Cleartrip, an online travel site intends to make travel a pleasant experience and its founder has a clear strategy to do so.
Focus on customers, not competition is the secret of success in any business says Hrush Bhatt, founder of travel site cleartrip.com
Here is the first part of our interview with Hrush Bhatt.
1. What exactly is Cleartrip.com? Why the name Cleartrip?
Cleartrip is an online travel site which lets Indian customers book domestic flights and hotel rooms easily. Cleartrip is a great name, we selected it from over 70 contenders.
We loved the name, Cleartrip, because it conveys everything that our company is about immediately. Our mission is "Making travel simple" and Cleartrip says it all.
2. What motivated you to start Cleartrip when in fact quite a few such sites seem to already exist while few more are reportedly in the works?
Stuart, Matthew and myself have been working within the Indian travel space for many years at different organizations. I was working directly with online travel in India via my first company, Paper Plane.
All of us saw an emerging opportunity, and noticed that it wasn't being adequately addressed. With that in mind, we decided to chalk out a plan and seek investment for it.
On competition - I've said this before on my blog, but Cleartrip is not so much competitor focused. We're customer focused and the way our site is designed is a testament to that focus. We're less concerned about "the space" and "the competitors" than we are about our customers and the kind of experience we provide them. That focus is not about to change, we don't care if 2 dozen other companies enter "the space". We're just going to focus on what we do best - building a great online travel product.
3. Also, within the context of this question, what is it that makes Cleartrip unique amongst others offering similar services? Why should someone choose you over another competing service? Any significant features we should know?
We've focused all our energies on making Cleartrip the easiest site to book your travel. This has had several implications for our approach and the product.
The way we display pricing, for instance, puts ease of use and transparency at the forefront. Cleartrip is the only site to give you an ALL inclusive price for your search immediately on the results page. We include total number of people traveling, taxes and fees and give customers a single all inclusive price, unlike other sites where prices keep jumping higher as customers proceed down the booking path.
Other key areas where our focus on ease has resulted in an impact on the product are:
Search speed - most air travel searches on our site will return results within ten seconds
Search relevance - we don't show customers nonsensical flight results such as flying from Bombay(Mumbai) to Bangalore via Delhi. Which person in his right mind would want to do that?
Search refinement - all our results pages let customers narrow their search down to find exactly what they're looking for. Flight search results for instance - customers can remove airlines, specify price ranges, departure and arrival times, paper or electronic tickets and number of stops. Based on the customer's inputs, the results are refined instantly, no waiting, no new searches required.
The easiest way to see what makes Cleartrip different is to experience it. I encourage you to try a round trip search on our site and compare it to any other travel site out there.
4. Who are your major competitors?
Makemytrip, Indiatimes, Travelguru and Yatra.
5. How is Cleartrip doing do so far? How well was it received by the community? What kind of traffic/demand does it see? Please share any significant achievements.
We're thrilled with the progress that Cleartrip has made in a short span of under 5 months. Our key focus during this time has been to push travel search to a new level. Given the amount of imitation we've seen after our launch, we're certain that no one is pushing innovations in travel search the way we are.
The response from India's online community has been tremendous. At the time we launched, our infrastructure wasn't quite capable of handling our traffic loads and we've received well-deserved brickbats for that. But we've stayed focused, kept our heads down and improved our site's capacity.
Since then, customers have clearly seen what makes us different and the Cleartrip brand sees the benefits of that. Here is a genuine email I received from a first time customer:
Thanks for the hand written note with the ticket I booked some time back. I must say everything you guys do spells class.
You cant miss the quality of the folder used for sending the tickets and the thoughtful 'cleartrip touch' of mentioning the helpline numbers of all the airlines . All these things show you 'actually' care for the customer and want him to have a great online experience.
What Google is to search to cleartrip is to travel, it just works!
Keep up the great work and please make sure the 'white space' does not shrink.
Damn , I am getting addicted to cleartrip, I just have to logon everyday to check whats happening .
A blogger had this to say about us, "And the experience of booking thru Cleartrip was so good, I will not even consider MMT in the future."
As a team, we're thrilled that our vision of travel search is being received this way by real customers and it's extremely gratifying that Cleartrip is India's favorite travel search.
While we do not disclose exact sales or traffic numbers, Cleartrip services over 100,000 unique flight searches every day. We'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from there.
6. Could you tell us more about yourself, your position & other key players, if any? What were you all doing before starting this company & also your previous work experiences?
Cleartrip's people -
Sandeep Murthy, CEO
Sandeep is responsible for the overall profitability & success of Cleartrip. Sandeep manages the execution of the Mission, Vision & Values of the Company and ensures the scalability of the business model and growth of the business.
Sandeep is also a partner with Sherpalo Ventures, and focuses on investment opportunities in India and evaluates and manages investments in India for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Sandeep obtained an MBA from the Wharton School in 2005. Prior to that, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Economics degree from the Wharton School, both obtained in 1998.
Hrush Bhatt, Founder & Director, Product and Strategy
Hrush is one of our founders and is responsible for the definition of Cleartrip's corporate strategy and implementation of the Cleartrip.com web site.
Hrush graduated from Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Economics and History. Returning to India in 1998, Hrush worked with Plexus Technologies for a year, serving as lead designer and founding their ecommerce strategy practice. While at Plexus, Hrush also served as lead consultant for the launch of Indiatimes.com. In 1999, Hrush co-founded Paper Plane, a boutique consulting firm focused on business strategy and design in the online space.
Hrush has had several firsts in the Indian market, including the first online air-ticket auctions and the first travel site site to be integrated with a GDS for air ticket bookings.
Stuart Crighton, Founder & Director, Business Development
Stuart is one of our founders and holds responsibility for all commercial and operational aspects of our business. He manages and develops Cleartrip's strategic partnerships with hotels, airlines and other travel suppliers.
Stuart is a graduate in Business from the University of London. He began his career at Sodexho, where he developed a commercial business in their remote services division throughout Central Asia. He moved to India to set up a services business for Orion CCG, a facilities management company, in India and Asia.
Prior to founding Cleartrip, Stuart worked with Abacus Distribution Systems, Asia's leading GDS as Head, South and West Asia. He was responsible for all aspects of Abacus's operation and strategy across India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Matthew Spacie, Founder & Director, Marketing
Matthew is one of our founders and is responsible for leading the marketing team and successfully implementing our marketing strategies. Matthew manages media planning and buying, advertisers, wholesale travel partners and online distribution partners.
Following his graduation and numerous management positions in the United Kingdom, Matthew was posted to India as Chief Operating Officer of Cox & Kings, India.
PKX Thomas, CTO
As Chief Technology Officer, Thomas is responsible for our technology platform, architecture and software development. He also ensures that the various business groups at Cleartrip are empowered with the right technology tools.
Thomas comes to Cleartrip with comprehensive experience in the field, spanning over 16 years. He has a specialisation in Infrastructure Management and Knowledge Management. Prior to joining Cleartrip, he spent three years as Technology Head of Lionbridge. At Lionbridge, he Managed the Application Development Group and directed the creation and evolution of a newly developed Global Infrastructure service. Before his time at Lionbridge, Thomas was the founding CTO of Investment Research and Information Services (IRIS).
7. How large is the team behind Cleartrip. Are you all based in India?
Cleartrip currently comprises about 40 people, all of whom are based in Bombay.
8. What responsibilities do you hold at Cleartrip?
As a founder, you hold responsibility for everything. That's a lesson I learned when I started Paper Plane. Because when you start a company, the buck stops with you. That said, however, we do focus on different areas. Stuart is responsible for managing airline and hotel relationships, Matthew is responsible for marketing and I'm responsible for the product i.e. the web site - how it works, how it looks.
9. Who are the key stake holders and did you receive any funding? If not, do you plan on seeking external funding?
Cleartrip is funded by Ram Shriram's Sherpalo Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.
I can't tell you how thrilled we are to have some of the world s most respected investors as a part of our team. These two funds are inextricably linked with some of the largest names online - Amazon, AOL, Google - and for us to have their collective experience available to us is truly amazing.
Hrush Bhatt at Cleartrip.com strongly believes that devoting all the attention to customers and concentrating all the energies on their own ability to innovate instead of on competition would help them build a great travel product and we couldn't agree more.
By the way, here is one great graphic we found on his blog depicting what happens to user experience if too much focus is placed on rolling out new features.