Planning a trip to the north but don’t know where to begin from? Or you have the cities in mind but are still clueless about all the tourist attractions to see? Maybe you want to find out some accommodation options? You are in luck because TripMate, a Peshawar-based startup, is trying to offer exactly this: a one-stop information portal to plan your tours.
Download the app, select the destination you want to know more about and open its homepage that shows real-time temperature and different categories — ranging from hotels to mobile wallet agents. Tap any of them and you will find a list of all the relevant places.
For example, in Attraction Points tab, you can see popular tourist destinations with specifics like accessibility, family friendliness, network coverage. There is also a brief About section plus reviews, if available. More or less anything that a visitor might find useful.
TripMate already has 11 cities live, all in the north including Kalam, Gilgit, Hunza, Peshawar etc, while almost half the work is done for another 12. As for categories, there are nine at the moment: attraction points, hotels, restaurants, banks, mobile wallets, shopping marts, rental services (buses, rent-a-car etc), workshops and finally, gas stations.
In addition to all of this information, TripMate also has in-app maps that let you navigate to any of those places. What’s wrong with Google maps though? “They have serious issues in the northern areas accuracy-wise where addresses aren’t as defined so we decided to get APIs from MapBox [an American provider of custom maps for applications like Facebook, Snapchat etc] and do it on our own,” explains Chief Executive Officer Sami Ullah.
Though currently limited to being an information aggregator, the startup has loftier ambitions. “We would like to offer in-app bookings and other services in the second phase while entering tours in the third,” says Sami Ullah.
TripMate was founded by three computer systems engineering students and travel buddies - Sami Ullah of Mansehra, Haroon Khan of Mohmand Agency and Atif Rehman of Tank - from the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. “We went to Gilgit in 2017 and were approached by a family there asking us to see the main places and eat at the restaurants. That’s where we got the idea from,” the CEO recalls.
The trio started working on the product from early 2018 with Khan and Sami Ullah — who graduated in the outgoing year - even using it as their final year project. And by mid 2019, the app was live too and got incubated at Peshawar 2.0.
However, much of what they do (as well as plan to in the future) is already being offered by a host of players, both global and local. Take Google Maps, for example, that has countless listings of places — thanks to the unprecedented (and scary) scale of its data collection -- in virtually every part of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, among the domestic startups, the likes of FindMyAdventure or JustHome have tried to address the tours and hospitality side, respectively.
What makes the TripMate trio better equipped than the rest? “We have an on-ground team, in proximity to major tourist attractions in the north, that collects the data itself, which is our biggest edge and unique selling point. Plus, the app brings everything on a single platform in a simple and user-friendly way with all the required information, unlike other portals,” says the chief.
But requiring field data collection means scaling up through more people, which is probably not the most cost-effective and disruptive way for a tech startup. How do they plan to address this? “We started out with amassing data ourselves but as the startup grows, we’ll partner with local tour operators and guides and leverage their knowledge, instead of doing it all on our own,” Sami Ullah tells Dawn.
Let’s get to the business model now. How do they cash in on the information provided? “We don’t have a revenue stream at the moment and are just trying to get more traction but once the startup enters into the second phase, then we will monetise through bookings etc, expectedly by April,” the CEO says.
As for funding, the startup got a boost with a Rs1.9 million grant from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and is now looking to raise a seed round.
That part is not as easy though. While being based out of Peshawar gives the startup an operational advantage, it also poses a different set of challenges unique to the city. For example, most local investors operate from either Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad, thus limiting their lens to these hubs usually at the cost of companies, like TripMate, that are located elsewhere. Not only the funding, they are also faced with issues like limited talent pool, particularly a dearth of good developers and designers, according to Sami Ullah.
The writer is member of staff:
Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2020