Alumni of IIT Madras, Sandeep Jaiswal, Co-Founder & CEO and Pranav Prabhakar, Co-Founder & CTO - MiStay prior to this went on to start different ventures while being at IIT. While their first ventures did not succeed for different reasons, they took up jobs for financial stability. However, both were aware of their complimenting skill-sets and the entrepreneurial mindset. So when Sandeep came across the idea of MiStay and decided to start it in the year 2016, he approached Pranav and sold him the idea. Since then they have worked together, changing the rules of hospitality by bringing flexibility and fairness into hotel bookings. In an exclusive conversation with Business2Business, Sandeep Jaiswal takes us through their journey and milestones achieved:
About MiStay: Sandeep shares,“MiStay is a travel-tech company which allows booking hotel rooms by pack of hours with flexible check-in & check-out times. Instead of the rigid full day booking (12 noon – 12 noon) being done traditionally, MiStay offers booking based on slots (8 am – 11 am (Morning slot), 12 noon – 7 pm (Day slot), 8 pm – 7 am (Night slot)).” He adds, “Travelers can book a room for the appropriate combination of slots and pay only for the time they stay. This not only fills the needs of frequent business travellers, but also leisure travelers who require room for less than a day or with flexible timings. Moreover, it also gives hotels a channel to increase their occupancy and revenue per available room.”
Taking the entrepreneurial leap: Starting up was always on my cards, shares Sandeep. He adds, “I had a few failed attempts in entrepreneurship back in college. I had started a low-cost housing company, FastTrack House and after that a social enterprise for reducing consumption of bottled water – AmrutDhara while studying in IIT Madras. Both these ventures didn’t succeed for various reasons, and I had to temporarily switch to a corporate career for some financial reasons. The inspiration to start MiStay came when I faced the problem firsthand. When I thought more about it, I could find many associated problems, like people require a room for only a few hours to freshen up before a meeting or during a long layover, but they have to book and pay for the entire day. At the same time, there are hotels struggling to increase the occupancy.It was then I realised there is a lot of inefficiency in the system which can be optimised for the benefit of travellers as well as hotels, and that’s how MiStay was born.”
Current presence and expansion plans: Sandeep shares, “Currently, MiStay is operational in 8 business cities in India – Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, and Gurgaon. We are currently focused on strengthening our presence in these existing 8 cities, and we’ll soon be expanding to other business cities in India as well in coming months. Being in asset light model, we do plan to expand to geographies outside India as well, especially other Asian countries, though that may take more than a year.”
Funding: “We had been bootstrapped so far. We were part of the accelerator program of Axilor Ventures (started by Infosys founders, Kris Gopalkrishnan & Shibulal). We are now in the process of raising the first round of external capital,” shares Sandeep.
Working model: “We operate in a marketplace model. We give hotels an extranet software through which they manage the inventory rates on slot-wise basis, which gets reflected in the consumer facing website in real time. We get a TAC (Travel Agent Commission) of 20% of the booking amount from the hotel on every transaction done through MiStay,” says Sandeep.
Marketing strategies: “So far, our marketing has only been done by our customers as we are focused on giving customers a delightful experience and word-of-mouth marketing has worked really well shares Sandeep. He adds, “Another channel is through organic search in Google. We haven’t made any investment in marketing yet. Going forward, one of the key channels of customer acquisition shall be direct tie-up with corporates to manage their employees’ accommodation by pack of hours. While content marketing will be the key pillar for branding & marketing initiatives, it will also be driven by many strategic tie-ups such as partnerships with airlines, railways, events, hospitals, etc. where there is larger need of short-stay or flexible timings.”
The numbers: Sharing more on the growth numbers since inception, Sandeep shares, “The total slots sold are around 600 and the total valid transactions for last month were 97. In addition to it, we have a partnership with 100 plus hotels.”
Milestones achieved: We are very proud of the fact that MiStay was one of the 10 startups nationally selected for the Axilor Ventures Accelerator Program,” shares Sandeep. In addition to it, MiStay was listed as among best 5 websites for hourly or day-use hotel booking by AllTheRooms.com and we have been featured in some of the most prestigious business magazines.
Long-term Goals: Sandeep shares, “As a traveller, I believe travelling if done rightly can have significant positive impact on a person’s life. There are mainly 3 things needed for travelling – 1.) Motivation to travel, 2.) Time to travel, 3.) Money to travel. Money is required for transportation, food & accommodation. Right now we are trying to disrupt the way accommodation is managed to make it more flexible & fair. In times to come, we hope to drive such innovation and disrupt every facet of travel & trigger every lever to help people achieve their travel dream.”
The Indian Start-up Scenario: Commenting on the same Sandeep shares, “Startups have become mainstream in India in the last few years due to a lot of focus from everyone in the ecosystem – right from academic institutions, lot of incubation support and larger investor money available. While the regulatory simplifications are helpful, I believe the best part is the change in environment where now more people aspires to be a successful entrepreneur than landing a great job, more people are willing to work in a start-up even a lower salary because the learning and opportunity they see, one can always find people around for mentorship and so on. I think this is a great time for entrepreneurs in India.”
Advice for young entrepreneurs: Perseverance is the key – with time, any founder will learn the basic rules of entrepreneurship such as validating assumptions of the business model, being frugal, being customer-focussed, etc. Though, it’s always a long journey and there inevitably will be times when things get very dark, hazy – it will feel tough and lonely. Those are the times when many people give up. It’s the ability to persevere, deal with those situations and carve out the path which makes a difference, and that’s more likely to happen when one starts up with the right reasons and truly love what he/ she does.