iXiGO is India’s leading travel search engine. It provides services such as search and compare book flights, hotels, buses and Indian Railways tickets online.
Aloke Bajpai was born in Allahabad, but because his father worked for a bank that was among the first to have branches overseas, the family transferred to Kenya in 1987, where they lived for 4.5 years. After returning to India, Bajpai completed an electrical engineering degree at IIT Kanpur, graduating in 2001. He then moved to France to join Amadeus, a leading European travel technology company. He learned a lot from how they are able to do things more efficiently in a small number of hours. But within four weeks, he asked his manager if he could work on Saturday or Sunday, saying he wanted to do more and was capable of doing more. His manager said he would need permission from his boss for Aloke to work on Saturdays and added that if Aloke worked on Sundays, people in the company could go to jail.
By 2003, Bajpai realized that he wanted to have a more meaningful role in business than being a technologist. After four years with Amadeus, Bajpai left to join business school at INSEAD’s Asia Campus in Singapore. He spent 16 weeks there, then eight weeks at INSEAD’s Europe campus in Fontainebleau, France, followed by eight weeks at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on an exchange program. He finished up in Singapore and earned his MBA in 2005. Bajpai was determined to return to India and launch a venture. While he was in business school, he developed a plan for a company that would provide in information technology parks lifestyle spaces where technical professionals could relax. The concept was to create a calm place with food, beverages and massage chairs where they could spend time when they were not working. When he talked to people in India, they were not receptive and he realized that the idea was not scalable and had too many operational challenges. Bajpai decided therefore to join another company in order to build up his resources and get re-acquainted with India.
Bajpai joined a midsized company that provided enterprise resource planning software for the travel industry. The firm, FinalQuadrant, was located in Noida, but was setting up operations in Europe and the United States. As vice president of distribution and business development, Bajpai helped them set up a partner program and build relationships in the UK and the US. He reported directly to the CEO, so he learned a lot about the start up environment in India.
Before joining FinalQuadrant, Bajpai spent a week after his graduation in Nice, France, where Amadeus is located. He had coffee with a couple of his former colleagues and they thought about what they might be able to do in India that would build upon their skill sets. They thought about an online travel agency; an inbound or outbound tour company; a GDS (computer system for searching, reserving and purchasing travel products); or a travel search site. At that time, Kayak, which had started in the United States in late 2004, had gained remarkable traction and had grown 12-fold in a year by providing travel meta-search, which allows users to search for travel deals across multiple sites with a single query. He talked to a couple of people at Amadeus and they agreed that if that model worked in the US, it should work better in India, because the Indian market for travel is more fragmented.
By 2006, it seemed clear to Bajpai that the time was right for someone to start India’s premier meta-search company. By the end of 2005, around 12 airlines were operating in India. Makemytrip.com had survived the dotcom bust by operating at a low scale in the US and had re-entered India in 2005. There was news that a Harvard alum was starting an online travel agency named Travelguru and another INSEAD alumnus was getting investment for a travel portal called Yatra. With more carriers, agencies and fragmentation, the right ingredients were in place for a meta-search engine aimed at helping consumers find the best deals.
In February, 2006, Bajpai left his position at FinalQuadrant to start a new company called Travenues, later renamed iXiGO. The new venture’s assets were an apartment in Gurgaon, three computers and a business plan consisting of ten PowerPoint slides. Two good friends from Amadeus joined a few months later and moved into the apartment. Jens Schütter, a German, became Product Head while Rajnish Kumar, also from IIT Kanpur, became CTO, with Bajpai serving as CEO. For eight months, they woke up, brushed their teeth, sat at their computers all day, turned out the lights, went to sleep, and then did it all again the next day. A few months later, a fellow INSEAD MBA, Dharmendra Yashovardhan, joined as COO, focusing on building partnerships. They hired one administrative/HR person and one developer in October 2006, and took out a lease on a very small office around the same time. To generate some cash during 2006, the founders also did product consulting and team building for another INSEAD alumni-led online travel venture, isango.com, an activities aggregator. The isango experience taught them a lot about finding tech resources, building product teams in India and scaling up from three to twenty in a short time.
The startup received a boost from a newly launched pan-India event called proto.in. A community of volunteers started this event to showcase Indian technologists who could demonstrate innovative prototypes to communicate their creative potential. iXiGO’s founders were invited to demonstrate their evolving meta-search product at the very first edition of proto.in in January 2007. Five months later, on June 3, 2007, iXiGO’s website went live.
At the time iXiGO’s meta-search engine launched, it had no advertisements. They wanted a very clean, fast, and efficient product, so they decided to introduce ads only after they got critical mass. The site grew strictly through word-of-mouth. For the first six months, all the revenues came from airlines who paid iXiGO for leads or for completed bookings from a lead generated by the site. By March 2008, half of India’s airlines had signed up with iXiGO and most of the remaining joined by the end of the year. After six months, the site began to include advertisements.
In April 2013, iXiGO launched Indian trains search app- “Indian Rail & Trains”. In same month it also launched a mobile app – “On the Way!” that allows road travelers to access relevant information on all useful and interesting stoppages along their route.