INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
How this Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur from the Experiential Travel Industry Tackled the Pandemic!
We talked to Chirag Gupta of Deyor about tours and travelling during the pandemic and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Chirag Gupta: Thank you for asking. We are all doing well and hope the same at your end. These have been testing times for all of us across the globe, and the world has come together to fight this unprecedented virus. I hope all your readers are doing well and keeping safe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Deyor.
Chirag Gupta: After completing my undergraduate degree from Delhi University, I pursued my MBA from Amity University. Within 3 weeks of starting my course, I realized that this was not my calling. I remember leaving the class, getting into my car and driving back home to quit MBA right then and there. I was fortunate enough to meet Dheeraj Jain, who was moving to India from London at the time. He is the managing partner of Redcliffe Capital which is an LBO based out of UK. He had decided to move to India with a vision to invest in Indian startups and entrepreneurs. I was the first person to join him on his vision, and I must have evaluated over 350 startups for investments out of which we ended up investing in 22 together. I always knew my calling was to be an entrepreneur, and after a couple of years of being on the investment side of the table, I decided to pursue my calling along with my passion. This was when I founded Deyor along with my co-founders who I’ve had the privilege of knowing since childhood. We have similar interests and passion, and I knew it at the time of starting this business that together, we could make an impact.
We started Deyor in 2016, and the journey has been full of ups and downs, but this has been a journey we have all relished along the way and continue to do so.
One of my biggest achievements during my journey at Deyor is being honored as Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in 2019.
How does Deyor innovate?
Chirag Gupta: I came to the idea for Deyor with the fundamental belief that there is a highly fragmented tour industry which is facing huge demand and had no technology in place to organize and benchmark destinations and tours for travellers. Despite trying numerous offline operators, I hadn’t found anything that felt quite right to offer the experience that I wanted.
During my personal travel and conversations with fellow travellers and friends, I discovered this was a common issue. Often travellers found themselves forced to book with a local operator who promised an experience and did not really deliver it.
Deyor overcomes this by providing various tours from vetted tour operators and lists all possible details of the tour that are communicated using the platform transparently to the traveler. Ultimately this knowledge and content allow travellers to book their tour with a trusted website, without being concerned about overcommitment and under delivery which eventually ruins the tour and the experience.
I wanted to build something where the traditional models of booking such tours will be disintermediated by digitally connected marketplaces. So when I looked at existing providers in the market, I saw that they fell in one of two camps. Either customer had to travel to the destination and search the local markets to book the onwards tour, or offered a tour through offline marketing channels such as pamphlets, WhatsApp messages or a basic website with limited information and content. But, neither of the two did match the travelers’ expectations.
As a result, Deyor was created. Deyor standardizes a highly fragmented multi-day tour industry with uniform upgrades in experience design, quality and service levels to ensure a consistently reliable experience for the customer and, in turn, enhance the occupancy levels, revenue and profitability of the tour operator.
To test that people actually wanted what I was building, we started small and with few destinations. Since then, we have proven a need for the marketplace with a consistent increase in Monthly Active Users, growth in our paying user base and now scaling the marketplace using technology.
Deyor is alive, a revenue-generating startup that has been growing year on year at an impressive rate of 3x.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Chirag Gupta: It’s no secret that the first industry to get impacted was the travel industry. I remember we went into lockdown in India in the middle of March 2020. This was one of the toughest times for us as a team and as a business. While we were learning how to communicate and remain efficient as a team while being locked down, nobody was booking or talking about booking immediate or future travel for obvious reasons. We were unsure about when the borders would open up again and when would travel be a luxury at our disposal again.
With these levels of uncertainty crowding us, we obviously had to take some immediate actions towards reducing our fixed costs in the business. Having said that, we are entrepreneurs who never give up while we also knew our strong points in the business. Over 20,000 people have travelled with us in the past and another 40,000 who have shown keen interest and engaged with the brand at some point in time. We knew that our large community is our strength that will keep us going through the pandemic.
We immediately launched our merchandise section, offering travel-based merchandise, keeping our community as close to travel as possible. We also launched virtual tours and experiences to keep the community engaged with our brand. This ensured that our cash flows for these months kept going even though it was not at the same volume as we were used to.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Chirag Gupta: Yes, unfortunately, more than 40 million people in the tourism industry lost their jobs in India whereas the estimate is that 122 million people lost their jobs across all industries. You can analyze how badly our industry was impacted due to Covid-19. As a company, we had to make some difficult decisions where we had to furlough some of our team as there was no way to anticipate when the demand or travel as an industry would rebound.
Having said this, it was motivating to see that our teammates (furloughed) also tried to utilize their skills to be able to start their own businesses or join companies in other industries which were not heavily impacted by the virus. As entrepreneurs, we ensured that we provide as much support to them as possible from our side to keep them going.
It was absolutely disheartening to let go of some of our team members. This has made us realize that unprecedented times like these will happen more often than we can imagine and it is our team members that work hard to help us see good times, so it is our responsibility to support them in our bad times. We have made a provision for a fund to which a portion of our revenue is transferred every month. This will help us with the extra funds required should there be an unforeseen situation again in the future.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Chirag Gupta: As I mentioned before, the most powerful thing for us as a company is our community. We have always been focused on providing them with the best experiences so that they stick to our brand and continue to engage with our service offerings. We are now collaborating with various brands across multiple industries to be able to offer more value-added services to our community regardless of whether they are travelling with us or not.
To answer in regards to tools, we have a technology team that we are very proud of, and they have built our in-house CRM tools, but for your audience who may be looking for effective tools to manage their customers and community, I’d definitely strongly recommend Discord.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Chirag Gupta: The Government of India has done a spectacular job ever since we went into lockdown. From announcing an INR 20 Trillion Covid relief package to doing a spectacular job in containing the virus to pushing our greatest minds towards getting the vaccine ready and ready for India and global distribution, there isn’t anything much we could ask for. We are lucky to have such amazing leadership at the helm of our nation and these measures taken by the Government have ensured that our business comes back to normalcy as soon as it did.
Your final thoughts?
Chirag Gupta: Globally, there have been discussions around ‘pent up demand’ and ‘revenge travel’. I am happy to share that these are not just terms of discussion but something that we are actually witnessing and experiencing today. With vaccines being rolled out globally, we are now nearing the end of the pandemic. We will soon see international borders opening up and people travelling all over the world keeping behind the unprecedented year that we all witnessed.
The tourism industry is going to see a boom like never before, and if you are not invested in this industry in any capacity, I’d strongly recommend finding a way in.
Having said this, I would strongly recommend all of us to remain safe, follow safety precautions and continue travelling. International borders may not be open, but there is enough to explore in your own country no matter where you are. This is the best time to explore, start now.
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