One startup’s app is cutting through the crowd to be a one stop solution for travellers and trekkers looking for factual information.
Passionate aspirers find business opportunities in every challenge they face. They do so displaying an ability to focus on achieving goals no matter how smooth or rough the journey. Observing the growing tourism sector in Nepal, Ashish Shrestha, Abhishek Pande, Diwaker Ghimire have chosen to display these entrepreneurial traits in a unique business venture in the travel industry with their company, HoneyGuide Pvt Ltd. The startup’s focus is on its adventure travel app- Trekking in Nepal.
HoneyGuide’s Chief of Products Shrestha is an enthusiast of outdoor adventure trekking based on factual information and wildlife photography. Often guided by his curiosity, he now manages the content part of the app. Similarly, the company’s Chief of Business Pande, with a background in family-business in travel, oversees the management side of the enterprise. Earlier, he managed the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon for three years. Meanwhile, HoneyGuide’s Chief Technical Officer Ghimire who has 11 years of experience as an IT professional, handles the technical part of the travel and tech startup. Though the app developed by the website and mobile applications design firm Wolfmatrix was launched in 2015, the company officially commenced its operations from 2016 and is about to reach an operational breakeven point, according to the founders.
Key Features of the App
“Usually there are not many reliable sources of information for trekkers. In many parts of the country, myths prevail about the structures though the heights of taller and well-known mountains have already been found, trekkers are not able know the heights of small mountains,” says Shrestha. With the Mountain Finder feature in the Trekking and Tour Guidebooks Apps, trekkers and mountaineers can save precious time in terms of searching for the height of the mountains.
Also, the context sensitive ‘Placecards’ feature enables users to get information about flora and fauna, location of every area trekkers pass through during their treks, emergency contacts, and medical checklists in its safety feature. The app also provides information on each village on the trekking routes, such as all available lodges through GPS and information on flora and fauna in the localities. The app is in fact a one-stop solution for trekkers enabling them to have instant access to all necessary information even if they are offline. All they need is to download the information of the regions through the app.
The app basically comprises of three in-app purchases, namely Everest Base Camp Trek, Annapurna Base Camp Trek and Ghorepani-Poon Hill Trek. The latter in app purchase is free -to –use, while the Everest Base Camp Trek and Annapurna Base Camp Trek are priced at USD 10 and USD 12 respectively for a one-time download.
More Features to Come
HoneyGuide is creating new features in which it will contain a listing of best travel packages. “We are planning to sell different types of packages both economical and luxurious through the same platform. This is to give a choice to every kind of traveller,” Shrestha shares. The packages will also contain information on things like local festivals. “We will have a single platform for all the flight bookings, travel agencies packages, hotel and lodge bookings in the same platform and they will be designed to add more interesting packages which will attract foreign as well as local tourists,” says Shrestha. The company will launch these features at the end of the year.
Being a paid app, the company has been sustaining itself through revenue coming through downloads. “However, with the added features, the main source of earning for Honey Guide will be from the packages for which we will collaborate with other areas of the travel industry including travel agencies,” shares Pande. The company also has gradual plans to convert the app into an unpaid service. “Customers will come from bookings. So, this revenue model will definitely become scalable than the current one,” says Pande.
The Journey and Challenges
“There were a lot of information related issues to be addressed in the adventure travel. Our enthusiasm and passion in travel led us to come up with a mobile app comprising of integrated information solution about the places travelers are planning to visit,” shares Pande, adding, “We have received overwhelming responses from the users since the launch of the apps.” The app has been downloaded over 9,000 times in the iOS and Android phones till date.
Despite the growing popularity, monetisation of the app has been the hard part for the startup. The team has now become more pragmatic, customer oriented and has learnt many things about new styles of management, thereby gaining more experience in running the venture. They have invested Rs 4.5 million in the venture till date. “We have been doing the business in a careful way by gradually increasing the investment evaluating the success in every stage,” says Shrestha. He views that adding capital in the growing stage is better than upfront investment.
One of the major challenges any business in the travel sector faces is to reach out to the customer base which is fragmented. “The customers in any travel business are not limited to one country but are dispersed throughout the globe. So, setting up promotion campaigns for the scattered community is something very difficult and costly,” observes Pande. To this, Shrestha adds that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and word-of-mouth are quite important factors for any travel business to expand their market. “The word-of-mouth about our mobile app service is going well and we have been working vigorously to strengthen the SEO part,” he shares.
The group regards participating in the Slush Global Impact 2016 programme as pivotal in their startup journey. “Getting to know about the startups from various corners across the world and pitching together in the same platform was truly an amazing experience,” they mention. While attending the accelerator programme, they felt that the Nepali startup ecosystem is still in its infancy and people in the startup scene need to learn a lot of things form the developed countries. They see the unfriendly environment for investment as one of the biggest challenges for the Nepali startups.
The Startup Team
The startup is housed in a collaborative office space where they work together with seven other staff members. According to Shrestha, HoneyGuide basically looks for self-motivated people as team members. If an individual is a mountain lover, for example, that will be more amazing for them, say the startup founders. They want people who are willing to do something innovative to be the part of the team.
Though the areas of work have been divided, the whole HoneyGuide team sits together for every meeting and welcomes each other’s opinion while taking any decision. “The nature of startups requires multi-tasking. So, open-minded people who are not rigid in their related duties are preferred for any new venture,” thinks Shrestha.
Pande says that so many people see startups as being examples of informal work culture. “We had the same feeling in the beginning which has now changed with our experience. The work environment is definitely more chilled than the corporate houses, but deadlines matter to us,” he says. Shrestha says that while there should be an organisational alignment in the larger level, the middle level needs to be chaotic for any staff to maintain their creativity. “Independence to experiment with ideas while working is very important because this will maintain the creativity of the people ultimately enabling them to do something amazing,”
The startup envisions mapping out the details of every mountain starting from Nepal to countries including India, Peru and many other destinations across the world. They have a strong commitment to solely focus on mountains and adventure travel and extreme sports including bungee jumping.