How Chirag's love for traveling to offbeat locations, inspired him to start LivingStone Stays - Curating, Leisure & Experiential-stays
Karjat | Chail | Kasauli | Tirthan Valley & many more places.
YC - What is your background? What motivated you to start and what is it all about?
Chirag Bansal - I am an engineer and an MBA graduate by education. My love for traveling to offbeat locations inspired me to start LivingStone Stays. LivingStone is about Leisure, Holidays, and Experiential-stays, we define ourselves as a specialized travel aggregator, which is on the mission of “Making holidays a way of life!”
YC - Could you please share with our readers what is your current team size and their roles?
Chirag Bansal - Currently, we are a team of 9 people. We do not have static roles, they are dynamic and evolves time. We have below roles for now:
Experience Curator- It is about connecting with people to understand their holiday requirements; the objective of this role is to curate an ideal holiday experience for customers
Process Specialist- It is about identifying and plugging gaps in our current processes; the objective of this role is to create a smooth and convenient experience for customers and as well as for our internal team members.
Event Coordinator- As the name explains, it all about events which are wedding, celebrations, corporate, etc
There are other roles as well which are about Marketing, Strategy, and Accounts. Each team member has a specified role and a cross-functional role as well.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Chirag Bansal - As a founder If I may, I would like to compare my role with the role of captain of the ship, who is primarily responsible for setting the direction of the voyage but also have responsibility for every aspect of it; similarly, my primary responsibility is to make sure that we have a clear vision for our company and during my day I juggle between all above roles to make sure that we are working in-line with that vision.
YC - Have you used social media platforms to promote your boutique homestay? Which channels have been very effective for your business? Which marketing channels have been super flops for your business?
Chirag Bansal - Yes, we have been using social media platforms to market our boutique stays and they are critical to marketing strategy. We have been using Instagram and Facebook actively and we recently started using Youtube. I would not like to define our activity on social media as a success or flop, as our every activity on them leads to brand reach and generation of potential leads.
YC - What according to you is the USP of your boutique homestay, for which your customers come back to you?
Chirag Bansal - Every property we are managing has a unique element attached to it. Either the architecture of the property is unique, like treehouses, mud-houses, wooden chalets, village-homes, or the locations of properties are unique and exotic.
LivingStone Riverview Cottage, Tirthan, Himachal Pradesh
YC - Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your boutique homestay? What are your views on platforms like Airbnb, RareIndia, Booking.com, etc?
Chirag Bansal - Our property portfolio is just not limited to the homestay category, we have boutique properties in other segments as well like villas, farm-houses, tree houses, resorts, etc. The challenges are different for different categories and locations of the properties. Homestay properties carry the challenge at both the levels- customers as well as homeowners. At the customer level, appropriate sensitization needs to be done about the house rules of the property, and at the homeowner level, we have to sensitize them about how to make the customer experience more hospitable. The off-beat location brings its own challenges about navigation and bad roads.
All the online booking platforms help to reach the target audience.
LivingStone Woods Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh.
YC - How are you coping with COVID 19, what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?
Chirag Bansal - We are utilizing this time to make several improvements and experimenting with new things:
We are overhauling our website and working on providing a feature of holiday planning on it; Users would be able to easily find the right destination and accommodation as per their travel interest
We have created staycations packages and have made sure our properties have amenities required for long-stays
We have collaborated with Baljee Foundation to skill the staff at our properties. Virtual classes are going on and they are being skilled in various departments like housekeeping, food & beverage, and service. As most of our properties have operations at a small scale therefore multiple roles are handled by a few people and they are not specialized in those roles. To bridge that skill gap and to deliver a memorable customer experience we are utilizing this time of low business activity.
YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day-to-day operations, and property renovations and enhancements?
Chirag Bansal - This question is not relevant for us and is more relevant from the property owner’s perspective. Our company cost structure is different than a cost structure of an individual property.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Chirag Bansal - I would not say it as a word of advice but something as a suggestion:
“During the early phase of business things are very messy and chaotic so one should not get overwhelmed by that or rather work on them to create a differentiating value proposition for the business.”
Website - https://livingstonestays.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/livingstonestays
Twitter - https://twitter.com/LivingStonestay
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