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Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 11 : 28 AM [IST]

The Online Moghul - Dhruv Shringi, Co-Founder & CEO, Yatra.com

Disha Shah Ghosh
An MBA from INSEAD and a qualified Chartered Accountant today heads the second Indian e-commerce company to be listed on Nasdaq. This is the story of Dhruv Shringi who created the travel technology platform, Yatra.com with 3 of his friends, and today heads the company across geographies, having diversified into newer markets and niche products. Some of the core values imbibed during his formative years continue to drive his business decisions, and Dhruv believes in being completely aware of the market dynamics and learning from experiences. TravelBiz Monitor recognises Dhruv Shringi in creating a competitive online platform, which ranks among the top players in the OTA space today.

No one would have ever envisaged that an idea emerging out a casual meet with friends would eventually culminate into a Nasdaqlisted company. The seeds of Yatra.com were sown during a lazy evening in London when Dhruv Shringi was catching up with his former colleagues of Ebookers Group in the early 2000s. An idea was developed into a travel technology platform that joined the leading names that managed to disrupt the highly unorganised travel industry in mid-2000s. Today, Yatra.com has grown from a threemember team to an organisation with 2,400 employees, and the face behind such growth is none other than Dhruv Shringi.

With Yatra.com, Dhruv has come a long way, facing some unforeseen challenges and diversifying their portfolio to meet the market demands. The foundation of his career as an entrepreneur was laid at the young age of 19, when Dhruv started a business with his father’s saving. “Within two years it failed. Life then taught me two important lessons, you have to work hard to make things happen, and it’s not how hard you fall but how strongly you recover.” However, years later, Lalit Khanna, Dhruv’s boss at Arthur Andersen taught him the importance of doing things the “right” way and not taking short cuts” when he was fresh out of college and still recovering from the failure of his venture.

Dhruv has dabbled into various profiles before conceptualising the idea of Yatra. com. He was Director Group Operations and Technology of the Ebookers Group in London and has also worked with Ford Motor Company and Arthur Andersen in Delhi and London. “Yatra’s story came about when I was catching up a few drinks in a pub in London with some of my former colleagues, post my stint with Ebookers. It was then in that moment of ‘dutch courage’ we decided to start an online business in India. Initially the conversation spun around how scattered the travel sector in India was, difficulty in travel planning and how we could leverage our individual experiences in the industry to make travel planning more easy. Unlike most drunk conversations, the thought stayed with us till the next morning and we went about putting together a business plan and from there onto raising capital.” Yatra.com was finally launched on August 1, 2006 and rest as they say is history.

Dhruv speaking at a recent FICCI event in Delhi


The varied experiences before launching Yatra laid a strong foundation of Dhruv’s career, which gave him local as well as global exposure. However, nothing in the world could prepare him while starting a business in a market which was just being introduced to the idea of e-commerce. “We started 11 years ago when Indians were still unaware as to how to book their travel online. We faced more than many challenges on our way to making Yatra reach where it is today. The major challenge was to manipulate the mindset of the Indian audiences and gain their trust to start booking online. They were particularly reluctant about using their credit cards online and that was a huge barrier to transactions. We persistently communicated to customers about the safety of online transactions gradually persuading them to book.”

While customer acquisition was a challenge for Yatra, staff employment turned out to be a big hurdle. “No one wanted to work in a start-up in 2006. Over a decade ago, very few people were keen on risking their careers with a start-up, quite unlike the situation today.” Moreover, the infrastructure at that point in time was not ideal to start an online company as majority of the people were accessing the Internet over a dial up. “Airlines, too, were wary of online travel distribution since they weren’t sure of how this would impact their business. Hence, gaining their trust was another challenge,” Dhruv says.

As Yatra slowly and gradually started going ground in the market, Dhruv realised the importance of trust and brand name. It was a herculean task to make partners, suppliers and airlines believe in the Yatra model. Alongside gaining confidence of investors and partners took a lot of conviction for Dhruv and his team. “Initially, on the product side Yatra was an unheard name. It took a great deal of our convincing abilities to make people understand our business model. It was at times extremely disheartening and demotivating to see people question our credibility and doubt our capability.”

Slowly and gradually, Yatra started gaining popularity among consumers in the market, thanks to print and television advertising. Appointing brand ambassadors was next to follow which created a recall value. Eventually, moving ahead Yatra started diversifying into newer segments like car rentals, packages, hotels, packaged tours, city walks, private tours, corporate travel, etc.

To expand its reach into new geographical areas, Dhruv took the inorganic route and sporadically starts acquiring brands like Travelguru, Travel Services International, MagicRooms, mGaadi, Travel-logs, Air Travel Bureau. The consolidation helped Dhruv and his team in expanding their product portfolio, to remain relevant and competitive. Moreover, to create a global footprint, Dhruv entered into a reverse merger with Terrapin 3 Acquisition Corp in 2016 with which Yatra started trading on Nasdaq in December 2016. “Yatra is one of the most trusted brands in the Indian market, with a strong emphasis on excellent customer service. This, coupled with a powerful loyalty programme, has created a very loyal set of customers with almost 74% of transactions coming in from repeat users. We also have the largest hotel inventory amongst all OTAs and our strategic alliance with Reliance Jio that will enable us to efficiently reach Tier-II & III 3 markets in India will ensure that travellers choose us over competitors,” Dhruv had said after the listing.

Dhruv while listing Yatra.com on Nasdaq


Despite the many challenges that Yatra faces, Dhruv and his team are clear in their vision for the company to hire the right candidate for the job. “To retain the culture that we created when we were a 20-person startup, the key step we took as we scaled up was to be very rigorous with our hiring process. We hired only those people who truly believed in our values and shared our vision of creating a great travel company focused on delivering wonderful experiences to Indian travellers.”

During all these years, besides friends and family who have stood by Dhruv throughout the years, his former managers have made an impact as well. “The mentorship they delivered have added tremendous value to my career and helped me reach where I am today” he says.

The only way to succeed in this VUCA environment is to be flexible, open and agile so as to be able to change depending on the environment. One needs to be quick to learn from past experiences and continuously move forward with new ideas. It is also definitely important to keep abreast of what’s happening by reading as well as interacting with leadingedge thinkers and practitioners in one’s industry, Dhruv believes.

disha.shah@saffronsynergies.in
 
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