Interview with Mantis Team (IIM A guys who ditched a fat pay cheque job to startup)

Mantis is a B2B company that works closely with bus operators, who actually use their platform to manage bus ticket bookings. Unlike other bus travel sites who work on quota based booking, Mantis enables real time booking of bus tickets.
They have a consumer product called TravelYaari which is the frontend of what Mantis is trying to do with OTAs. TravelYaari recently partnered with iXiGo to share their bus inventory (mostly for Western India routes).

Here is an interview with Mantis’s Aurvind Lama on understanding the core idea behind Mantis as well as the team’s entrepreneurial experience (founding team is from IIM-A, preferred to take the entrepreneurial route than join a fat $$alary job)

On Mantis

Tell us more about Mantis and the team behind it.

  • Mantis provides technology solutions for the travel industry and also aids in distributing and retailing travel products to end consumers
  • The company was founded in April 2007, by a bunch of four travel enthusiasts. Partha and myself are management graduates from IIM Ahmedabad. Prateek has vast experience in the IT industry and Rajiv has deep domain expertise in bus travel in India

Please share more information about your business model.

  • Mantis business model is a vertically integrated play in the value chain.
  • At one end, we have “Mantis Connect” – a proprietary, monthly subscription based Computerized Reservation System (CRS) that enables inter state bus operators and their agents manage their bus tickets inventory online.  At present, Mantis Connect hosts 40+ operators and provides over 5000 agent outlets instant access to 25,000 live bus tickets inventory per day
  • At the other end we have a host of distribution partners ranging from our own agents in the market, connecting with large aggregators on the ground and also providing API connectivity to large Online Travel Agents
  • Taking another step forward, Mantis has recently launched its consumer portal, www.travelyaari.com. Travelers can book bus tickets real time on this platform. Travelyaari.com aims to take the real time booking experience to the consumers and help create transparency in bus seats availability and ticket prices for the travelers.

The travel industry is very disjointed and unorganized – what’s your approach? Are you going after bus booking system first? IS air travel booking planned for future?

  • “One stop shop” may be the future for us.  However, at the moment, we are yet to identify what value we can create in other travel segments. It is important for us to do something different in the segment we play. In bus industry, prior toMantis, no one had successfully run such a large scale shared CRS platform. Making the bus tickets inventory “live” solves a lot of “pain points” for the customers, the agents and the operators. So Mantis brought in a clear value proposition to the industry. The day we identify the area where we can make an impact in other travel products, we will surely consider entering it

In our earlier conversation, you mentioned about encouraging collaboration between diff. stake holders? How does that happen?

  • There is multiple opportunities which gets created because of a shared online platform. Bus operators collaborate to book each others tickets on complementary route. They even rationalize asset utilization on the same route during lean seasons.
  • Another area which sees huge collaboration is in terms of utilizing network and cross selling. Various players, from similar as well as dissimilar industries are increasingly looking to leverage each others network and cross sell. For the bus operator, this is possible since inventory is online. Today they are open to collaboration, and are increasingly realizing the value of their network

What are the benefits an agent gets by being part of your network?

  • Traditionally, agents have no visibility of the seat status. So there is a lot of mis information and favoritism in the market. The ultimate sufferer ofcourse being the consumer. Also, most of the agents, do business with multiple operators. They need to put in substantial deposit with each of these operators, and also settle their accounts with each of them. This is extremely inefficient system.
  • The “live” platform of Mantis removes the information barrier, and since you have tickets from multiple operators on a single platform – becoming a travel agent is so much easier. The capital blocked is less and also the agent has a single source to settle his/her accounts with

Are you opening the entire network for third parties or is it Mantis-only?

  • Monopoly is a term which was used in the bygone days! Mantis inventory is open for third parties, and that’s an integral part of our business model.

Please share your funding status. Are you looking for funding?

  • Internal accruals and private capital (friends/family) is funding the current growth. We have recently started exploring VC funding as an option

What about international travelers? Are you setting up offices outside India?

  • At least in the bus travel segment, there are lot of other markets which are far more attractive than India. There has been an intense discussion within the team to take Mantis Connect outside India. However, we are far from saturating even the home market. Also, in this business you need to be an “insider” in order to gain scale. There is a huge time lag between market entry and profitability. One needs to have at least one market which acts as a strong cash generator during this phase. Typically, across businesses, this would be your home market. So given the fact that we are still nascent in India and the “insider” argument, I believe international expansion isn’t a big priority for the moment

Future plans?

  • Establishing the consumer portal www.travelyaari.com and expanding Mantis Connect within India are the current priority

On Entrepreneurship:

You do see your friends frm IIM A taking huge $alary cheque – what made you stick to your startup?

  • IIM A guys are increasing taking to entrepreneurship. I believe as a whole in India, the willingness to “risk it all” is increasing.
  • My own esteem in my eyes is not measured in monetary terms. I value the feeling of building something on my own from scratch, without the support or brand name of a bigger organization to back me. I also love the feeling of being a supplier of employment rather than a consumer.  Hence, I believe sticking to my startup isn’t such a difficult choice for me.

How do you guys handle technology as well as business? Is separation clearly laid out among the founding team?

  • Prateek is the ultimate authority regarding all tech decisions. Rajiv and Partha are the business guys. Given my tech as well as management background, I am pretty much the bridge.. 🙂

What’s your B-HAG (big hairy..audacious goal..I am sure you guys know that shit!):D

  • Democratize Travel – thats our vision
  • In our current operations, following are some of our effort to live upto our B-HAG:
    • Monthly subscription based Computerized Reservation Platform takes down the cost of ownership and makes it affordable for even the smallest of operators. So Mantis has ensured that technology is not the forte of only the big players
    • Irrespective of the size of the operator, our agent network is open for anyone and everyone
    • On www.travelyaari.com, we do not recommend any travel option and neither do we accept any payment from any operator for higher visibility on our site
    • The bus ticket price is printed on the tickets, and its the same prices across every channel. We do this to ensure that agents don’t overcharge the consumer taking advantage of his/her ignorance

Your tips to entrepreneurs?

  • Before you launch your product or service, go and talk to some of your potential customers. See what they have to say about your idea
  • Be your own devil’s advocate. Ask yourself, why would someone buy from you and not from your competitor? Be honest with this answer and convince yourself
  • Ask your team, if there anyone who is good at sales?
  • Do you understand what is meant by working capital requirement for a business and what affects it? If not, learn what it is
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