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Blackboard - Indian Digital Marketplace on Destinations and Experiences

'We are also looking at enhancing the technology interface on our website and integrate an user friendly trip booking experience for our travellers.'

Blackboard - Indian Digital Marketplace on Destinations and Experiences
Blackboard's Founders - Amit Sengupta and his wife Mousumi Kar

Kolkata-based Blackboard was formally incorporated in September 2016 by Amit Sengupta and his wife Mousumi Kar. Today, it has taken shape of a hyperlocal discovery platform.

Blackboard is the one stop shop for the inspiring blogs and stories on destinations and experiences. The startup is bringing the audience on its platform from Google and Social Media (mainly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) helping them discover those places and enabling them to book trips with Blackboard.

Blackboard also curates first of its kind travel blogging events to create a community of digitally savvy travellers. The firm recently concluded the first international travel blogging event in East India – Travel Blogging Unplugged.

In an interaction with Sujata Sangwan of BW Disrupt, Blackboard’s founders - Amit Sengupta (CEO) and Mousumi Kar shared details about their venture.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the idea behind the inception of Blackboard?

So, there’s a bit of interesting history behind the launch of Blackboard. My previous work at Oxfam took us to New Delhi and while I was working there, I launched a travel blog to narrate our travel stories to a much wider public, our friends and followers on social media. After receiving immense response we made up our mind to give it a proper entrepreneurial shape and decided to form a company.

Early last year in 2016, we moved our base from New Delhi to Kolkata to form our travel startup Blackboard. Blackboard is a culmination of our collective dream of a vision for a company which will inspire millennials and youth to and explore the outdoors. So essentially, it’s our journey from a blog to a company.

What are the unique key points of Blackboard?

Blackboard’s strength lies in providing an experiential and immersive journey to our travellers. Offbeat and outdoors are at the heart of all we do. So essentially, for every trip that is booked with Blackboard, either me or my wife is the Lead Expeditioner – in a way, that‘s our unique brand proposition and we want to offer an experiential way of travel to the new age travellers. Our trips are exploratory in nature. We are also going to customize a trip to the traveller as per his or her interests. Blackboard also wants to offer a travel film made on all such trip as a return gift to the traveller. Our first exploratory trip to ‘Hidden Trail of Andaman’ is soon going to be announced and we want to bring on board millennials and youth to join us on this epic trail of Andaman.

How is Blackboard different from the existing portals?

Blackboard uniquely positions itself as the only and first travel startup from East India. There are travel startups in the conventional sense of the term of whom some offer customisable online packages, while some offer customisable travel deals from local travel agents but none which offers an experiential and immersive journey to millennials; and certainly none which has a brand presence doing travel events and yet provides an online discovery platform.

What is the funding status and monetization model?

Both me and my wife as Co-Founders are bootstrapping Blackboard. We have pooled in our own savings and resources (saved from our previous job) to form the company. In the coming days, we see ourselves bootstrapping the company mobilising our own resources. We are looking for fundamental resources, networking opportunities and mentoring from leaders in the industry who are confident and extremely passionate about travelling and our vision.

Blackboard is making money from trips that millennials book with us. We are starting with domestic theme based trips and will soon go international by the end of this year. We are exploring adding destinations in Europe like ‘Road Trips’ in Spain, Croatia, Nepal, Jordan and Iceland. In addition to this vertical, a significant money is coming from our flagship events like the one we recently concluded.

What are the traction details?

Blackboard as a travel company is producing viral worthy native travel content (we are soon going to product native content in video) to inspire millennials and book trips with us. We have just now concluded the first international travel blogging in Kolkata (which is perhaps the first such event in East India) named Travel Blogging Unplugged. We are ramping up our online community presence and plan to launch our App for Android and iphone platforms by next year.

How do you look at expansion?

Blackboard is looking for expanding the domestic offbeat destinations offered on our platform starting with Andaman & Nicobar this summer. We want to bring luxury and solo trips to Andaman and West Bengal. We would want to add some really unexplored destinations within West Bengal. Northeast road trips are our focus especially international road trips from northeast to Thailand. We would want to add Chhattisgarh in our trips and would talk to the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board regarding collaborations. We are talking to hospitality players to add ‘Wildlife Trips’ in Madhya Pradesh through our platform. These are the starting points – as we keep doing research on various high potential destinations, we would keep expanding.

We are already exploring adding international theme based trips like Road Trips in Spain and Iceland; Luxury trips in Croatia; and Road Trips in Jordan.

Team wise, we want to expand to at least a full time team of about 5 staffs on different domains in the next 6 months or so. We are also looking at enhancing the technology interface on our website and integrate an user friendly trip booking experience for our travellers.

How big is the market and how much of the market share has Blackboard captured so far?

An estimated 30 to 40 % of East India’s population is youth in the age bracket of 20 – 35. That’s around an estimated 2.4 crore youth alone in West Bengal. We want to bring at least 10 % of the youth on Blackboard’s community in the next 5 years. We are expecting at least 1 to 2 % of these youth from our community booking trips with us.

Blackboard has already kicked-off this year with the first international travel blogging event in East India. We want to scale it up at a larger level and keep doing such amazing trailblazer work. We are also planning to curate the largest Travel & Tech event in East India this year. We are seeking collaborations from players in the tourism & hospitality, F&B, tech and auto sectors for this unique event.

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