First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Edmundas Balčikonis: Thankfully, my family in Lithuania and sister, who lives in China, are all healthy and doing fine. Luckily, Lithuania was only mildly affected by the COVID-19 so far, and relatively few people got sick. I hope that with better testing and prevention, we will be able to maintain it until there vaccines and medicine available so we could all get back to our normal lives and traveling.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Eddy Travels
Edmundas Balčikonis: After my previous startup was acquired, I spent two years traveling non-stop to a new country every month or so. Visited many Latin American countries, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and spent a month in China. Through my travels, I observed how people use chat apps while traveling for communication and travel planning. In Latin America, they prefer WhatsApp, Telegram in Eastern Europe, and WeChat in China. It fascinated me how instant messaging applications become a universal communication medium across different nations, cultures, and generations.
On the other hand, I had to always plan my travel, would end up spending so much time on it and started thinking about how I could automate and make it easier for other people to travel like expert road warriors – know where and how to get the best deal without spending days on research. I started looking into how machine learning and other AI technologies could help with this, met my old friends Pranas Kiziela, and Adomas Baltagalvis in Lithuania to discuss this. We decided to give it a try and started working on the prototype. Two years later, we have over 3 million users using our Eddy Travels AI assistant all around the world to find the cheapest flights and accommodation.
How does Eddy Travels innovate?
Edmundas Balčikonis: Eddy Travels AI assistant can help you find the best travel deals in seconds on your favorite chat app. To make this happen, we use machine learning technology to process natural language (NLP) and understand what our users are looking for. Then we send that query to one of our partners like Skyscanner or Booking.com, and through API integrations, get the best deals. We sort the deals in a way that would be the fastest our users to review. This usually takes just seconds, and voila, you have the best deals in your Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or another chat app. We provide COVID-19 and travel restriction updates to our users with help from our partners like Sitata. This way, you can always be up to date on what’s changing regarding the coronavirus situation if you are planning to travel.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Edmundas Balčikonis: Coronavirus is changing the travel industry dramatically, and we have to face new challenges every other day. Travel habits and behaviors are changing. People are not planning long trips without necessity. It’s hard to predict how our business will come out of the coronavirus situation. Still, so far, we managed to mitigate the effect by diversifying through multiple markets and going into new travel categories. This way, we can shift focus from one market to another if they close down due to the virus, and adopt domestic and shorter trips.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Edmundas Balčikonis: So far, we were lucky and avoided layoffs or other difficult choices. This was possible due to our product flexibility and agile methodologies for planning; we can quickly change what we are working on and adopt Eddy Travel AI assistant to the new situation. Of course, our investors’ support at Practica Capital, Open Circle Capital, and angel investors was crucial. We have a long term vision and agreement on what we are working on with our investors, which allowed us to adjust the product and maintain the focus on the long term goals.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you project yourself and Eddy Travels in the Future?
Edmundas Balčikonis: I took up working out at home and jogging, which are excellent ways to take your mind to work. Primarily if you work at home, it’s great to get out for a run or do some bodyweight exercises in the park. Sport helps to reduce stress, and then I try to stay in touch with my friends and family as much as possible.
Looking into different prognosis, I expect that COVID-19 will be controlled in the next six months due to testing and restrictions. I predict that people will travel a more next year after the coronavirus vaccine comes out, so for now, we’re just working to keep going and preparing for the growth period next year.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Edmundas Balčikonis: The travel industry is very competitive, and we work to stay in the game by partnering up instead of directly competing with other travel companies. It works pretty well so far, and we’re proud to call Skyscanner, Booking.com, Kiwi.com, Klook, SafetyWing, and Sitata as our partners.
Your Final Thoughts
Edmundas Balčikonis: Currently, for everyone, the essential thing should be to take control of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Thus, only travel if you are sure you stay safe and healthy. If you do have to travel, please take all precautions and wear a mask. You can check the latest COVID-19 stats on Eddy Travels. We will soon also help travelers find out how their hotels and airlines are making sure it’s safe to travel and what precautions they are taking.
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