We talked to So Iizuka of Trambellir.com on how to make the world of medical tourism more casual and easier for everyone around the world and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
So Iizuka: Never would ever imagine staying at home would have lasted this long, from what was originally only a few weeks to now almost nine months long. For foreigners or ex-pats like me, living in another country in these challenging situations has especially taken harsh tolls for us to overcome.
But, Remember what Molière said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” I am, reminded of my past, the struggle that I had to face, undergoing intestinal volvulus surgeries ever four years since I was four years old.
I have always recalled that memory as my personal Olympic. So far, I regard myself as a four-time Olympian for being such a brave child and making my way past those moments auspiciously, despite the pain and permanent carvings, or what they would call it as scars on my stomach.
So technically, I am quite accustomed to staying at home, adjusting to the “new normal” life, lying in bed, just like how I could recall those childhood days I spent during hospitalizations. Even so, there are still times that I struggle to survive this particular situation, so I am sure that my friends, families and other people are taking it even harder than I am.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Trambellir.com
So Iizuka: Advertising sales representative was my first job in a magazine publishing company in Tokyo. After gaining experience, in 2005, I figured it was a good start to establish my very own enterprise in Tokyo. It progressed quite successfully for a few years until I was betrayed by my employee, who had started his own company after having all my clients in his possession. But I would say that it was my fault. I think I didn’t have enough experience to manage the enterprise.
But as a young first-time entrepreneur, I had given up all hopes and could not stand on my feet for months. Still, I was lucky that my family and friends were there to support me and lifted my courage, which had then led me to start a consulting business in Tokyo and Singapore.
Life was great from witnessing success after another that I decided to have a short term semi-retirement life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. That certainly was the most stress-free days of my life, but I had a longing heart called me to go back into the business battlefield.
That was when it all started, the beginning of my new journey of Trambellir.com, the online booking platform for medical tourism, in 2018.
How does Trambellir.com innovate?
So Iizuka: Medical tourism market often connects patients and hospitals for medical care purposes worldwide.
Unlike most players in this industry that cater to lower prices and higher care, Trambellir targets travellers who wish to experience medical, wellness, or beauty treatments as their additional activities at travel destinations OTA’s perspective of technology and strategy.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
So Iizuka: Approaching March 2020, we had somehow thought that we would be hit with critical damage, especially after the entire world started to close borders, and of course it did.
We did all that we had to do and started focusing on marketing COVID-19 PCR and RTK tests in some cities, especially for those travellers who would need to take flights back to their home country. That by far has brought us 700% YOY 2019 – 2020 revenue increased on B2C platform.
Of course, we could not stop there as the world is still in the healing phase, so we had also focused on product improvement and partnership expansions with medical institutions. We tried to find another way out by exploring opportunities for a strategic partnership with airlines and OTAs.
Now, drawing near to the end of 2020, we have fortunately managed to wrap up our negotiation with TBO Holidays as B2A channels, enabling us to sell our products to 70,000 agencies worldwide! On the other side note, we are also launching a white-label platform with some aviation companies soon.
It was challenging when dealing with travel companies, including airlines which have affected severely. Still, some of them are respectfully foreseeing what the future will be and gave us the opportunity.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
So Iizuka: Sure had. One of our co-founders left Trambellir during this difficult time. That was indeed a hard choice that we had to overcome. I had wrapped myself around the company’s survival that I had overlooked my partners’ welfare mentally.
I have now learnt that co-founders, partners and employees are crucial fundamentals in the startup journey. They too had other hits of resilience that I need to pay attention.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Trambellir.com in the future?
So Iizuka: Honestly, with my 15 years of entrepreneurial experience, most stresses were caused by our financial and monetary stand, one of the most significant startup realities with which we had to deal.
We must keep maintaining the runway as long as we can. Reality is, not every VCs are interested in investing at an early stage travel startup, especially during the pandemic. But we believe in our business model, and we believe that we are a game-changer in this industry.
We have achieved the first staircase of our long startup journey safely, and we won’t disappear that quickly now.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
So Iizuka: Air Asia has only recently launched a similar business model as ours in their super app after we talked to Tony Fernandez last year. But this has proven to us that our business model is profitable and a tremendous ancillary revenue plan for airlines and OTAs.
Seeing is believing, so you may check their website, and you can find that we are the forerunner in this segment and we are proud to say that we have a lot more inventory and destinations covered. We will keep focusing on expanding inventory, and we are planning to develop some products to corral those treatments providers.
Your final thoughts?
So Iizuka: They say life is like a wheel. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. Being an entrepreneur is undoubtedly challenging, but it certainly takes you on an exciting ride. An entrepreneur is not a job position or role in a startup. I would rather believe that it is a lifestyle.
Dear entrepreneurs, we are all in dire situations with the pandemic still in charge, but we all have the right to choose the lifestyle we wish to have today and the days to come. So let’s keep enjoying this lifestyle, embracing every moment and chasing our goals to be the best Olympian you could ever be!