First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Avanthi Reddy: Fortunately, my family is doing fine. It’s incredible how Covid-19 has had a global impact wherever you look. My husband and I have family in the USA, India and Latin America, and the impact is evident everywhere. Although the social distancing rules and limitations are less strict in the USA, everyone has been working from home, but they have been living on a stand-still type of mode since March
Tell us about yourself and your career
Avanthi Reddy: I am an entrepreneur and eBusiness specialist who has worked with startups, banks, and IT firms as a consultant and quality analyst in the past. I have also entered into the marketing space to develop growth hacking skills and have a good understanding of initiatives that work best in early startup phases. Furthermore, I hold an MBA and a Master’s in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University.
Our founders’ team and board members are colleagues and friends that I meticulously invited to join this startup, as they combine experience in the tourism industry, eBusiness, and Information Technology. Furthermore, we are all serial entrepreneurs who have created and sold Tech-startups in the USA and Latin America since 2008.
Why and how did you start Own the Trip?
Avanthi Reddy: As a frequent traveler and user of technology and apps, I realized that even though there are several peer-to-peer and direct services for transportation, accommodation, tours and activities, I still craved unique trip experiences, but didn’t want to have to do it all by myself. It was exhausting and stressful to spend a lot of time researching and connecting the dots to build the experience I wanted.
Finding the best value, yet keeping yourself safe and trying to avoid mass tourism or disappointing travel packages is difficult and quite overwhelming. It is not about finding a local insider to give you hints, but to be able to book the exact experience you want. Own The Trip is that layer of technology that connects the multiple dots for the traveler.
From a broader perspective, globally, there is a tendency to switch from mass-tourism to experience-based travelling. However, travelers still need assistance with being served the right services and activities when they travel. In other words, people want custom travel experiences, but that does not mean they want to have to figure out everything on their trips. This poses a fundamental issue, as this means that there should be a limitless inventory of travel packages or options. That is where OTT comes in handy.
I first began modeling the project in 2018. I spoke to a friend of mine who had developed software for several startups, some of them in the tourism industry, and he loved the idea and immediately jumped on board. That is how Own The Trip Inc. was born.
How does Own the Trip innovate?
Avanthi Reddy: As indicated previously, Own The Trip offers a solution to a fundamental problem in tourism: Inventory management. It is unscalable to have an unlimited catalog of premade trips for a consumer that is increasingly looking for differentiation and unique experiences. Own The Trip turns that demand into systematized bids that are matched, using Artificial Intelligence to various travel providers that could fulfil and provide an On-Demand offer, without having to hold inventory. In other words, a traveler’s unique trip is turned into a lead that operators will bid for. In the end the traveler can choose the one they like and book it online, thus obtaining the best cost-benefit.
We believe that this could really be a real game-changer in terms of how people plan their leisure and even business trips. Nowadays, some apps can help you navigate through transportation (UBER) or lodging (AirBnB) almost anywhere in the world. However, we still need help to connect the dots. If someone says: “We already booked a ticket to Paris and will stay at an Airbnb, but we want to have a romantic getaway in a cabin in the Alps and secure a reservation at a club in Saint Tropez”; Own The Trip will be your worldwide concierge at the right price.
I think innovation is not something you do once in your business, but it is a constant process embedded in the organization. In my opinion, the best results of innovation come from offering your customers something they did not know they wanted, but once they have it, they know they need it.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Avanthi Reddy: Coronavirus impacted our business in the short term, as our go-to-market strategy for 2020 was pushed back. However, we saw this as an opportunity to focus on improving our site, expanding our search for top travel operators and performing more user testing. We were also able to come up with parallel uses for the technology that we have developed so we can diversify income sources in the future.
Now that some of the travel bans and regulations are being lifted, we are seeing a steady inflow of tourists and visitors on our platform, so sales are climbing back up.
I feel the tourism industry will bounce back, and soar, especially in regard to experience travelling. People who could not travel during the pandemic are eager to do so, but the only real way to keep safe is to avoid heavily crowded places. Therefore, family getaways and custom travel arrangements might become the new mainstream.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Avanthi Reddy: I think one of the most difficult choices I made was to start to Own The Trip. I had a good job as an IT consultant at a major bank in Utah, but I felt something was missing. Running my own startup was my dream, and when I decided to follow my dream, the transition was hard. The sleepless nights, the 100-hour work weeks, the initial rejections… It got to me in the beginning, but eventually, I learned to focus on my goal and not give in to my stress and fears. In the end, I knew I was building either a digital asset or my career, as I was acquiring skills that now I think are fundamental.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but once your startup takes off, the rewarding feeling you have beats any of the inhibitions, stress or fears you initially had. Although the toughest part is growth, not launch, I look forward to the future stages wherever they may lead.
Two of the best lessons I learned working on my startup are:
If you want to be an entrepreneur, do it fast. There is never a perfect time. The sooner you can launch and test your idea, the better. Even if it does not work, it is better to kill it fast and move on to the next project than to drag an agony.
The second one is that the entrepreneur world is not glamorous at all and that the chances of building a unicorn are tiny. Hence, although you should never give up on our goals, it is important to understand that the goal is not the company itself, which can change in any minute and many times. It is the passion that drives you to do what you are good at and to create new things, and that is what you should not give up on.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Own the Trip in the future?
Avanthi Reddy: I think stress and anxiety to a certain extent is part and parcel of everyday life. The key is having the right founders who support each other and offer viable solutions to problems rather than build on the problems.
In terms of dealing with stress, I love exercising, and it is my biggest stress relief tool. I think all founders, no matter how busy should take some time every day to just take a step back, relax, meditate, or exercise. You will be surprised at how much it helps!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Avanthi Reddy: Our competitors are most definitely the incumbent OTAs (Online Travel Agencies). However, our allies are a much greater network of operators that like the idea of receiving leads at no cost, while growing their business as long as they provide superb quality.
If we can guarantee that the quality of the experiences booked through OwnTheTrip.com is the best for your dollar, then the market itself will make us stay in the game.
Your final thoughts
Avanthi Reddy: There will always be times when people and businesses face hardships such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but throughout every hardship, an opportunity arises to innovate, or pivot, or focus on your core strengths. The quicker you identify and work towards the opportunity, the better your chances are to succeed in anything you put your mind to. So never lose hope and never give up.