An Interview with Indian Travel Search service 90di’s co-founder Khushnood NaqviBy Angsuman Chakraborty, Gaea News Network
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
From this day, Simple Thoughts is starting up a series of interviews with prominent entrepreneurs from India and all over the world. In our first endeavor, we managed to do a tête-à-tête with Khushnood Naqvi, co-founder of a very useful online travel search service, 90di. (Get more information for 90di). The main USP of 90di is, it combines the train and flight routes to show numerous traveling route possibilities to the user which is unique in its own way and very efficient too. It also gives you some more interesting options to work upon and select the best means of transportation possible (as is claimed). So without further ado, let’s get on with the excerpts.
Taragana: What is the significance of the name 90di?
Mr. Naqvi: 90di - stands for Ninety Degree Internet. It actually stands for vertical search i.e. looking at the Internet vertically. Since we knew we wanted to work on vertical search areas and starting from travel. Calling it 90di, seemed fine.
Taragana: How and when was the idea of 90 degrees internet conceived at first?
Mr. Naqvi: It was in 2007, when I had left Infosys, and was taking a sabbatical. I knew that I was going to be working on some Internet product. I started to think up ideas and bounce of with my would-be co-founders Kiran and Abhinit. We all instantly liked the idea of a vertical search for travel and having features like Train+Flight combined routes which no body was giving. So the idea was accepted and we started to work on it in May 2007.
Taragana: What makes 90di unique from the other travel search services other than integration of both air & railways?
Mr. Naqvi: Soumya, You have already named the main USP of the site. Let me point to few others, but first want to expand a bit on Train+Flight thingy
- We show multi-modal routes upto 3-legs, which ensures that we give the traveller the best option from his/her perspective. For example some times a 3 leg flight might be better/cheaper than a 2-leg flight.
- Concept of place groups having all the stations of a city, airport(s) and bus stops in it. So you can say I just want to go from Chennai to Bangalore. It will show buses, trains and flights and allowing user to chose the best option based on fare, duration, travel mode convenience etc.
- Concept of a Route Rank, where we rank a given route result on various parameters like - departure time, quality of transit stations, transit times, transit duration, train speed, Airline quality etc.
- Natural language like interface for users. Where by just using a few key words people can specify there need. For e.g. I can say Bangalore to Kharagpur via Kolkata on sunday. So lots of filtering in built in the natural language parsing.
- Mobile interface m.90di.com for mobile internet users
- And recently we have added, Mail based search and also twitter based search, a trip planner, where people can plan their multi-city trips. Yes, these are kind of main features.
[In the meanwhile we tried bangalore to kolkata on sunday as a subject line and sent it to firstname.lastname@example.org and got results almost within seconds]
Taragana: Can users rank the travel route?
Mr. Naqvi: Users can comment on our ranking by saying “agree” or “disagree” and also give their comments. Which we intend to use over time to improve our rankings.
Taragana: Does it recognize availability of alternative mode of transport from say railway station to airport like taxi or auto and takes into account the travel time when booking tickets?
Mr. Naqvi: Are you asking this in the context of Route Rank. Yes, route rank puts a penalty if a transit happens to be say in kolkata from airport to station (in the BLR to KGP case). And if this transit happens in the night there is an added penalty.
Taragana: Tell us the story behind the development of 90di
Mr. Naqvi: Once we decided on the idea. We did not waste time and all three of us just started to code. We had not even registered the company then (which we eventually did in July 2007). So we just sat in our garage like office and just simply coded for 4 months. We released the site for friends by August end 2007. We got good feedback from them (including Angsuman) but people felt that the UI is very bad. All of us were fairly decent engineers but quite bad at UI. So then we went and hired a professional for a few weeks, and she did the UI screens for us. and by Jan 2008 we had the site looking in fairly decent shape. Since were were self funded and did not have any “money” for marketing. So we relied mostly on “word of mouth” marketing and also some media stories. The Hindu did a story on us, which got a large chunk of users. The environment is all open source - Linux, MySql, Apache and Java.
Taragana: What was your architectural considerations when choosing Java?
Mr. Naqvi: Basically choice of Java was because of two reasons:
- We were convinced that Java scales, owing to some previous work we had done on a Java product.
- We were very comfortable in Java.
Taragana: How many people are currently involved in the development on this product?
Mr. Naqvi: Its mainly the three people (all co-founders) who have been developing this.
Taragana: What is your current site traffic?
Mr. Naqvi: Actually traction is quite decent. Its organic growth for us without any kind of money-spending-marketing. So its kind of like a tree growing (i.e. not as fast as we would have liked but off late we have thankfully noticed an acceleration in growth. In the past 3 months traffic has doubled.
Taragana: What is your future plan and direction you want to take this service?
Mr. Naqvi: Our vision is to make it the place for searching for travel in India. We see that people start their travel search in generic search engines like Google. But our hope is that we can make people want to search for any travel related information on 90di - whether its hotels, or package tours or a flight/train.
Taragana: Do you have plans to charge for this service anytime down the road?
Mr. Naqvi: We don’t intend to charge the end-user. Our model is that we charge the supplier per transaction. For e.g. if a flight or Bus is booked through 90di, we get a referal/commission from the Airline or a Bus.
Taragana: Okay let’s get into a bit personalized space now. Is it your first entrepreneural venture?
Mr. Naqvi: Yes, this is the first one. Before this I was just doing a steady job for a long time. So lots of learning on the entrepreneurial job
Taragana: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur from a secure job?
Mr. Naqvi: Actually, I had been nursing entrepreneurial ambitions for a few years in the job. Also I wanted to work for product and cutting-edge technology things. So I thought I should test out my seriousness by taking the plunge.
Taragana: How do you like entrepreneurship compared to regular job after several years at both?
Mr. Naqvi: Entrepreneurship is much more challenging than job to say the least. At the job, you just have to bother about just one aspect i.e. getting the software designed, developed and tested properly. Somebody else gives you the requirement for it. And somebody else sells it. In a Start-up you have to do everything. You think up the requirements, which hopefully the end-user likes. You build it. You sell it. You evangelize your stuff. You look for funding. You make biz dev calls with suppliers. And doing all this you need to maintain your enthusiasm and spirit. So basically it has been challenging (really challenging) and also fulfilling. Nothing like a sincere appreciation from a happy user
Taragana: That is very true. Any advice for future Indian entrepreneurs?
Mr. Naqvi: Honestly, I don’t think I am there yet to advice people yet. Hopefully one day …
Taragana: oh that was too modest. Anyway, what do you have to say about the recent spurt of internet centric ventures of the new bunch of entrepreneurs in India? Do you think internet based apps are the future even for a country like India with low internet penetration?
Mr. Naqvi: Not not at all. But can share somethings which we believe in … may be at a later date. Let me answer your question now, I am totally sold on the Internet story myself. recently I was seeing a CNBC program in which Vint Cerf was there, you know ppl refer to him as “father of Internet”. He is presently working at Google. And he said - “I sincerely believe that only 1% of all the possible Internet apps have been developed”. that statement gave me goose bumps. I also believe that Internet apps are still very-very primitive, and there is so much to happen.
Internet broadband should also pick-up in India. people talk about mobiles by passing the internet story. But I think its the other way round. back-end will be the Internet services, accessed over a mobile, a desktop, by your car, any kind of smart gadgets.
Taragana: Apart from 90di, do you have other product or services plans that you are planning down the road that you would like to share?
Mr. Naqvi: Actually travel is hopefully the first app that we have build for 90di. Really hope that we will build some more useful ones. But we don’t want to rush. We want to do full justice to 90di travel, before we do something else.
Taragana: We will wrap up here. Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing about your company. Thanks Mr. Naqvi, take care.
Mr. Naqvi: All the best to you folks and thanks for your time.
[Do tell us if you liked the interview and/ or something you will like to add to it. We are going to continue this series from now on so any suggestion will be more than welcome]
Tags: 90di, Bounce, Decided, enterpreneurs, Friends, Open Source, Things, Travel