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Business News/ Brand Stories / An Audacious Journey of Thrillophilia & 53 TakeOffs!
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An Audacious Journey of Thrillophilia & 53 TakeOffs!

The decision to repurchase Thrillophilia’s stakes was not merely a financial move but a strategic mandate aligned with their long-term strategy.

An Audacious Journey of Thrillophilia & 53 TakeOffsPremium
An Audacious Journey of Thrillophilia & 53 TakeOffs

Ever felt like you're on the edge of something big but need that extra push to seize it? 

Not getting the hint? 

Okay, then picture this: a dynamic company with a hunger for growth, achieving staggering success and exceptional investor valuations, facing challenges head-on, and against all odds taking back control in the pursuit of greatness.

Whoop! That’s a lot, isn’t it?

Yes! hold onto your hats because we're about to dive into the electrifying journey of one of India’s leading travel tech companies, Thrillophilia, and its audacious move to reclaim its destiny.

Just a Story of Growth? No, An Entire Tale of Trials, Patience & Redemption!

Recognizing a promising opportunity in the activities travel market, two friends-turned-life partners Abhishek Daga and Chitra Gurnani Daga made the decision to leave the corporate path and jointly launch Thrillophilia in 2010. Their journey stemmed from their aspiration to redefine conventional notions of traveling and offering experiences beyond the norm.

In the first two years, Abhishek and Chitra found out that focusing only on adventure activities was limiting their business. They wanted Thrillophilia to be a platform for all types of travelers. Hence they switched to featuring different kinds of experiences, not just adventures, on their website. In 2010 there was traction but very few online paying customers in India who would buy experiences online. So, they pivoted and mainly worked with a B2B customer base which amplified quick revenues for them. Then by 2015, as the online behavior of the Indian customer was rapidly changing, they decided to dive headfirst once again into the B2C space so that they could offer the best experiences to the travelers.

And then, there was no looking back. The company's journey over the next few years saw key moments of growth, fueled by strategic investments and focus towards its mission - offering the last mile of travel to the discerning travelers.

Thrillophilia's swoop into the investments began with CIIE in 2013, the esteemed incubation partner of IIM Ahmedabad, extending its support. Further rounds of funding from prominent investors including Hyderabad Angels, People Capital, Anthill Ventures, and HNIs such as Dheeraj, Founder of MuSigma, and Kiran Kumar, CEO of GMR, led to the company's expansion, with a total of $1.2 million. 

Resultantly, Thrillophilia emerged as a leader in the activities and experiences market in just 3 years offering a diverse range of 12,500 activities in 125+ destinations. 

Once reaching the pinnacle of success, they realized the need to innovate beyond the constraints of the activity travel landscape. But soon in 2020, the entire world dealt with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and Thrillophilia faced its own trials. 

Facing the Storm, TOGETHER!

As the pandemic reached its peak, despite the challenges, none of the core team members, from leadership to middle management left Thrillophilia nor were they asked to leave. To ensure the company's sustainability, in case of prolonged crisis, they implemented pay cuts during the initial wave of COVID. The founders even forwent their salary, while the leadership team took a 40-50% reduction, and the majority of the staff experienced a 25% decrease.

But this turbulence did not end here…

The halting sales and the already existing limitation in the activities market made investors more apprehensive about the company's future. The founders started facing significant pressure from investors seeking reassurances amidst the uncertain economic landscape. There was pressure to do things in a certain way but Abhishek and Chitra wanted freedom to work on their initial vision.

Meanwhile, the entire team pulled together and did a comprehensive revamp of Thrillophilia’s content and technology infrastructure during Covid. They put substantial efforts into improving SEO strategies, with teams from sales and operations stepping in to support other departments. 

Also, they had already realized that once the market opens, the activity-based travel will take a while to resume but people will definitely take road trips or travel to destinations like Maldives. Hence, the team brainstormed and did data analysis on concepts like home stays, villa leasing and marketplace model, luxury staycation deals and offbeat tours.

And there it was -  53 TakeOffs, a house of digital-first travel brands, born out of necessity during the pandemic's darkest days. 

All set - they were now just patiently awaiting the reopening of the market, knowing that their preparations would position them to success.

New Beginnings of Sustainability and Impactful Growth

When the market eventually reopened in the second quarter of 2021, they were surprised to find that none of their competitors were adequately prepared. They enjoyed remarkably low marketing costs per lead (CPLs). The synergy between Thrillophilia’s energized sales and operations teams produced exceptional results, marking an outstanding growth post-COVID.

Moreover, the introduction of innovative multi-day tours under 53Takeoffs, pushed them to unprecedented success. Recognizing the shifting landscape of travel preferences, they started with luxury deals and tours and soon after 3 months started focusing on tours as a key growth driver.

Leveraging expertise in online travel, technology, and distribution, 53 TakeOffs steadily built a powerful ecosystem of travel brands without relying on external funding. As a travel conglomerate creating digital first travel brands, 53 TakeOffs rapidly expanded its portfolio by introducing more than 10 global brands, such as MyDubaiPass, RareSafaris, and CoupleEscapes.

“After covid the growth has been phenomenal. As we speak in early 2024, we have grown a good 8X since pre covid days, the team size has expanded from 150 to 900 in this duration. Today, Thrillophilia and 53 TakeOffs have expanded deeply in their product lines, both activities and tours", proudly states Abhishek Daga.

With ambitious plans to become a multibillion-dollar travel conglomerate in the next five years and create over 100 global brands, 53Takeoffs is poised for continued growth. In fact, they are on track to surpass 1000+ crores in revenue in 2024!

Choosing Audacity & Independence Over Accolades: The BOLD Buyback

While the launch of 53 TakeOffs started showing results with an exceptional growth rate without any external fundings, Abhishek and Chitra also recognized the need for autonomy to fully realize their vision - to elevate travel experiences and tours to a global scale while ensuring sustainable profitability. 

The decision to repurchase Thrillophilia’s stakes was not merely a financial move but a strategic mandate aligned with their long-term strategy. The founders aimed to also drive Thrillophilia towards sustainable growth, without any external pressures and conflicting interests.

"The objective was to grow sustainably by making good profit," explains Abhishek. “There is always investor pressure to conform to certain norms, but we wanted the freedom to chart our own course, even if it meant a slower pace. This buyback allows us to do just that."

The buyback, executed in 2022-23, marked a significant turning point in Thrillophilia's journey. Structured to repurchase 30% of the company's shares, it provided a means to honor early investors while paving the way for a new chapter of innovation and growth.

Chitra adds, "With this move, we've not only given our investors a decent return but also secured the autonomy to pursue our long-term vision. This buyback has given us space to execute things as we would have wanted. The next 10 years of this journey would be really interesting and promising for Thrillophilia and its parent company, 53 Takeoffs , and we would see how this move would unfold".

Both Chitra and Abhishek are aiming to gain greater flexibility in decision-making and the ability to pursue innovative strategies post this buyback. They envision a future where Thrillophilia continues to thrive, expanding its activities niche while 53 Takeoffs focuses on growing its tours vertical and incubating new travel brands. 

Also, both 53 TakeOffs and Thrillophilia are now strategically focused on leveraging technology to enhance customer experiences and expand its market reach. By 2025, they want to take their product global and launch multi day tours in GCC countries, UK and US markets. 

Quest for Growth Often Collides with the Pursuit of Independence

The statement is as gripping as this journey of Chitra and Abhishek.

You know why?

Because we are often struggling to find a delicate balance between the both - a battle marked by the yearning to spread our wings, contrasted against the need to stand on our own. Chitra and Abhishek also encountered such moments where their ambitions collided with autonomy and an inherent urge for self-reliance.

Finally, their stand for their decade-long aspirations and their choice to take back control of their company reflects an impactful vision of independence and purpose.

Disclaimer: This article is a paid publication and does not have journalistic/editorial involvement of Hindustan Times. Hindustan Times does not endorse/subscribe to the content(s) of the article/advertisement and/or view(s) expressed herein. Hindustan Times shall not in any manner, be responsible and/or liable in any manner whatsoever for all that is stated in the article and/or also with regard to the view(s), opinion(s), announcement(s), declaration(s), affirmation(s) etc., stated/featured in the same.

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Published: 17 Apr 2024, 07:25 PM IST
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