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Startup Interview: Tourist Link

We ad a chance to talk to David Urmann founder of travel website Touristlink. check out the Q&A session below.

12.01.13_technewsrprt_img_stories_regina-timothy_microsoft

Where is Touristlink located?

We are located in Nagpur, India

When did you launch Touristlink?

We launched in 2012

Who are the founders of Touristlink?

There is three of us:

I, David Urmann, PhD from Ohio State. 10 years developing websites.

Deepak Gupta. Nagpur University. 9 years experience as developer

Jayesh Bagde. Hislop College Nagpur. 10 years experience in marketing.

Please give us a brief background about yourself (education, employment etc)

I previously completed a PhD in Paleoclimatology from Ohio State. I have been developing websites for the last 9 years and 2006 moved from the US to India in 2006 and bootstrapped my own outsourcing business from 3 employees to over 80 employees before starting Touristlink in 2012.

I love travelling and have to been to over 40 countries. I started Touristlink out of my passion for travel. I recently, raised seed funding for Touristlink in both Chile and Kenya and had a chance to live in both these countries.

How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?

Surprisingly, we started with about 50 employees and now have about 9. When we started we basically pivoted from a previous business model and retained most of our staff. In hindsight, we should have scaled back at the beginning and kept our burn rate as low as possible.

What’s Touristlink about? What do you do? Who are your customers?

I am an avid traveler and have visited over 40 countries. I love meeting new people when I travel and often find it difficult to connect with other travelers and locals. Touristlink provides an easy solution for travelers to connect with each other and with locals so they can share activities, transport and accommodation. Local guides and travel agencies can also sign up and highlight their services and deals.

 A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?

While I was still in graduate school I moved to India and started an outsourcing business with just 3 employees and over the course of several years grew it to 80 employees. I have always been willing to try new things or take risks as long as they are managed properly. I jumped into Touristlink out of my passion for travel and trying to out how to build a great platform to connect travelers and locals.

How did you go from the business idea to what your business is right now?

I think one of our mistakes has been pivoting through several business models while neglecting the core features of our site. We are now entirely focused on the product and building a great solution for travelers to connect with each other.

What is the greatest thing about your startup? What sets you apart from your competition?

We have some significant traction and are looking to build on it. We have over 60,000 members and about 15% of them are active on a monthly basis. Our members are adding about 1000 new travel photos a day to the website and sending over 600 private messages. We believe this is just the start.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

Our website is somewhat disorganized at the moment and its not really clear how to connect with other travelers. We need to clean up some of the elements that are not working and at the same time refine those that are working.

Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.

It’s been a challenge from the first day. This was my first startup and in hindsight I think a first startup should be more revenue focused. It’s tough to make ends meet and stay in the game. We have seen a lot of social travel startups come and go. Social Travel is certainly a scale dependant business model. We believe that in the long run the data we collect on our members will be extremely valuable. This data includes things like the trips members are taking and their travel interests. This data will allow us to personalize advertising and generate significant revenue once we have a larger active user base.

What major hurdles are you facing now?

Simplifying our platform and focusing on the core features that help travelers connect to each other.

What major accomplishments have you so far achieved? Any major milestones?

We get about a million page views a month and have over 60,000 members. To date we have raised about $200,000 in funding from different incubators and angel investors.

How do you picture your company in 5 years?

Our goal is to be the world’s largest social travel network. Our estimates show that potentially 50 to 100 million travelers are interested in the solution we are building.

Any major lessons learnt so far?

Stay focused on the core product and keep your costs low so you don’t need to continually raise money. When we started our team was much too large and we burned through too much cash. It would have been better to scale down to a smaller team and focused more on keeping our costs low.

What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?

Focus on your product. Keep a lean team so your costs are not high and you can sustain for the long run. Pivot when something is not working. Make sure you test every hypothesis before you commit a lot of resources to an idea.

How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded? Where’d you get the money?

We have spent about 500K on development of which 200K came from angels and incubators with the remaining being self-funded.

Are you looking for funding? What do you look for in potential investors?

We are looking for funding. Potential investors should believe in our concept of social travel and see the long term value in building the world’s largest network of travelers and locals.

What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?

I travel a lot so it really depends. In general I work 7 days a week and my hours vary depending on the time zone I am working from.

What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?

I make a bullet list of things that need to get done. The only way to solve big problems is to break them down into small ones and then execute.

Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes?

I think a lot of success has to do with building momentum and not losing it. I am inspired by successful entrepreneurs who push themselves to the limit to execute their dreams. A personal role model for me is Sam Walton the founder of Walmart. Successful founders pay attention to all the small details while at the same time keeping the big picture in mind.

What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?

We have some company events and picnics but most of the time its about work and staying focused on what needs to get done.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Improving our core product and really proving our value hypothesis to individual travelers who use Touristlink. We pivoted a lot between different business models since our launch and probably got somewhat distracted from our real goal of building a social network. Fortunately, we have figured this out and are now totally focused on the product even if we are not generating any revenue at the moment.

Top 5 websites you couldn’t live without and why?

Linkedin – Great tool for connecting to other individuals and researching their backgrounds.

Google Plus – I love all the travel photos and it’s a bit addictive once you start posting your own photos

Give us any five startups you emulate

This is a tough question. We look at all the new travel startups and see what they are doing and how it might impact us.

Do you have any social media accounts where we can get to know you better.

Yes. You can find me on any of the below channels.

LinkedIn  – www.linkedin.com/in/davidurmann/

Twitter – www.twitter.com/urmann

Google Plus – plus.google.com/+DavidUrmann12.01.13_technewsrprt_img_stories_regina-timothy_microsoft

We wish David and the entire team of Touristlink all the best through this exciting journey.

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