The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

90di.com – an interesting travel portal

Khushnood Naqvi suggested me to review his startup venture, 90di.com, a travel portal.

90di.com

90di.com

What is it about?
In the rather congested space of travel booking sites, 90di.com aims to be different. Some of the key differentiators include combining air and train travel bookings in a single search instant, more human language search ability and a feature to plan an elaborate trip as well.

What more?
The interface is very clean and uncluttered. Which is really nice. There are options to use a standard interface or go for a simpler interface which can work with a slower connection also. This is a useful feature considering especially that train bookings can be happening from anywhere in the country, and where high speed connections may not be that common. Likewise, while searching for travel options also, there are options, viz. an English language style statement where you can use descriptive language (e.g. ‘Mumbai to Delhi by plane tomorrow’), or a more conventional form based tool, or finally, where you actually build up to an entire, elaborate trip booking.

Other Observations:
While doing air booking, the site sends you apparently, to the direct airline booking site. Unlike most other travel booking portals then, 90di.com does not attempt to close the transaction on its own site. It could be a matter of awaiting the approvals from the sites, or it might be a conscious choice made by 90di.com, for some commercial reasons. There is a map interface which shows a chosen route on the map. It is an interesting feature.

Wisdom Nuggets:
1. Ordinarily, I would have hesitated to review “one more travel portal”, as there is already much congestion in the space, and the jury is really out, on who amongst those will survive the heat, and remain around to make money. With several funded startups in the space, what does 90di.com expect to achieve? Well, I do see them making a difference with their offering, having focused on specific customer needs, like the air+train bookings. I would recommend them to continue focusing on few but well directed features.
2. There is a speed challenge across the site. Specially the Ajax functionalities are slow and can be frustrating at times. These need to be fixed.
3. There are interesting features that can be useful to users. However there is the big question of revenues. How is money going to be made? It does not seem apparent.
4. As it is, travel bookings are a low margin business. The only hope for travel portals is to generate high volumes of business. I am not sure how 90di.com will manage to do that, in terms of brand building efforts, etc. There may be an opportunity to provide their set of services to another funded travel portal, by being their backend.

On the whole, while I appreciate the simplicity, the specific focus on few value-additions that 90di.com has taken, it is not clear to me, as to how revenues will come, and especially, serious, large revenues. So that remains a big question as far as I can see, with regards to 90di.com.

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March 5, 2009 Posted by | Startup, Travel | , , , | 5 Comments

EveningFlavors.com – for your wining, dining and partying needs

Akash Shrivastava sent me a request to review his startup, EveningFlavors.com.

EveningFlavors.com

EveningFlavors.com

What is it about?

EveningFlavors.com is a directory of restaurants, pubs, party places, longe bars, etc.  It gives good details of these places, and offers reservations, reviews and promotions as well.

What more?

Specific searches are offered for restaurants (you can search on basis of location, type of cuisine and budget), pubs (area) and parties (date). There is room for users to add their own reviews. Several promotions run as hot deals, and could spell good value to the users. At this time, Bangalore properties are well populated and other cities’ data must be getting ready. The data appears to be quite comprehensive as far as the heads of information go. User reviews would become the driving force of the site, and in time, these should also build up.

The layout is neat, with easy navigation and pre-emptive linking.

Other Observations:

The site clearly has the right ideas and the right structure. It is looking at the user needs clearly, and site layout, content, navigation are all focused towards the user’s needs. There are some Google Adsense ads that are visible, but in a non-interfering way. So these might be used only for purpose of creating some supplemental income, and they do not seem to be the main revenue line. In a venture like this, lot of revenue opportunities can be created, so Adsense may only be a marginal income.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. When you remove the frills and the laces, you see this business as a niche segment yellow pages. For the wining, dining and partying vertical. In that respect, the competition for EveningFlavors could come from the likes of Sulekha.com, JustDial.com and others in that space. Sure, EveningFlavors will portray itself as a specialist and offer value addition, including table reservations, party event information, etc. But over time, it will need to build clear brand equity in the space, to generate usage volumes, and thereby have a lock-in, into the segment. Both for users, as well as for the “merchants” , viz. the restaurateurs etc.

2. One of the key revenue drivers for businesses of this type is advertising income from the merchants. JustDial, Sulekha and other specialists have created large sales netorks on the ground, and who are creating sign-ins and advertising income. I am not sure where EveningFlavors stands on this, but they will need to have their field sales teams too. There, the challenge is that since yellow pages companies are working on any and every vertical, their sales costs can be kept lower, as salemen’s visit location can cover large number of calls. Whereas, with niche vertical of EveningFlavors, their unit cost of sales could be higher. Also whenever they add new cities, they will also need to shore up a field sales team, for that city. And only to nurture a single niche vertical, as against multi-vertical yellow pages’ companies.

3. A value proposition to users will be in getting good information, regularly updated. Maybe information about the menu offered (scanned copy of the menus of the restaurants would be wonderful), table locations (”near window”, etc.), the day’s specials, etc. would be useful. Also regular updation of details, will be a good way to get a lockin, on the users. However in implementing these strategies, they will not get pro-active cooperation from the restaurants. Due to various reasons, including not being very excited by the medium, not getting adequate results on the investment, etc. And yet, for EveningFlavors, giving good quality information is the one big way to lockin the users. Then, EveningFlavors has no choice but to update its information. And for which purpose, they will need to take the onus of collecting this data on a regular basis, from the restaurants!!

4. Mobile integration (can’t see if its done or yet to happen) is almost mandatory. Another interesting feature that could be added, along with a mobile integration, is to enable restaurants and pubs to put short term, live promotions, e.g. “Happy Hours for the next two hours” etc. On the other side, users can enable their own opt-ins when they require (like when they are planning for an evening out), and also specify area and cuisine type if you wish, and they could get SMSes from corresponding live promotions that have been put by the merchants. This could also spell additional revenue for EveningFlavors, as a higher lead generation commission.

5. Likewise, Social Media integration is nearly mandatory. To have a loyal users group on Facebook, or to tweet promotions to loyal follower lists, will be a must-have integration to the proposition of EveningFlavors.

6. The business proposition is per se, not a rocket science. One has heard of and seen others working on similar models. The winning brand will then be, not necessarily someone with better technical capabilities, but a team that “breathes” the business better. A team that understands the pains of users, as they plan their wining, dining and partying needs. If EveningFlavors is that team, then they will execute the tasks better, and could emerge the winners, after all.

7. Speaking of branding then, also brings up the fact that to differentiate in the market place, there will be some specific brand building effort required. Some of it could mean money spend, and some could be just clinching smart deals with partners, hotels, taxi services, travel guides, college campuses, credit card companies, etc. One or the other way, users should come across the EveningFlavors brand frequently, so that ultimately, they choose to make it a habit.

8. Again, from the point of view that there are others pursuing similar strategies, it is also essential for EveningFlavors to add many cities as quickly as possible. They need to become a national brand for this service at the earliest, and occupy the slot, and keep servicing it, with excellent offerings for the users. Otherwise, someone else will take the slot, or it will become a fragmented market, helping no one brand.

9. Community and Reviews are going to be very critical. I would urge the management of EveningFlavors to take up community building and getting more and more user reviews, as a top priority. If traction is got on those fronts, there is no reason why EveningFlavors cannot become to the wining and dining space, what TripAdvisor is to the travel space!

10. A useful win-win-win proposition can be to issue exclusive promotions or discount codes (on SMS or emails) from EveningFlavors to users. When users take these to restaurants, the restaurant validates the value of their presence on EveningFlavors. Also for EveningFlavors, besides the validation for its paying clients, namely the restaurants, leads generated like these could be negotiated for higher commissions. And finally, for the user, a promotion / discount is always good, and she will be glad to have got it from EveningFlavors, generating user loyalty.

There are at least two other ideas that I can share, and which would both work with the current EveningFlavors infrastructure, but which would be extensions to the current business. I can share these with the founders, in case they are interested, but I will not put them up on an open forum here.

Other than that, I can conclude that EveningFlavors is sitting on an excellent idea with tremendous potential, and if they can execute it quickly and well, they could be a very exciting and profitable business.

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March 5, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Hospitality, Social Networking, Startup | , , | Leave a comment