From raising an angel round to losing all the money, this is the story of how Holidify bootstrapped its way to profitability.
1) Part 1: The Classic Start-Up Story
2) Part 2: Shutting Down
No revenue. Fund Raising didn’t materialise. Few acquisition options. Money gets over. The team had to go. Office closes. Co-founders take up jobs to make ends met.
3) Part 3: One More Time
Worked at odd hours while managing other jobs. Relaunched Holidify. Completely bootstrapped. Traffic grew. Revenue grew. Built a remote team. Co-Founders joined again. Shifted to Bangalore. Growth continues to healthy revenue and a team of 14 members. Hits 5 Million monthly users.
We recently completed five years of launching Holidify, and after a rollercoaster ride of running this startup with my co-founder Kovid Kapoor, we are proud to say that Holidify is one of the largest travel content platforms in India with over 5 million users. I am Rohit Shroff, co-founder and CEO and here’s our story:
After graduating from IIT Bombay in 2012, I had barely completed 11 months in my first job when I decided to take the plunge. Kovid and I were friends since IIT days, and we both had shifted to Delhi-NCR for our first jobs. Having worked on a few startup ideas before and won a couple of business competitions, Kovid and I realised that we make a good team.
Thanks to our complementary skills, we just knew that we would be very good together as co-founders. When the idea of Holidify came, we knew that this time, we have something that we really want to do.
Kovid decided to continue with his full-time job and manage Holidify on the side as he had to pay off his student loan. With only 3 lakh rupees as our startup capital, we resorted to working with interns for most of our work. After we ran out of this initial money, Kovid decided to cover the necessary expenses of Holidify as he was the only one a job.
I shifted to his room in his rented apartment in Noida that he was already sharing with 3 other people. Apart from that, he used to pay Rs. 5,000 per month to me so that I won’t need to ask any money from my family.
We launched Holidify on 7th January 2014 with a great initial response. The first 24 hours itself saw more than 5,000 users, thanks to a good pre-launch campaign. Holidify aimed to help people plan their trips through structured content for every phase of their travel planning.
In the next 6 months, Holidify had grown to almost 75,000 monthly users. We were elated! One of my close friends, Himanshu, (my room-mate in Kota before IIT-JEE) decided to invest a sum of Rs. 5 Lakh in Holidify. It was not a lot of money, but it was good enough for Kovid to take the leap and join full-time.
At this point, we just kept improving our product and then finally raised our angel round of money from the promoter family of Aarti Industries. Thanks to Mirik, another close-friend from IIT Bombay. Naman Sarawagi (who had been like a mentor) to me also invested in this round.
Over the next few months, we decided to focus solely on the product. We launched the Android app and soon reached 10,000 users with an average rating of 4.7 back then.
Around 4 years later, the app is now part of elusive “Editor’s Choice” by Google and is still one of the highest rated travel apps in India.
When we had raised our angel round, we had thought that we would use the money to work on product and technology only. As per our plans, we were to start working on our business model from next year only. We believed that we will be able to raise another round within a year on the back of solid product and good user-base. That should have happened, but the Chinese economy crashed in June 2015, and lots of VCs in India started being very cautious.
While we were on the verge of bank account drying up, a few players in the travel industry approached us to discuss options to acquire us. We were elated again. All was not lost after all.
Roughly 47 meetings and 4 months later, we found that there was no deal with the company we were hoping to merge with. The only other offer we had on the table was from one of our competitors who had offered us a little more than peanuts. Another company wanted to kill Holidify’s product and only acquire the team.
Our core team-members knew (almost) everything about these meetings and possible options. We collectively decided we will not take any offer. We would rather let people use Holidify for free rather than selling it off in this manner.
We decided that we will take up jobs and shut down the office by February end. These were one of the most challenging days, but somehow Kovid and I kept working on a newer version of the product, hoping for some turnaround. So, just before we took up jobs, we had launched a revamped version of Holidify’s website.
I took up a job at Girnarsoft in Jaipur where I was later promoted as the Group Product Head, leading flagship products including Cardekho and Zigwheels. Kovid had joined as the lead data-scientist at Saavn in Mumbai, the music app that was recently acquired by Reliance Jio.
With 4 Lakh people still using Holidify every month, we had never thought of shutting Holidify down completely. With the revamped website, we had also integrated basic methods of monetisation to ensure we can pay the server costs at least.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated
I was in Jaipur and Kovid was in Mumbai, and we started flying over on the weekends every month to discuss things in person. Otherwise, we worked mostly after office hours, and in any spare time, we could find.
Thanks to us being close friends, we were ready to see the difficult times together. We were also immensely supported by some of our close friends, including Surbhi (now my wife) and Aashi (now Kovid’s wife).
Bootstrapping is a way to do something about the problems you have, without someone else giving you permission to do them — Co-Founder of Github
Within 4 months, we grew our traffic to a million users monthly and started making decent revenue. With revenue again coming in, we decided to focus on building a team again.
At this point, Anushree who had interned with us in 2015, decided to join us full time from her home in Mumbai. Surbhi was helping me manage a bunch of content interns and Roli, one of our best interns joined us in full time capacity from her home in Varanasi. Later, Surbhi also decided to join us in full-time capacity from her home in Delhi.
Although we were a team of 5 dedicated people (including Kovid and I) meeting and discussing in person was getting difficult as we were all working remotely from different parts on India. In fact, I had never even met Roli before hiring her!
In October 2016, we came up with an idea of hosting a 4 day off-site in a villa on a hill-top in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. The idea was to get to know each other, brainstorm for the coming quarter and plan out key projects.
We followed that with quarterly off-sites at Mashobra, Bangalore and Jaipur in the next 12 months. We used to have a lot of fun together apart from discussing the key projects, numbers from last quarter and plans for the upcoming quarter.
At this point, most of the competitors thought that Holidify had shut down. But Holidify’s traffic grew by another 3X to reach 3 Million monthly users by June 2017.
Get big quietly, so you don’t tip off your potential competitors
Fuelled by growth and increasing revenue, Kovid decided to take the leap first and we decided to start our new office in Bangalore. With a small team of 5 people, we started building the team again.
For me, quitting my job was a little more difficult this time as I was about to get married in July. The salary they were offering to retain me was more than sum of all the money I have earned so far in my life. But a few things in life are worth more than money. I decided to take the plunge as well and quit my job at CarDekho in June 2018.
We are now a 14 member team and hiring in our product, content & technology team.
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones, is pure perseverance .” — Steve Jobs
With over 5 million monthly users and healthy revenues, Holidify is now on track to build a global product to make travel planning simple and fun for everyone.