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Flight into future

Geet Bhalla - co-founder and CEO of HolidayMe, a Dubai-based online travel portal which offers customization of holiday packages, talks about his journey, the making of the brand and his belief in revolutionising online travel in conversation with Smart SMB.

 

From a small room in a row house to a successful SMB firm today, HolidayMe has come a long way. But it wouldn’t have been easy, right?
We’re in a tech-driven world, where everyone is driven by the pursuit of reforms and unique ideas. However, most budding entrepreneurs fail to envision potential challenges. It’s true that initially, before we saw some success, HolidayMe was also inflicted by constant trials.

First and foremost, hiring and retaining the right set of people was an issue for us. Professional individuals were a bit cynical to join us initially as we were relatively unknown in the industry. However, we knew that if we want to scale up, we need to build a team of trailblazing individuals. Thus, we left no stone unturned in convincing potential recruits and putting across our vision to them. Once your base team is ready, it paves the way to attract
more talented individuals, and that’s when we grew faster.

Broadly, funding, or lack thereof, was also an issue. Many small and medium businesses, by and large, struggle with the lack of appropriate funds. We weren’t any different! There was a lot to do — from building the brand to hiring eminent professionals to marketing the product. Finding the right set of investors whose vision aligns with ours was also a tedious process. Furthermore, it takes time to iron out the big clogs and carve your authority and find your
footing amid a strenuous competition. Our agility and penchant of exploring new opportunities, too, has been good for the company in the last couple of years.

Your team saw a transition from just three employees to a workforce of 300 people today. How do you organize your growth team?
We primarily focused on nurturing our startup team. Your startup team is going to be your A- team, so it works in your favour when you take things slowly and steadily.
As is the norm for any startup, for us also, the initial days were all about everyone doing everything. Each employee was focused on thinking about how to grow the business. We had a small, but a dedicated and cross-functional team, where we all were doing collaborative work that supported our rapid-growth mode. Gradually, our growth team got organized into various groups and departments including marketing, product, tech and call
centre.
These were led by the pillars (our key players). As we grew further, the need for further specialization arose - marketing got divided into digital, content and so on. What’s important is to keep finding the right leaders in the process.

To achieve this success you must have used some shortcuts or growth hacks, would
you like to touch upon them?`

One of the most common mistakes I witness new entrepreneurs make is trying to market their product on their own without collaborating with other brands. Our initial approach was to get people to trust the brand and build up awareness so we could partner with them. We had to piggyback on other, better-known brands, get into partnerships and increase our visibility. We played our cards well and partnered with brands whose customer base we could utilize.

Has HolidayMe been able to have a strong foothold outside UAE?
HolidayMe certainly is in a good position to expand its foothold globally. We have now started to expand our market to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

Given your success, what advice would you give to the new entrepreneurs who are trying to achieve a similar growth trajectory?
It is no secret that a lot of brainstorming and planning goes behind building a new business.The thought and intent always is to build a business that is stable and strong. But you won’tfind any major success unless you plan every major task beforehand. Put everything down on an excel sheet, then work with analytics to track your plan and growth.From what I have witnessed in my long career graph, many small and medium-sized businesses languish due to a lack of research and market understanding. Therefore, you must research everything about the audience you are targeting. Remember that perseverance and patience are your biggest friends. You must invest in the long-term health of your business if you’re looking for solid dividends.

One must also understand the importance of an exemplary team, for one can’t do this alone. Go that extra mile to invest in a good, reliable team that shares your vision and passion! And there is a special kind of joy when you get to share your success.

How do you envision the growth of the online travel industry in the future and how will it impact the offline travel consultants?
Change is the name of the game. In order to stay relevant, change is necessary. We are now in the middle of the 4th industrial revolution – which is being led by the internet. And to no one’s surprise, the internet is the fulcrum of the rise in the online travel industry. Now the world has become one, and people worldwide are open to a more inclusive society. As a result, people are demanding the influx of technology in the travel industry.

The online travel industry is at the helm of triggering transformative changes. Thanks to machine learning, big data, cloud computing, etc. sellers are now empowered to push personalized offers to customers, ensuring not just better service but also higher revenue generation. What excites us most is that we can harness the power of tech to provide better service to our customers.

How long do you think it will take for people to switch completely from offline consulting to smart and customizable booking via online travel portals like HolidayMe?
It is happening at a greater pace than ever, and we would know for we’re witnessing it daily!People’s predilection towards the comfort and ease of buying a holiday package online is coming out in full swing today. We add layers of benefits to the customers including great experiences at fantastic prices. As long as we offer real value, this transition will remain in an upward swing.


What is the target for HolidayMe in the next five years? And how will you achieve
that?

We want to grow from strength to strength and become the leading player in the holiday industry in the region. We have also launched Umrah packages with a visa which has global appeal.
A really big topic in our aim of becoming the leading player, like for every other company, is technology. We’re constantly working on ironing out the kinks and making our product better, day by day!