We chat to Chirag Golwala, CEO of TripCenter, who arrived in the UK with £324 in his pocket and now runs the online booking service for travel agents, tour operators and event organisers.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve.
I am a British Indian travel tech innovator and entrepreneur. Born and educated in India I decided to follow my dream of higher education abroad, so came to the UK in 1998 with £324 in my pocket.
TripCenter is a disruptive new travel technology that is a culmination of my years of experience in the tourism and travel industry. It enables tour operators, travel agents, GTOs, coach operators and tour guides to buy and sell destination based ground services on a single integrated B2B e-marketplace LIVE online. TripCenter is more than a booking button, it helps each user gain, grow and compete at every level without having to invest millions in IT, marketing and operations. It also helps tour guides and professional guides gain global exposure without having to travel the world for promotion of their services.
What time does your day usually start and end?
I usually wake up at 5:30am and finish around 11pm. I am not in the office usually until at least 8:30am as I love to do my daily chores with my children and get them ready for school. Breakfast time is my only meal of the day together as a family. If I get home early by say 8:00pm, I happily put my children to bed and have a nice evening with my wife. Although spending quality evening and a peaceful dinner with my wife has become more of a precious commodity lately.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
I would be lying if I said there is one single element of my job that is least and another the most favourite. I love what I do, as I have always followed my passion and desire to make lives better whether through travel or technology. Travel enriches and touches individuals and technology is key to enabling this experience. We as a company continue to expand and every single day is a new day with new set of challenges.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I think for me business has come naturally through progression. When I came to the UK first it was all about getting a degree and a job. To follow my passion, I had to knock on every bank’s door to loan me money as I was deeply in debt after coming out of university. Ultimately, I turned to The Prince’s Trust and they offered me a loan of £2,000, which really inspired me to make sure I started a proper business and succeed. I just followed my passion.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea stems from the existing business practices we have in the tourism and travel industry. In November 2013, I was rather frustrated with the way the industry was operating. I could see and feel the pain of many of my colleagues due to the never ending processes involved in booking coaches and tour guides to various attractions around the globe. Something had to be done, so I set out to solve our problem and along the way I realised that the technology I’d invented in fact solves this issue worldwide, when it comes to booking ground services. Whether a tour operator is looking for coaches for a simple private transfer or a multi-day, multi-country touring tailor-made itinerary with a tour guide TripCenter can offer a live solution.
How did you fund your business?
The COO Rui and I have funded the entire development of TripCenter ourselves. The platform has taken over two years to develop to this point. As we continue to research the global market and interact with potential suppliers and users, it has become clear the demand is far greater than we could have hoped. Over 2,500 coach companies from 47 different countries are interested in registering their inventory on the platform. With this in mind, we are open to attracting outside investment in order to scale the platform faster to meet the needs of the marketplace. This is an ongoing process and when we find the right financial partner, we will be able to respond more quickly to global demand.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
In my opinion, it is the fear of failure that stops people from chasing their dreams and landing institutions have a very difficult set of criteria that any start up would struggle to satisfy to obtain liquidity. There are far too many regulations and labour laws for SMEs to cope with that could easily stifle growth. From a travel industry professional perspective, we ought to become more competitive by providing simplified and faster visa services for tourists at more affordable prices. Currently the UK loses out on millions of tourists to Schengen States, the US and SE Asian countries who attract more travellers due to their tourist friendly visa processes.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t make mistakes. They are part and parcel of any business as long as they are not fatal. Whatever mistakes I’ve made in business, they have always provided me with a valuable learning curve and I am fortunate that I have been able to implement changes accordingly.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
Follow your passion as it doesn’t require talent, surround yourself with good people. I have one mantra, “START where you are, USE what you have, DO what you can” and leave the rest to outcome without fear of failure. I am also fortunate in that I have one of the best brains in the tourism and travel industry, who has always been with me every step of the way as a co-founder.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
I don’t like the notion of relaxing. We only have one shot at life to do something, so we must make best use of it whether personally or professionally. Weekdays I am fully charged with work including many Saturdays. As a step away from work, I love to spend time with my wife and two children. I enjoy cooking and making breakfast for the whole family on Sundays if we are all up early. Cooking is a great stress reliever for me and its always satisfying to learn and master new dishes. Ours is a multi-cultural family so everyone has a different palate.