Shehab Ahmed tells us how Visit Guide® won Madeira Startup Retreat and the impact of Covid-19 on the startup.
First of all, how are you and your family doing?
Shehab Ahmed: We are doing great. I hope your family is very well and wish you the best of luck.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Visit Guide®.
Shehab Ahmed: I started my career working in the field of web hosting till I became a CTO of a Dubai-based provider called HostSailor, and our data center was based in the Netherlands. I worked on several Blockchain projects, and the most notable one is MoneyToken, where I shared an advisory seat with the CEO of Bitcoin.com.
How does Visit Guide® market its product/services online?
Shehab Ahmed: We used to do advertising, but we felt that there was something wrong with how the world works. Small Businesses (Travel Agencies ) pay a lot of money to reach customers using social media (FB & Insta), while big mainstream OTAs ( Booking & Expedia ) does not pay for social media. Most of their budget is focused on the Google Travel Platform!
So, 99% of the market share is owned by 17 companies, and 1% is left to the rest of the world ( almost 60,000 travel agencies, according to IATA ). We wanted to bring equality, so we partnered with Google to integrate our software with them, and now we have access to push travel agencies’ inventory inside Google Hotels. So every travel agency with direct contracts to nearby local hotels worldwide can push its rates and availability to Google and sell it. They don’t have to pay us for clicks, unlike Facebook, so the ROI is guaranteed!
All they have to do is use our software to upload their inventory, and we will sell it for them with the help of Google and using our hand-made booking engine!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?
Shehab Ahmed: COVID-19 almost killed our startup but thanks to my team, who decided not to take a salary for 6 months. We managed to keep going. We received no funding and no support from local VCs in our country or accelerators, which is why we kept fighting harder. To keep funding my project, I had to sell 90% of my assets, including my car and a piece of land I owned in my country.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Shehab Ahmed: I rely on partnerships and integrations with partners who can sell for us, like Google travel, and planning to integrate with other aggregators soon.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shehab Ahmed: Expedia and Booking are our main competitors, and they have been dominating the market for around 20 years, but we managed to penetrate the market with the help of my co-founders, who sacrificed a lot, Merna Ehab and Mahmoud Ebid, I owe them my whole life.
Your final thoughts?
Shehab Ahmed: Recently, we won a grant from Madeira Startup Retreat, and currently, we are working on them to accelerate our project.