Traveling has never been easier before. We’ve got access to the most remote places in the world thanks to the plethora of offers to choose from. Tour operators, carriers and hotels fight to win clients, and as a result of massive competitiveness, we get lower prices and better offers. In theory. The wide range of options might cause confusion and decrease transparency on the market.
Julian Stiefel, a co-founder of Tourlane (former Akawy) came to the same conclusion. The number of options when planning a trip was overwhelming. It was hard to compare different offers and find the best solution possible. That’s why, together with his mate, Julian decided to set up a company that will bring back transparency to the individual travel market. In 2016 they founded Tourlane, a startup that connects travelers with personalised travel offers. The business has been growing 27% MoM and attracted 26,000 users to the platform. Julian shared with us what’s the secret of their success and what are the next steps.
Natalia Chrzanowska: What’s the idea behind Tourlane?
Julian Stiefel: We connect travellers with verified tour operators in the individual travel space which means we offer custom-made trips. When you have an idea for a trip in mind, you can come to us and we will help you make your wish come true. And it’s not by selling you a pre-packaged tour, but by connecting you to the right person who can organise a tailored journey of your life.
Overall, we bring transparency to the individual travel market which is very diversified. There are so many different providers that it is difficult for a customer to decide which is the best for their needs. That’s where we come in, to make sure you find the best specialist in the market.
Natalia: How does the platform work?
Julian: First, a user defines a travel request by filling out a form. The survey consist of various questions about travel preferences, budget, destinations etc. Based on information provided in the form, the system connects the user with up to three specialised tour operators from whom they receive an offer. All the different details and how the trip is planned are discussed directly with the provider. Eventually, when a client is satisfied and decides to go with a particular provider they can make a booking directly.
Natalia: Where did you get the idea from?
Julian: From own experience. My co-founder and I have always had issues when planning trips. There were too many possibilities online and no transparency on the market. We didn’t know who would be the right specialist to go to, or if we could trust them, etc. So we decided to build a platform to help travelers to easily find the right tour operator and to receive the best possible offer.
There is an overload of information and no transparency on the travel market. We wanted to solve that problem and that’s how we started Tourlane.
Natalia: How is the business doing now?
Julian: We’ve grown our business to over a hundred providers who cover up to 40 destinations from Africa, through Asia, to Australia, to South America. You can go to Tanzania, hike in the mountains of Patagonia, do a safari or go scuba-diving in the Galapagos Islands. Business-wise, we have been growing roughly 27% month on month and so far 26,000 users have gone through our platform.
Natalia: What were the biggest challenges along the way?
Julian: Finding the best providers and onboarding them in our network is a big challenge for us. We want to provide the best quality for the users so we seek operators that can be trusted. Also building a platform that we can easily scale up was challenging. We needed exceptional engineering capacities. The first prototype was written in PHP which was not sufficient for our needs. We had to switch to Ruby on Rails and the Netguru team helped us do that. They built a solid base for our further growth. Now we can focus on building new features and growing the product further and further.
Natalia: Any recommendations for people starting a business?
Julian: Good team is crucial. Finding a good co-founder and hiring the right people should be the top priority. On top of that, believing in the idea that it will work and persistence are important. Founding a company is definitely a challenge and to make it successful you need to believe in your idea and keep it going.
Natalia: What’s your experience of working with a remote team?
Julian: The process was great. The team did a nice job and was very responsive during the whole project. Working in different locations can be challenging. However, thanks to the technology we used, Slack and all the different possibilities to communicate it was not an issue to work with a remote team anymore.
Natalia: What are the next steps?
Julian: The individual travel market is still in transition from offline to online and we want to help to shape that shift. In the future, we want to further increase our partner network and scale it across all different destinations. And maybe, at some point, expand to other markets apart from Germany.