Bootstrapped to $1 Billion IPO – The Story of EaseMyTrip

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In 2020, the travel industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies were forced to close their doors, and the future of EaseMyTrip looked bleak. But the Pittie Brothers were not the ones who would give up so easily. They made a bold decision that would change the course of the company’s history. Read on to find out what they did.

Beginning of a revolution 

Rikant Pittie’s father was a coal trader, and for his business needs he used to travel 10 to 15 times a month. These were the days when people relied on a travel agent to book flight tickets and Rikant’s father was no different.

One day, while checking his father’s travel bills Rikant and his elder brother, Nishant, found out that the travel agent was overcharging his father almost 1.5k extra on every flight he took. Which meant his father was paying nearly 20 to 30 thousand per month to the travel agent in commissions. 

After this, Rikant and Nishant started booking his father’s travel tickets online to save that huge agent commission. The word spread soon and later all their relatives began calling the brothers to book their tickets. His father also started referring his sons to his colleagues who wanted to book flights cheaply. 

Rikant and Nishant, in turn, started charging Rs 100 to 500 as commission on each ticket they booked for their new customers. To put this in perspective, Nishant was in 1st year of college and Rikant was in high school at that time. It was a little setup by two young guys until one day, they decided to name it “Duke Travels,” and registered it as a business.

The business grew by leaps and bounds as the brothers started using services like bulk SMS and promotional emails to promote their services.

Business grew and things changed, soon after, they started realizing gaps in the market related to transparency and customer service. Rikant, coming from a tech background went ahead and started developing technology to solve this problem and that is when EaseMyTrip was born.  

EaseMyTrip’s emergence

Set up in 2008, EaseMyTrip catered to the offline travel market for the first three years, helping travel agents book domestic air tickets via its website. The bootstrapped startup was growing at a fast pace as it was probably the only company in the B2B2C travel space offering this service. But Pittie knew that the good run might not last long. Offline travel agents/agencies could become obsolete soon, with people and services heading online. Despite the travel agents threatening to pull their business which led to a 70-80% drop in business, the brothers decided to pivot and enter the B2C travel space. Was the pivot necessary? The short answer is Yes.

Long answer “Pursuit of growth made it mandatory to take a different direction.” The company kept growing as the brothers followed a simple yet effective framework to balance innovation with success – do what is best for customers but do it profitably. The biggest example of this is that most other online travel aggregator (OTA) charge a convenience fee as part of their business model but EaseMyTrip doesn’t and yet it is profitable. But why do they not charge this fee which is an industry-wide norm? They don’t charge convenience fees because of their cost structures that are well-aligned with their business needs.

The Biggest test

EaseMyTrip’s biggest test came during COVID-19.

When COVID-19 reared its ugly head early in 2020, the travel and hospitality industry was among the worst hit due to a global shutdown to contain the pandemic. India and other countries closed their borders and went into a complete lockdown, confining citizens to their homes for the foreseeable future. 

For an OTA like EaseMyTrip, it meant scores of customers canceling their bookings and asking for refunds, as no one knew how long the lockdowns (or the pandemic in general) would last. Keeping consumers’ best interests in mind, the founders took a bold call in 2020.

“There is no point having INR 200 Cr sitting in your bank account (profits accumulated over the years). We thought the best way to use the money was to give people their refunds, even though the money paid by our customers had already been passed on to the airlines and hotels,” Pittie said.

This action ruffled many feathers and caused a social media uproar as users tagged EaseMyTrip’s competitors and asked why they hadn’t got their money back.

This bold move also led to an unexpected outcome. EaseMyTrip overtook Yatra to become the second-largest travel company when lockdowns were lifted.

In 2021, EaseMyTrip launched its IPO as a bootstrapped startup and turned into a $1 Billion company. Today, with its sights set on overseas expansion, EaseMyTrip stands as a testament to the power of innovation, customer focus, and unwavering determination. Their story is an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and a reminder that even in the face of adversity, success is within reach. EaseMyTrip’s legacy is one of continuous adaptation, unwavering customer commitment, and a relentless pursuit of innovation, making it a true trailblazer in the ever-evolving travel industry.

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