'It's the team that decides a start-up's success'
When Yatra.com began its operations as a start-up in January 2006 it comprised only of three employees: co-founders Sabina Chopra (co-founder and EVP operations), Dhruv Shringi (co-founder & CEO) and Manish Amin (co-founder). In the next four years that number has swelled to 700 strong and will further grow this year as the travel portal that made travelling popular with the Indian tourist plans to expand its business network.
Although the Indian tourism market has been booming ever since the start of this decade succeeding in their travel venture was not a smooth ride for these three former employees of ebookers.com, a leading UK-based flights booking and hotel reservation agency. Click-by-click, brick-by-brick they assiduously built a business that had the backing of some of the best venture capitalists that include the Norwest Venture Partners, Reliance Capital and TV18 from the day they began their operations.
In an interview with rediff.com, Sabina Chopra, co-founder and executive vice president, operations, Yatra.com, spoke about the company's initial challenges, how they overcame them, their hiring plans and do's and don'ts for young entrepreneurs.
How did Yatra.com happen?
While I was working with ebookers (between 2000 and 2005) use of Internet to make online travel bookings was growing rapidly. That's where I learned what online travel was all about. My two partners Dhruv and Manish were also with ebookers at that time. All three of us were working together in different fields. I was in the operations, Manish was handling technology and Rohit was in finance.
It was there that we worked on the idea of doing something on our own. From there on we prepared a business plan and went in for funding which worked for us. We set up Yatra in the January 2006.
How easy or difficult was it for you to convince venture capitalists to put money in a business concept which was just about taking roots in India?
Our business plan. The business plan that we pitched to them was based on a very strong footing. And the three of us had solid grounding and expertise in how the online travel business worked. Our experience, our background, and the key skill set that each of us in the team possessed helped us get venture funding.
My area of strength was operations and business development, Manish had a solid grounding in web site development as he developed ebookers' web site and Dhruv was the guy who is wonderful with finance.
Image: Sabina Chopra
'To succeed we need to enjoy things that we are doing'
Who are these investors who showed faith in a start-up?
Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), Reliance Capital and TV18. Over a period of three months, after a series of meetings, all three of them came on board. We did not have to invest any money of our own. It is just our sweat equity at work.
Tell us about Yatra's journey from a three-member team in 2006 to about 700 employees now. How did you manage to scale up your employee base? What kind of challenges did you face?
The teams that we selected initially were the product team and IT team. We had to offer a world-class product to our customers and for that it was important for us to first source people for these two teams.
What we tried to inculcate in all the team members we hired was the passion for the brand. It is the attitude and the passion with which we recruited people and inculcated the same attitudes in them for developing the brand.
We told heads of various departments that each one of them must become an HR person responsible for the well being of their own team. Until now, till about the time we were 700 we did not have an HR department.
What are the values that are helping Yatra succeed?
Customer is the most important person in our life. Without him we will have no reason to exist. We live for the customer completely. And finally it's the passion for the success of Yatra as a brand and business that guides all of us to achieve success.
We have a simple rule for satisfying our customers. Whatever issue a customer poses to us we believe in sorting the same before leaving for home. We will not keep anything pending for the next day. We overcome any issue at work as a team. We support each other as a team.
Your success mantras...
To succeed we need to do different things in different ways. We need to enjoy things that we are doing.
Image: Manish Amin
'A young entrepreneur needs to define her/his business goals very clearly'
Challenges that you faced as a start-up...
On the product side nobody had heard of the name Yatra. It took a great deal of our convincing abilities to make people understand what our business was and how it will help various people linked to our business chain. We were an unknown entity then. So the first challenge was to convince our partners and suppliers and airlines to believe in our business model and us and the fact that they will get the best rates working with us.
The most important issue with each of these people was to convince them to believe in us. We didn't have a customer base to sell to. When I would go to the hotels to talk to them about entering into contracts with us they used to ask me if Yatra was a railway booking company.
How long did it take for you to hit critical mass?
We started operations in August 2006 and in the next three months we hit critical mass. Actually, we had a superb team that made it happen. It's the team that matters actually with start-ups. It's the team that decides a start-up's success. If the team is right and the atmosphere is good any start-up can eventually succeed.
Do you have any recruitment plans for the current financial year?
The thing is to stabilise our operations and build on what we have. It is not the numbers. We are looking at process automation to redefine productivity. We are looking to recruit people at all our divisions. People for our retail stores, at the IT front, and in the business development space.
We recruit people looking at the company's growth prospects. But right now we are looking to hire people in the IT domain. Our operations process is outsourced now. We are also recruiting on our hotels business front.
I can't give you any numbers as such but we are recruiting very strongly in this financial year. We are planning to expand our B2B networking teams so lot of people will come in from there as well.
Dos and don'ts for young entrepreneurs...
- The first thing is you need a strong business plan, analysis of the business prospects and weigh its pros and cons
- A young entrepreneur needs to define her/his business goals very clearly
- Believe in your business venture and work with sincerity and passion to make it successful
- You will come across numerous challenges but if you have absolute faith in your business plan you will be able to overcome all difficulties
Image: Dhruv Shringi