Peter Kutis is the founder of OneTwoTrip, an online travel agency currently selling airline tickets with the vision of developing into an integrated travel service covering all kinds of travel products – from airlines, cars rental and insurance to flexible accommodation, activity options and cruises.
Prior to starting OneTwoTrip, Peter was one of the founding member of competitor Anywayanyday. In my interview below Peter shares his story on starting OneTwoTrip and his reasons for creating a competing business.
Hi Peter, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I am great, – new business season has just started, and we have a lot of new ideas and plans for 2013.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Yes, sure. I have been in technology field for many years, developing different technology solutions.
I was born and raised in Chisinau, Moldova. There I had entered the University of Technology of Moldova, and in 1996 decided to move to Moscow searching for new challenging opportunities, where, in a while, I entered National Research Nuclear University "Moscow Engineering Physics Institute", I started my studies at two departments simultaneously – the one of systems analysis and the other of space physics.
While being a student I started my career as a developer and had been leading a number of projects in web-technology for a number of clients. The experience obtained so far helped me to establish my own business. With ‘Morqua’ company I had founded we were focused on bringing an innovative approach to the automation of information management. Attention to detail, deep understanding of client needs and our unique technological platform MOST helped us develop a number of information management solutions for large corporate clients including but not limited with such multi-billion companies RAO UES, RusGidro, SeverStal, Metinvest and others.
One of the projects we were working on those days was about automation of airline tickets reservation for one of the largest players on Russian market – Travel City. As it appears now it has been only the beginning.
In 2008 avantix.ru transformed into a project now known as Anywayanyday (hereinafter referred as AWAD) along with the emergence of e-tickets market and infrastructure in Russia. It was a unique service for Russia and CIS and in fact the first OTA (online travel agency) in the region. I was in charge of the business development, technology and design as well as partnerships and GDS communications, IATA agents, processing gates, etc.
The latest development of my career is connected with my own business OneTwoTrip.com, which I have started in 2010.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
Regarding the travel segment - I’ve been engaged in travel business for several years having started developing online booking solutions in 2004. As I mentioned one of my clients as a developer was a Russian travel agency – Travel City for which we created the whole automated airline tickets booking system comprised of a backend equipped with a sophisticated business logic and innovative frontend (web-site – avantix.ru) where people were able to search for flights and fares and book tickets online.
At that time there was no market of e-tickets in Russia and the only way to get on board was to have a hard-copy of the ticket. So, at Avantix.ru the only thing that could not be automated was the process of delivery of purchased tickets to clients, everything else did not require any significant amount of personnel to run the business. It was in 2004. The problem of making the process of searching, booking and issuing tickets 100% automatic has always been the thing that excited me and made me moving forward.
In 2008 our team launched Anywayanyday.com along with the emergence of e-tickets market and infrastructure in Russia. It was a unique service for Russia and CIS and in fact the first OTA (online travel agency) in the region. But in 2010 the situation had changed and I was lucky enough to have looked at the travel business from absolutely different angle. I had a lot of ideas and personal vision of how to renew AWAD and was not satisfied with the complacent management of the company, with whom we had completely different views on company’s further development.
I had plethora of ideas on how to create a stronger competitor and in 2011 my ideas and vision gave birth to OneTwoTrip.com. In May 2011 the release candidate had been ready and in September 2011 we rolled it out and started to market and promote it actively.
How did the idea for Onetwotrip come about?
I strongly believe that lack of competition makes any business perish in the wishful thinking of no-hostile future as businesses may rapidly expand and evolve to corporations only in a competitive environment. As none of peers could have been regarded as competitors I suggested to create a competitor for AWAD in-house before such a competitor emerges by someone else’s craft. I presented this vision to the major shareholder but he overruled this idea.I had a vision how to make the best OTA service very quickly, moreover I knew the gaps – in technology, usability, etc.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Generally, any start is always hard – you have to constantly dwell upon and solve a huge number of issues, get the team in place, develop the idea, identify key selling proposition, understand the clients, and many other things, that need to be thoroughly explored and got done. Launching an online travel startup in those days was quite a new and unfamiliar thing to the Russian market despite the good prerequisites and growth potential. Even today, after two years, despite being the most growing in the CEE, Russian travel market is just beginning to catch up with the rest of Europe.
Less than 15% of air tickets are booked online here, compared to almost 50% in Western Europe. According to figures from PhoCusWright, the market turnover in 2011 for online tourism was $2.3 billion, and in 2012 it is expected to amount $4.5 billion, with more than a half attributed to airline tickets. Speaking frankly, the most difficult thing for me was to be monitoring the sales statistics every minute, every our, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the first several months (laughing). For example in August 2011 we were selling approximately 50 airplane tickets a day, in December 2011 - almost 1000 tickets per day. And now – 4 500 tickets became a normal daily practise.
What is Onetwotrip? And what are you trying to solve?
OneTwoTrip is an online travel agency currently selling the airline tickets with the vision to develop into an integrated travel service covering the entire range of travel products – from airlines, cars rental and insurance to flexible accommodation, activity options and cruises. Our value creating concept is based on the vision to change the perception and the way people buy travel products – we are convinced that the choice can be really cost effective, time saving and, to a greater part, educated.
We have managed to create a unique user experience within OneTwoTrip underpinned by 100% automation of searching and booking tickets, efficient user interface, broad choice of routes and fares from more than 500 regular airlines all over the world and commitment to provide the ever best service. We proved an unprecedented opportunity fro our clients to save time and money buying tickets from us - it takes mere 15 seconds to get the itinerary receipt for a flight since initiating a search. OneTwoTrip is the only OTA in the market who (that) gives its customers not only the access to the best fares of regular airlines, but enriches their choice with the wealth of information on each and every flight, except lowcost airlines, to let our customers make the deliberate choice based on knowledge. We call this “OTT flight rating” – we collect the information on flights delays and flights cancelations, late arrivals frequency, leg room, the age of airplanes (terms statistics flights - which aircraft which flight frequency with which he carried out a particular flight) from different free and paid sources. So our clients have two things to consider upon – price and rating – money, time and reliability. We think (that) the latter two to matter even more than money. We also provide the knowledge on baggage allowances and the visa regime in the destination country.
One of our unique features is our patented OTT Tariff Match system. It is a common knowledge that airlines sell the tariffs, say, in economy class divided by sub-classes and the ticket price can differ depending on the sub-class on the same flight. And when it is said that cheap economy class tickets are sold out close to the flight time it is not true – the truth lies in the fact that is the cheap tariffs are sold out. Our system best works on group flights (more than 1 passenger), when you come along with your friends or family or when you are buying (buy) several tickets for the same flight. All the other OTA will sell you the tickets at the tariff available instantly for all the passengers ordered. We do it in a different way – we iterate through the sub-classes and buy out the available quantity of tickets starting from the cheapest.
How have you been able to fund it?
Initially, the project was funded with the personal money of me and my partners. In September 2012 we attracted $ 9M from Phenomen Ventures and in October 2012 international technology fund Atomico invested $ 16M into further development and expansion of the business.
What sorts of advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
I would advise to get rid of patterns, never be afraid of making anything unusual, anything that has never been made before, look at the existing things at a different angle and explore new ideas. And one day you will create something new the people will love, something that can definitely be a benchmark.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Of course my team and I were very excited and still are. We work on weekends, during vacation time, and often very late at night, debating on what would give the best value to customers, and, speaking frankly, being eager to establish a new benchmark in the industry.
How did you initially get traction?
I received a lot of traction from my family and friends and still are my major inspirers.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
The most crucial thing for every business is to deliver on exceeding customers’ expectations. The deeper is your understanding of their needs, the wider is your experience and the sharper is your focus the better value you will give to them. So, I would infer that everything we do, every feature we implement is crucial for our business as we are very attentive to each and every detail striving to best serve our customers. We regard our customers as our investors and are doing our best to make them not to think of an exit.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The day when we started to sell more than 4000 tickets a day with the daily turnover of 1.3M euro that came merely in a year after we started.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Onetwotrip team for 2013?
We will launch hotels and rent-a-car services crafted with our vision and approach and many more features and interesting things to come on stream this year.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Never look back, try to look at any problem from a different angle. Try to find something new – the new and better way of doing something, summon the like-minded people around your idea and be prepared to work hard. Be consistent in what you tell and what you do.