Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder of travel marketplace ixigo.com, foresees a mobile-only world for all of his company’s newer businesses. With the exception of legacy businesses such as flight and hotel booking, ixigo believes that the company would eventually adopt an app-only approach across offerings. All companies would place big bets on the mobile space going forward, Bajpai said in a recent conversation with Techcircle. Bajpai’s prediction comes at a timely juncture. All indications are that e-commerce major Flipkart would junk its website and go completely mobile from September. Flipkart owned-fashion e-tailer Myntra had goaded on this path in May. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How is the tech space evolving in India?
I think this is one of the best times in the tech space especially for young entrepreneurs and startups. We are seeing unprecedented growth in mobile smartphone penetration in the country. It is one of those areas where adoption is set to grow by 5-10x for every new concept or idea as long as somebody builds a great product. That’s why more young people are becoming entrepreneurs. Fortunately capital is also available, right from angel capital to VC funding. So I think there is a lot of vibrancy in the ecosystem and that’s something which we have not seen for a long time. These trends are drawing mainstream talent into becoming entrepreneurs. So, its a very exciting time to be alive.
Talking about the mobile space, the ecosystem has moved very quickly from desktop-based versions to mobile apps. How do you see the space evolving further?
I think mobile is where most companies are placing their big bets on for the future and for obvious reasons. In a three-year time window, India will have about 500 million smartphone users. Most of the legacy businesses that started on desktops are realising that growth and market opportunities in the mobile space are much larger. Hence, they have pivoted to a mobile-first or mobile-only paradigm. Many new services, such as cab booking or food ordering, would make sense only on mobile. Most people believe that that you can build a product in a more mobile-centric manner in terms of business, monetisation and technology. Its creating unprecedented opportunities and new markets. If you look at advertisement business, new niche startups are being created in every vertical by leveraging the mobile opportunity.
How’s the travel sector taken to mobile and what are your plans for Ixigo. You have already ‘mobile-first’ and are moving towards a ‘mobile-only platform’.
We were one of the first companies to build mobile apps for travelers and over time we became the first company to un-bundle mobile apps for catering to specific use cases. We have specific apps for train and bus travelers and have already launched a cab booking app. Our focus on content is very strong and relevant as the next 300 million users would largely come from tier II and tier III audiences. Which means that we must get content and actionable information on board about budget hotels, pilgrimage destinations or other kind of places where there is the likelihood of getting more middle class travelers. We have been working very attentively on that in the last couple of years. Except for our legacy business which is largely around flights and hotels we see a mobile only world for newer offerings. We don’t see any desktop presence for newer offerings going forward. However, air travelers have grown on desktop and are more likely to continue using desktop for a few years. Also, we feel that for travel you need to get inspired and read about places, look at pictures, visuals and videos, a lot of which is still happening on web. So we will have a wait-and-watch approach for some of the older businesses. For others like cab apps, there is nothing to do on desktop.
Ixigo has been in the thick of things in the last year with fresh hiring, new teams, new products and the recent tie up for with Micromax. What are your targets for this year?
I think this year our top focus area is content. We are fanatic about adding travel content for middle class Indian traveler. We are also keen to add things such as train platform numbers, bus stop details, availability of offline taxi operators and so on to the platform. Getting that content on board as a first step is very critical. Similarly, what we are doing on hotels is very interesting. We have started adding content right from Rs 100-a-night room to five stars in every city. We already have 3,4 and 5 star content. We have 10,000 budget hotels and we continue to add rooms at a very rapid pace. You can find small budget accommodations, dharmashalas, ashrams, guest houses and everything related to the Indian traveler on Ixigo.
The other big focus areas is to make sure that the mobile user experience is ubiquitous in terms of how it’s delivered on devices and our tie up with Micromax is a part of that strategy. We can actually build a unique user experience which ties in with the device and the OS. We also aspire to make our app more intelligent in terms of predictive intelligence. We should be able to inspire people to take the next trip and tell you as to when you should be planning that trip.