Ixigo: Travelling the distance

Shailesh Lakhani

Published June 18, 2024

“It all makes sense in hindsight.”

Aloke said to me last week, reflecting on the crazy, winding journey to becoming a public company. We have known the dynamic duo Aloke and Rajnish for 16 years, and to see them go public today is a career highlight. It is probably impossible to find someone who doesn’t like these two and it is impossible to not be inspired by their journey.

We tried to work together in 2008, but the stars didn’t align. We all grew up and in 2016, thankfully we were granted a berth to lead ixigo’s Series B financing. We partnered with them as we had seen the team demonstrate resilience, world-class product building, and was now benefiting from the Jio effect of the internet spreading to the length and breadth of Bharat. 

A line from our internal memo on what ixigo could become is pretty much exactly what happened, but honestly the journey didn’t feel that way.  

“Given the lack of other strong integrated travel tech platforms, ixigo builds a significant travel distribution scale that it monetizes across air, hotels, rail, and travel advertising. Its multimodal capabilities from a range of apps and sources allows for a CAC advantage vs. competitors and the company scales to $100m+ in revenues in the next 5-8 years.”

ixigo was trying to make meta search, a travel search model like a search engine that redirects leads to airlines and other OTAs to complete the transaction, and also a new product in trains which we didn’t know would make money. Overall their apps had six million MAUs then. For a number of reasons on the flights side, meta search just didn’t work to be a big opportunity in India. 

In 2017, they added bookings to trains and became an OTA and by mid 2019, Aloke and Rajnish pivoted the entire business to be a full OTA and complete the loop. On the side, the trains app user base was  growing rapidly. A fundraise was attempted and failed. 

The company was still in turbulent weather and burning cash, and in late 2019, they even held talks with some strategics for a sale but didn’t get a meaningful offer. That was a tough phase, but their eye on daily cash flow and margins and their classic resilience came in handy. They also made a series of product improvements, and by early 2020, the company started to break even and made money in Jan-Feb-March 2020.  It finally felt like ixigo had entered smooth skies. 

Few will not know what happened next. The global bans on travel felt as if the universe had conspired against the company and with revenues down 90% in a matter of a week, it seemed like the short period of profitability the company had had would have been a small footnote in a death certificate. But as often happens, in the greatest storms come the greatest opportunity, and the best times to show who you really are. 

Even as Covid lockdowns brought the world to a literal halt, ixigo did not lay off any ’ixigems’, fully refunded customers including non-refundable fees, all while having less than six months of runway left. If they were going to go down, they’d do it without compromising their integrity.

On the business side, a couple of very important acquisitions became available. ConfirmTkt in early 2021 and Abhibus in late 2021. With these, some additional spectacular teams led by Dinesh and Sudhakar respectively further added capabilities, revenues, and users in tier 2 and 3 markets. 

As the world was opening up, there was no one better positioned to make up for lost time.  The company raced to ~80 million MAUs in 2023, revenue topped 500 crore in FY23, and it owned four of the top 10 travel apps in India. ixigo has found its place as a leading online travel company, and is best positioned to help the hundreds of millions of less experienced travellers explore India and the world. 

An IPO attempt was made in late 2021, but the window was shut as tech markets cooled, and more resilience was needed, but by then survival was no longer in doubt. 

Today ixigo transfers to the next leg of the journey. Having seen them overcome small and big bumps in the road, when they face the inevitable tough situation, it will be used to become even better as they have every time before.

Congratulations Aloke and Rajnish, we can’t wait to see what you guys do next.