The Unhotel Co.- Curating uncommon travel experiences
A curated collection of private cottages, boutique villas, luxury jungle lodges, beach accommodation in India & the world.
YC - What is your background? What motivated you to start the company and what is it all about?
Manish & Shilpi - Manish Sinha was an ad man for 15+ years, where he helped build digital marketing & communication strategies for the likes of Airtel, Samsung, Nokia, etc. He then brought his strategic-creative flair to the hospitality and travel business. Started with Unhotels in Gurgaon and Varanasi and then gradually created a boutique experiential travel company. A one-of-a-kind curation of unlike-a-hotel kind of places. From premium B&Bs to boutique hotels, beach cottages to secret island getaways. Most recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, along with Shilpi, he has created a digital and social media agency – Studio4, as a response to the COVID-19 crisis to help small businesses! Poet, thinker, creative-strategist with passion for storytelling
Shilpi Singh is an Executive Coach & Co-Founder, Unhotel. In an era that does not believe in multitasking, Shilpi wears more than one hat. She leads the Coaching Practice at Beyond Diversity Foundation - World’s Top 10 Diversity consulting firm.
A mishmash of career is what makes her journey more enriching and exciting. HR professional, content weaver, natural networker. Helping individuals in their personal and career growth, building a culture of trust and authenticity, inspiring women to take charge of their lives, and now exploring India is the passion areas of Shilpi. Her initiative #Reclaimyspace encourages women to explore, travel, and reclaim public
What started as a bed & breakfast stay in 2009 (Cinnamon Stays), born from a place of love, led to a passion for a creative experiment to curate conceptual uncommon travel experiences for guests, out of which our very own Unhotel was born.
YC - Could you please share with our readers about your core team and their roles :
What is the current Team Size? - We have a passionate set of 8 people in our team who bring forth their strengths onto the table. The roles span marketing, sales, and content creation. Besides this, the finance and accounting team is outsourced.
Team Roles – It is a mix of Content Weavers & Sales and Operations led team. Along with the founders, who help ideate, strategize and execute experiences and stories in a creative manner.
YC - As a founder how typically you spend your day in the office?
Manish & Shilpi - To begin the day we engage with the team on google meet due to lockdown, where we assess what are the tasks on every team member’s platter, assign responsibilities on a priority basis, work towards a strategic direction, develop content, maintain client relationships, understand and design ‘new’ travel concepts and experiences for the future.
YC -Have you used social media platforms to promote your products or services? Which channels have been very effective for your business? Which marketing channels have been super flops for your business?
Manish & Shilpi - Yes we are a word-of-mouth and Social Media First company.
We have an active presence on Facebook & Instagram, apart from LinkedIn and Twitter.
Instagram is where we connect with our premium niche audience. More specifically many of our leads come from Instagram stories.
The other channels that are very effective for us are youtube and emailers to our own database of past guests.
We don’t believe in any kind of channel being a “flop” as it is dependent on several factors such as the quality of content, audience traction on a certain platform, time, and budget investment devoted to a channel. After all, it is very important to understand the best-suited channel as per your product/service offering which will reach out to more people and connect with the target audience on a deeper level.
YC - What according to you is the USP of your product or service, for which your customers come back to you?
Manish & Shilpi - Unhotel’s USP has been about curating Uncommon Travel Experiences. Be it a spiritual retreat focussed on women travelers (Srot); hiring a small island for a romantic getaway (Island Bliss), creating India’s only 6N wine tour to Nashik, creating voluntourism products (marrying tourism and volunteering; creating travel products and experiences for school children (aimed at CAS - creativity, activity, and service).
Our other strengths are attention to detail in the execution phase. Being transparent and authentic, both with our guests as well as our travel partners, and developing a sense of trust with our guests to closely understand their needs and curate experiences for them. These are the reasons why our guests keep coming back to us. Despite us Never Giving DISCOUNTS or price-offs.
YC - Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your business?
Manish & Shilpi -
1. As a bootstrapped and self-funded company, the biggest challenge is how do we raise awareness of our experiences to a larger audience. Lack of adequate marketing and sales budget is sometimes a challenge in increasing our market share.
2. Lack of adequate Offline Sales Partners - There are few right-fit partners for experimental travel products. Most channel partners focus on budget and mass products.
3. The Indian market is still quite price-sensitive. That makes our market size relatively small. Because of the pandemic, inbound and outbound travel has come to a trickle. That was a good part of our business. So, filling the revenue gap has been a challege
YC - Do you use any tools or software to manage your business? Is there any problem in your day-to-day operations which you wish could be solved with the help of software?
Manish & Shilpi -
Remote working & meetings - Slack, loom, google meet
Project Management - A combination of Notion, shift, dropbox, google drive
Marketing & Sales - Getresponse, Typeform, loom
Design and storytelling - canva, and a few video making software
As a small travel company, we have been remote working for a long time. But we use technology to stay in touch and stay productive
YC - What is the current traction? Can you share some numbers on your order volume, number of customers, and revenue?
Manish & Shilpi - This is confidential data. We wouldn’t want to share our numbers.
We have been a profitable company for the past 3 years. While revenues nose-dived during the pandemic, we have retained our profitability.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Manish & Shilpi - To all the new budding entrepreneurs our advice would be to:
“Be Agile, Be aware of your strengths, and accordingly work on your strengths. Always be on the lookout for novel ideas( in sync with your brand positioning), be human towards your clients as well as employees, and have a personal Board of Advisors.”
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