since 2002. We were classmates in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Kasaragod, and then studied and worked in Singapore. We met Sanjay in Singapore while juggling with the idea of Travalour.
I am responsible for handling front end development, Suraj handles the back end development and Sanjay oversees the product timelines and progress. We also have a team of developers who help us with front end as well as back end programming requirements.
Nele Lenze who joined us this year part-time handles our media and communications, and we also have team members to undertake content development and social media promotions. The number of people is quite small at the moment and spread over three countries, India, Singapore and Australia. We are a great community of people who want to create something new, something that helps travellers move forward.
Download the app here
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