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EXECUTION [Progress] Starting another SaaS (travel industry this time)

devbe83

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Hey everyone!

After selling off my previous SaaS, I thought I'd keep things relaxed for a year or so, to be able to think about things, get the creative juices flowing, and so on. "Keep things relaxed" lasted for 6 months, time to try something new!

While building out that previous SaaS (a developer product) and talking with other developers, I discovered a niche. By accident, mostly, but I was surprised at the time there was no existing solution for what I was searching. I posted about it on social media, hoping it would spark someone else to start building. Three years after providing that spark, it looks like nothing happened. I'm in need of the same service again, and there's nothing out there.

That could mean two things! Jump into that niche, or steer clear because there is absolutely no demand for it.

Unlike my previous venture (which turned out great), this time I decided to do some research first. Is there demand? Can I tick the CENTS bullets all the way?

The service I'm looking for is in the travel industry, related to flight booking. Yes, vague, I know, but I'm in the process of thinking what the exact pitch is going to be so bear with me in this thread. There are travel agencies that can do what I'm after, but they charge a lot of money and handle things manually. I want automated, fast, and less expensive.

The fact that there are travel agencies providing this, proves there is at least some market. And they ask good money, so I can definitely ask for money too.

As an added test, I spoke to some people in my network who I think could need such service as well, and asked them if that was indeed the case and if they would pay for it. Big yes from all 5 people I talked with. Not statistically significant, but again some proof there is a Need.

I've had this idea for three years now, there seems to be a need, so let's see hat we can come up with. The thread is prefixed with [Execution], by all means I want to go towards a launch at some point. But first, let's see if the other CENTS bases can be covered.
 

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devbe83

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So we covered Need. Will it scale? Definitely. I've identified a market, and also found a way to market this service to them once it's built. Will this service need my Time? Yes. To get it built. But once running, Time will not be tied to $$$, so even while I'm not working on this service income will be generated.

NTS will work, I'm confident in that. But what about CE?

Turns out Control and Entry are more interesting. Let's lift a tip of the veil. A big aspect of this service will be flight (and later on, train) bookings. Over the past weeks I've been researching what is possible there, and I'll provide a bit of an overview here in case anyone ever needs something similar. I've looked on the forum here but there is not a lot so here's a 101 into online travel.

To be able to sell airline tickets and/or rail online, you will need:
  1. Access to a (searchable) inventory. Find flight from A to B, with carrier Z.
  2. Access to a pricing API - what does that specific fare cost?
  3. Access to a booking API - can I secure that fare until my customer pays me?
  4. Access to a ticketing API - thank you for your business, here's a ticket.
There are some ways of getting access to any or all 4. I'll give you a list, even!

For full control, but higher cost of entry you will need to go to a GDS - Global Distribution Service. There's Amadeus in Europe, Sabre in the US, Travelport, and some more. They all offer all 4 of the above, and give full control over what you can do in terms of searching, booking and ticketing. And that control will not be subject to a lot of changes, as pretty much every travel agent has to go through them in some way. They have their revenue, and more is better.

Great! Except... These GDS are quite expensive. There are sales people involved before even being able to start a proof of concept. And they also make Entry a bit harder, as for some operations you will need to register as an official travel agent and a couple of other things. This definitely ticks Control and Entry - most control you will have unless you start your own airline, and barrier of entry is high enough to discourage many.

Thing is, I want to start building, see if the idea is feasible, ... I do want to invest in the entry, but not the numbers and effort they require. Yet, at least. If the idea grows this is probably the better way to go.

The alternative to using a GDS is using an OTA - Online Travel Agency. These parties are travel agents themselves, integrate with one or several GDS, and resell their access via various means. Since I want to build something that requires full control of the flow, I'll need access to an API out there that gives me all 4 of the points mentioned before.

Some parties I have found through various search queries:
  • AirHob - they have a developer API for all of the above. Except, after two weeks and two reminders their support hasn't responded to some basic questions I had yet. If I want to provide value to my customers, I'll need a vendor that does the same.
  • Kiwi.com - they have an API and can cover all 4 points. But after searching for booking experiences with them, I found a lot of negative comments. Mileage could vary, but let's not spend time integrating to discovered I can't provide value because they don't.
  • Travelopro - not even sure what they provide, and haven't heard back from them yet either.
  • Travelomatic - same story.
Anyone see the theme here? By making Entry easier, Control seems to shift down - if I can't get a response, how can I keep at least some control?

Spoiler alert: I've found another one that is very responsive, but will talk about them in a future post.

And a tip for people looking for ideas needing execution: create a developer-friendly way to get all these 4 points, have some support folks, and outcompete all of the above OTA's that provide an API.

So we've had OTA's. Is there anything else out there? Yes there is! Affiliate programs with an API. These are what they are: affiliate programs that provide a search, and give an affiliate link to go book at an airliner/Expedia/... It only ticks box one (search), but for a minimum viable product (MVP) I could live with that. Parties I've found:
  • Travelpayouts - they have an API that uses cached pricing and affiliate links, and a real-time API. I'd need the real-time API but the use case does not fit their requirements. So for my scenario, doesn't even work for an MVP...
  • SkyScanner - except they only share revenue once you hit 1.3k in revenue per month. How about no...
So what to do? Go with full control and a higher cost of entry? Or a lower cost of entry, less control, but a faster time to market. Questions, questions... But it's getting late here so signing off.
 
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devbe83

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In the previous post I mentioned GDS and OTA, and the conection between control and cost of entry. Ideally, I'd like to go with a GDS as that provides full control. Entry is higher though, and looking at integrating with them also looks like a longer time-to-market.

Some more searching landed me with an OTA that has the exact mission I described

create a developer-friendly way to get all these 4 points, have some support folks, and outcompete all of the above OTA's that provide an API.
The OTA is AllMyles.com, and they seem to do exactly what I need to build my service. Last week, I've contacted them, and contrary to the other OTA's I've contacted, AllMyles responded within 30 seconds (!) and I ended up Skyping with their founder, who is doing this as his own way to the Fastlane (while working a job at one of the big GDS). We chatted about the service I want to build, and he even gave some thoughts on how to implement certain parts. Very happy about this! I'll start a trial with them soon to check if their travel API does as promised. I have high hopes.

Before starting to trial, I do want to get developing the surrounding service (flight booking is just one part), so let's make some progress there first. I now do have all building blocks I will be needing, nice!

Being a developer myself, there is no doubt I can do this. However one of the takeaways from my previous SaaS was to learn to delegate sooner (to be able to focus more on sales and business development), so I ended up looking for people on UpWork. Chatted with one, and figured out right now the idea is too "green" to have someone on board already. Seems like too much overhead to get an MVP created this way. So I'll start working on it myself after all.

Hoping to make some progress this week.
 
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Ocean Man

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Devbe, this sounds interesting. I’d love to hear more about your idea, maybe we can bounce back and forth. As I’ve also had thoughts of doing things in the travel field specifically with airline tickets. Definitely see things that can improve. Mainly customer service.
 

devbe83

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Devbe, this sounds interesting. I’d love to hear more about your idea, maybe we can bounce back and forth. As I’ve also had thoughts of doing things in the travel field specifically with airline tickets. Definitely see things that can improve. Mainly customer service.
Thanks @Ocean Man ! And I totally agree the travel field has many opportunities for making things better. I'm a frequent traveller myself and it's ridiculous some times what hoops to jump through. Usually goes well, but not always.

Got pinged by someone else here on the forum, to chat about the flight tickets side. He works at a travel agency so that should bring some additional thoughts and insights.

I'm happy to report I've made some progress on the app side! A web app is in the works, I can register/login/change password etc., and I've built 4 screens that are the start of the process I want to automate. Not yet sharing the idea (still too rough). Hope to share it soon once I have visualized the process a bit better. But ironically, my next week is full of travel with not much chance for making progress on this one... To be continued!
 

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Don't spend too much time analyzing. It sounds like you have enough evidence that you need to start designing and coding.
 

Ocean Man

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Thanks @Ocean Man ! And I totally agree the travel field has many opportunities for making things better. I'm a frequent traveller myself and it's ridiculous some times what hoops to jump through. Usually goes well, but not always.

Got pinged by someone else here on the forum, to chat about the flight tickets side. He works at a travel agency so that should bring some additional thoughts and insights.

I'm happy to report I've made some progress on the app side! A web app is in the works, I can register/login/change password etc., and I've built 4 screens that are the start of the process I want to automate. Not yet sharing the idea (still too rough). Hope to share it soon once I have visualized the process a bit better. But ironically, my next week is full of travel with not much chance for making progress on this one... To be continued!
Will be following, definitely interested!
 

devbe83

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I mentioned a bit earlier that someone here on the forum contacted me. That someone was @Axxoul who works in the travel industry. We had a quick call today and chatted a bit about things. He validated the first two posts of this thread: entry into the travel industry is hard and not very transparent. We chatted a bit about the process I'm implementing, and he got excited again about an idea he had in the past. In other words:

And a tip for people looking for ideas needing execution: create a developer-friendly way to get all these 4 points, have some support folks, and outcompete all of the above OTA's that provide an API.
Looking forward to your progress thread soon, @Axxoul ;-)

Regarding my own progress... Today was the last moment in ~2 weeks where I could spend meaningful time on this idea (business travel upcoming), and I spent it on refactoring some parts of the code I have. This should make it easier to make progress in the future, but there's no visible progress on the service idea for now. Will be quiet for a while.
 

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devbe83

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A couple of weeks have passed, and I am glad that even being busy with other things, I made progress on executing this idea!

On the technical side

I was able to build much of the application that will support the business. User management, sending out invites, accepting invites, managing travel, searching flights (with fake data), and more. Really happy with what I have right now! Not the cleanest code, but if there's one thing that matters more than clean code it's making progress and getting that MVP closer!

There are a couple of things still missing that should be easy to add later on, the big one is coming now: integrating with a travel provider to use actual search data, as well as making actual bookings. As described earlier, I will go with the folks from AllMyles as they seem the most reliable in this world of chaos :smile2:

To be continued! Interesting few weeks of integration coming up...

On the business side

Building something in the SaaS world from scratch means building out technical things, but there is also the business side of things. I pitched the idea with two more people in my target audience, and they were sold! Unfortunately only by figure of speech - I really want to get that MVP soon so I can validate interest with € instead of lip service.

Other business-side hurdles are in legal and applicable laws. I've been researching selling flights in Belgium, and it looks like all should be good to go without any barriers of entry! Flanders, the region in which I live, explicitly states free entry in the travel market. At the country level (Belgium) there are a few things to take into account:
  • When selling combined travel packages (e.g. flight + hotel, or flight + car, etc.), end customers must receive a template containing applicable rules around reimbursements, cancellations, etc.
  • When selling single items, no special rules apply. I've asked my lawyer to double-check, but it looks like for now I'll have a nice shortcut as the MVP will only provide flights.
  • There *is* one smaller hurdle: ticket fees. It is frowned upon to add ticket fees on flights as a reseller. Now, that's not a big issue as the business model I have in mind will place the revenue stream elsewhere (still sort of per-ticket, but not as part of the actual ticket sale).

And finally, thanks @warrantor for pinging me occasionally on what the status/progress was and nudging me into action by talking about progress on your own SaaS idea.

Now off to a well-deserved beer as the proverbial pat on the back, and then in the next weeks let's get that MVP closer!
 

bdb

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Question, how do you determine the amount of time required in order to get a MVP up and going ? do you take that into account before taking action ?
 

devbe83

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Question, how do you determine the amount of time required in order to get a MVP up and going ? do you take into account before taking action ?
Good question. I have the idea of the final service in my head, but am slappng myself into keeping an MVP mindset: can the thing I am building validate the need and serve as the starting point for the business.

As a software developer myself, I know how long certain things will take (approximately) so using that as an indicator to myself whether it's feasible to start building it or it needs another approach of getting done.

This one looked relatively contained in terms of time required, so decided to go for it and take action.

Comparing this with another idea I had a while ago, I started taking action on fleshing out what would be required and decided not to pursue that idea because of the initial complexity in even getting an MVP up and running. Which reminds me, I may need to post that idea into the INE section of this forum at some point.

Hope this answers your question!
 

bdb

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Good question. I have the idea of the final service in my head, but am slappng myself into keeping an MVP mindset: can the thing I am building validate the need and serve as the starting point for the business.

As a software developer myself, I know how long certain things will take (approximately) so using that as an indicator to myself whether it's feasible to start building it or it needs another approach of getting done.

This one looked relatively contained in terms of time required, so decided to go for it and take action.

Comparing this with another idea I had a while ago, I started taking action on fleshing out what would be required and decided not to pursue that idea because of the initial complexity in even getting an MVP up and running. Which reminds me, I may need to post that idea into the INE section of this forum at some point.

Hope this answers your question!
Considering that this is a simple idea for an MVP have you considered hiring a person to do the frontend while you focus on the backend or vice versa ? Would investing some of the resources from your last business into this be justifiable considering that it would help you get your MVP done faster ?

I am also a dev and struggle with keeping personal projects small. Next time I want to try outsourcing parts of a project as it sounds like it would force you to detail everything before writing a single line.
 

devbe83

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Considering that this is a simple idea for an MVP have you considered hiring a person to do the frontend while you focus on the backend or vice versa ? Would investing some of the resources from your last business into this be justifiable considering that it would help you get your MVP done faster ?

I am also a dev and struggle with keeping personal projects small. Next time I want to try outsourcing parts of a project as it sounds like it would force you to detail everything before writing a single line.
Have considered that (and in fact did a posting on UpWork), but quickly realized that getting this fleshed out enough so someone else could build it would take a reasonable amount of time as well. Not worth it, for the MVP at least.

If it takes off afterwards, I do intend on having things re-built. I'd have a visual example that could serve as a starting point. I'd have a product that (ideally) has revenue. Which combines nicely.

I am also a dev and struggle with keeping personal projects small. Next time I want to try outsourcing parts of a project as it sounds like it would force you to detail everything before writing a single line.
Thats'exactly the thing :smile2: Outsourcing would have forced me to do that beforehand instead of on the go like I do it now.

The struggle keeping things small is ever present, and often leads to analysis paralysis. I'm trying to be very aware of that and at every step I ask: "is this an idea that needs implementation for a first MVP? or will this come naturally when there is traction?" - have scrapped a number of things already using that approach.

And as a dev, you probably also have a good idea of where compromises could be made, code-wise, and where things should be in order if you want to build on top. I have a couple of things I really don't care too much about, other things must be good from the start.
 

SimonB

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I ams building a SaaS as well (telecoms) and have the same issues with potential number suppliers as you have with the OTAs.

Good luck and best wishes with your venture. I am definitely following this one.
 

GoldMan79

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A couple of weeks have passed, and I am glad that even being busy with other things, I made progress on executing this idea!

On the technical side

I was able to build much of the application that will support the business. User management, sending out invites, accepting invites, managing travel, searching flights (with fake data), and more. Really happy with what I have right now! Not the cleanest code, but if there's one thing that matters more than clean code it's making progress and getting that MVP closer!

There are a couple of things still missing that should be easy to add later on, the big one is coming now: integrating with a travel provider to use actual search data, as well as making actual bookings. As described earlier, I will go with the folks from AllMyles as they seem the most reliable in this world of chaos :smile2:

To be continued! Interesting few weeks of integration coming up...
As a fellow developer, I'm curious, what stack are you using?
 

devbe83

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As a fellow developer, I'm curious, what stack are you using?
Going with what I know best: .NET (ASP.NET MVC and Razor all the way, with some jQuery sprinkled in). Does this hurt me? Yes!

I'd love to go with Vue.js on the front-end, add some HTTP API in the back-end and be all shiny and fancy. But in the end, I want to make progress in launchign something for use and worry about the tech side later :)
 

devbe83

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Still integrating with airlines API, but also started to think about branding.

As an experiment, I tried DesignCrowd (referrer link) / DesignCrowd to post a job and see if design would come. I went with the second cheapest plan, and in less than 24 hours have gotten 40 designs, of which 5 or 6 are now making it very hard for me to choose a winner :) In case anyone is looking for a logo design, so far I can definitely recommend this approach.
 

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devbe83

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Woohoo! Progress!

The application is 95% finished. There are a few rough edges in the UI I still want to fix, and e-mails need a nice template as well. Other than that, I can seach flights, view pricing, make a payment and book a ticket. At least, against the development service AllMyles has.

There are some edge cases to cover, too, but I am very much leaning towards ignoring those for now and showing a "contact support" page instead. It might actually lead to customer feedback when someone runs into those :)

The trial I have with AllMyles will run until July 7th, but I plan on going to the paid version sooner if I can. This does mean I will have to cover the entry cost to go live on their API, but that's fine - an entry cost helps with cEnts, right?!?

Since I have built (part of) their API in .NET now, which should be reusable by others as well, I will offer them the sorce code to that (not really my business value) and see if they are open to a discount on the entry fee for me. We'll see - they are very responsive and helped a lot over the past week, so this may just work.

On the business side, branding for the application is in, I have a domain name that I will use to build a landing page in the coming weeks to start working on organic leads.

I also have talked to a couple of folks that are my target audience, they are still happy, and I gave them a branded PDF with some screenshots, pricing, etc. Will check back for feedback from them in a few days.

More travel coming up for myself, ironically, but the good news is that I will meet more of my target audience there as well. Will pitch the app (and even show a demo if they want, since the app is 95% done!).

Time for a beer and a weekend that is not spent behind the computer... Cheers, folks!
 

404profound

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Woohoo! Progress!

The application is 95% finished. There are a few rough edges in the UI I still want to fix, and e-mails need a nice template as well. Other than that, I can seach flights, view pricing, make a payment and book a ticket. At least, against the development service AllMyles has.

There are some edge cases to cover, too, but I am very much leaning towards ignoring those for now and showing a "contact support" page instead. It might actually lead to customer feedback when someone runs into those :)

The trial I have with AllMyles will run until July 7th, but I plan on going to the paid version sooner if I can. This does mean I will have to cover the entry cost to go live on their API, but that's fine - an entry cost helps with cEnts, right?!?

Since I have built (part of) their API in .NET now, which should be reusable by others as well, I will offer them the sorce code to that (not really my business value) and see if they are open to a discount on the entry fee for me. We'll see - they are very responsive and helped a lot over the past week, so this may just work.

On the business side, branding for the application is in, I have a domain name that I will use to build a landing page in the coming weeks to start working on organic leads.

I also have talked to a couple of folks that are my target audience, they are still happy, and I gave them a branded PDF with some screenshots, pricing, etc. Will check back for feedback from them in a few days.

More travel coming up for myself, ironically, but the good news is that I will meet more of my target audience there as well. Will pitch the app (and even show a demo if they want, since the app is 95% done!).

Time for a beer and a weekend that is not spent behind the computer... Cheers, folks!
Enjoy the beer, you earned it!
 

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