How often does it happen that we travel to a place but end up spending our entire holiday in the hotel or the resort and end up visiting just a few generic tourist spots? There are tour operators that may have an entire tour package ready with non-stop activities through your journey. How often do we actually understand the culture of a place and truly experience what it is like to be a local there?
A fun trip to Mexico, where Sudeep Reddyâ€™s friend was able to take him around as a local, made him realise that there should be a platform where a local from a place could give tourists a personal tour and help them get an experience of that place.
â€śWhile working in the US, I used to travel quite a bit. On one trip to Mexico, which is primarily a Spanish-speaking country, I had a friend who took me around and I actually had a very good time. With my limited knowledge of Spanish and there being limited signage, I wouldnâ€™t have had the same experience if not for my friend. This made me wonder if this problem existed elsewhere,â€ť says Sudeep.
He validated the idea in the US and having received a good response there, he did some survey on the Indian market and seeing good opportunity here, he moved back and started RuddBuddy in May 2016.
RuddBuddy is a peer-to-peer experiential platform. It connects you with a local person who can bring you the experience of that place.
RuddBuddy has broken down experiences into two to four-hour activities like heritage walks, puppy petting, shopping tours, glider rides and workshops like gardening, pottery, drone making and more.
The idea is to move away from package tourism with a local connect. If your stay is longer, RuddBuddy also lets you aggregate various activities and make your own tour package.
So if you want to avail a local experience from RuddBuddy, there are two tiers to it. One is a scheduled tour or activity. â€śSay Ramzan is coming up and the local wants to organise a Ramzan night walk. He can schedule it for a particular date and time. In that case, itâ€™s a straight booking process. We market the event and when someone books it, we take some commission from the organizer and the rest goes to him,â€ť Sudeep says.
The second kind is a micro tour or activity on demand. Say an organizer has listed a heritage walk. When you visit that place, all you have to do is place a request on RuddBuddyâ€™s website and it sets you up with the local person organizing it. In this case too, it takes a commission from the organizer.
Typically, RuddBuddy charges a commission anywhere between 10-20%, depending of the kind of tour and activity and the material costs involved for the organizer.
After it started operations, it also found another avenue of business: Giving migrants a feel of the city over weekends and helping them network with and get to know locals.
Sudeep says that when he realised that there is a lot of migration within the city, he saw the need for these people to find things to do over the weekend to get to know the city and its people. So it has also expanded its services to cater to this crowd.
There is no formula at this point, Sudeep says. Finding locals to provide tours and workshops is usually a hard search. RuddBuddy has been visiting cultural spaces, talking to people to let them know about their service and find organisers to bring on board. But Sudeep says that it is becoming more organic with the word having spread; people have started approaching them.
Currently, RuddBuddy is present in Hyderabad and has recently started operations in Hampi as well. It has onboarded four locals in Hampi and has around 35 locals in Hyderabad.
In a week, RuddBuddy receives anywhere between 25-30 requests, with weekends seeing the most demand. On an average, it is seeing an average of 100 requests a month.
RuddBuddy usually lets the locals decide the price it wants them to charge but always advises them to start low. Currently, it has activities starting as low as Rs 400 and can go as high as Rs 15,000, for a glider tour of Hyderabad for a couple.
It started operations with an investment of about Rs 10 lakh and currently works out of its incubator T-Hub.
â€śT-Hub has been instrumental in information and building network, both of which added a great deal of intangible value to RuddBuddy. The team has been accessible for ideation on problems we've had. Another big advantage was the awareness about the ecosystem and global initiatives brought to our fingertips. This opened up several doors to think beyond a limited scope, which I think is the problem most startups face in the first couple of years. T-Hub has been a very helpful ecosystem for us to both achieve quality and scale in our product,â€ť Sudeep says.
What differentiates RuddBuddy according to Sudeep, is that it gives both the activity and the organizer equal importance. â€śWe make the person also important. He has his own profile page where he talks about who he is, what his interests are and we market that. This way you know enough about the person who will be taking you around,â€ť he adds.
Having garnered some user base, it is now working on creating a feedback mechanism that is ingrained in the system. This helps organisers gain credibility as well.
â€śWe are trying to structure it along Airbnb and create that perfect peer-to-peer model where we stand as a platform and people have a network effect with feedbacks. This way we create all the local experience possible unique to a place,â€ť Sudeep says.
In the next month, it will expand operations to either Bengaluru or Chennai and cover all southern states by the end of this year. RuddBuddy is taking it slow. It will first capture one market entirely and then move the next.
There is some competition for RuddBuddy in the peer-to-peer experiential tourism market. But he feels that their competitors havenâ€™t really captured the market yet. They are more of a marketplace for tour guides and donâ€™t concentrate on experiences like RuddBuddy does.
But the opportunity is huge with travel being a $1.5 trillion market. Its long-term goal is to go pan-India and provide every kind of local experience there is, across the country.
This article has been produced with inputs from T-Hub as a part of a partner program.