It may be surprising to travelers in the jet age but there is an entire -- big -- population of consumers out there who do not immediately think of getting on a plane when they think of booking their next trip. They think about getting on a boat. Travel portals in most developed markets have focused on air fares, aptly priced hotels and rental cars -- the idea being that true value in this market is being able to book a reasonable fare at a cost below expectations and leave in a short amount of time.
According to travel research, 4% of travel booking was done using tablets and 8% of was done using mobile device which is increase of 173% YOY for table and 67% YOY for mobile.
But one US-based company is treading where not many have tread before. WorldWinger Travel, a Microsoft BizSpark startup founded by Joyjeet Dey Majurndar, is built around enabling smart cruise travel with Cruise Alert, a new Windows 8 app that is available in the Windows Store today. The Windows Phone 8 app is currently in development.
According to Majurndar, Cruise Alert was designed with the simple thought to “make cruise affordable for everyone”.
"It provides an end-to-end process from searching a cruise to booking a cabin. Users can keep track of the best cruise deals without constantly searching for it. Users can create an alert with the kind of cruise that they are looking for, based on your budget, dream vacation spots or your favorite ship, and then keep track of all the best cruise deals that matches those criteria," says Majurndar.
The cruises that meet the criteria will regularly get updated to provide the latest best cruise deals.
The company recently started to migrate our services to Azure after becoming BizSpark members. "The first feature we are in the process of implementing is Push notification through Azure mobile services," says Deepa. "Next we plan to move our database and web API service to Azure."
"Azure mobile services is the most important factor that helped be decide to build on Azure, for the fact that it offers easy scalability. It will help us grow as our adoption rate increases," she says.
Microsoft technologies the company is using in conjunction with the development of their application:
Deepa Dey Majumdar, Co-founder of WorldWinger Travel and Cruise Alert App
We recently caught up with Deepa, and asked her what she was doing with her app and to get her views on how she intends to build her business around the Microsoft stack. Here's here thoughtful commentary on the state of the apps business and the world of travel.
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
Our app is for the consumer market, which has potential to grow rapidly due to the social amplification effect of friends and family referrals. At this point, scalability is very important without which there could be bad user experience. Scalability and good user experience has a bi-product of more adoption, which leads to sales and revenue growth.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
We do a reasonable predictions based on the data available from various sources. However, the cruise lines control the pricing model, hence a lot depends on the service we provide and trust we build among our users. Our app is designed in a very customized way which let us offer what a customer is looking for and what cruise lines are offering.
What questions do you think a startup non-technical founder needs to answer when considering a cloud architecture for his or her startup, and I am thinking specifically here during the business model generation period?
A non-technical founder might say, 'How efficient is the solution going to be to get the fastest first dime? What could be the easiest ways to support large customer base with enterprise solution and how to get the product on-line in a shortest possible time by spending least dollar amount?'
What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
Our focus is on the customer experience and providing best deal to the users. We feel that we need an effective way to keep the data real-time as much as possible so that our users can find the best possible pricing deal. We currently support 16 cruise lines but we need work fast to support as many cruise lines possible and also work with each cruise line to provide us up to date inventory and pricing data to enable more sales with the best deals.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
In our process technical team is involved from the very first moment when a feature is drafted. It is very important that a proper technical feasibility is evaluated, as this is a very complex system, which involves integration with various third parties.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
This is a serous business and a lot is dependent on success of our work. We have dedicated our time without any expectation so that we can grow our revenue, profit and leave a legacy behind. We have received tremendous support from our users in terms of sales through our app. All this happened in a very short span of 6 months. We have a huge commitment to provide much more as we build more features for a favorable experience.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
When Window8 made its first public beta release, We realized that it has huge potential in revolutionizing how people interact with a device. My research indicated that in 2012 4% of travel booking was done using tablets and 8% of was done using mobile device which is increase of 173% YOY for table and 67% YOY for mobile. Data also indicated that at least 58% bookers use Mobile apps [source: comScore and Expedia MediaSolution] We did not find cruise app in the Windows 8 app store hence we started development in October and released the first version by January 2nd 2013. Since then we had steady usage and now we are top 25 free travel app in the Windows 8 Store. This give us a clear indication that we are a “startup material”
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
We want to extend this to multiple devices. Our big wish list is to extend it to XBOX as an app where family and friends should be able to make travel decision together.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
Being a bootstrap company there has always been some challenge in getting up to date data. Many time we observed that the interface changed without or on a very short notice. I had to focus on fix the broken interface while pushing back on the release of new feature promised to customers.
I get a lot of support from the family in doing this. I do spend late nights as that’s the only time I get change to work on this. However, I make point that I give full attention to my family as I do not want my kids to grow while I am working and miss the important events.
Working in a startup make me feel that I am in a challenging world making me stronger to accept more challenges in life. I love it.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
I bring in a unique blend of engineering and business acumen. I have great skill of managing and delegating work to with focus on customer need and technical balance with quick turnaround time. I take up challenge to easily demonstrate impossible as possible which is a big characteristic of an entrepreneur.
Main focus of our startup is to make cruise affordable for everyone. The total worldwide cruise industry is estimated at $36.2 billion in 2013. This is 4.5% increase over 2012. With 20.9 million passengers estimated to sail in 2013, which is 3.3% increase over 2012. It is estimated that there will be at least 6.5% increase in US digital travel sale YOY. Out of this at least 26% book travel after research on tablet or smart phone devices. Our focus is to tap this digital small device market. We have about 7000+ download in 4 months since our launch. We are expecting more as we push new user friendly features that will add to our digital sales. There is a strong market to for us as a startup, which is yet to be explored.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
I signed up for a 30 min free design session. I was assigned a v- resource. Only good think he suggested was to add advt. to monetize the app. Other than that I was not of a lot of help.
I would like to recognize Steve Seow (SSeow), who had been a great help as an evangelist for Windows 8 app. He helped me get Bizspark which I am building upon now.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
I would say building scale and team.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Azure has well defined help and samples for each service that will enable engineers to adopt it quickly. I would recommend newbies to go through the documentations to take best advantage of how to build on Azure. That certainly helped us a great deal.
Home screen of the windows app as of last release in July