It was listening to a South Asian radio station in the United Kingdom that triggered the idea of starting an online ticketing service to eBay employee Santosh Panda in 2009.
Based in London, 39-year-old Panda, was listening to a local radio channel one morning when a listener came on air to request help in organising an event in the city. Panda, who was working the online marketplace, had set up a recruitment solutions company in Pune a year earlier.
But intrigued by the opportunity, he asked his employees to check on upcoming events in India. Spotting a chance to diversify, he renamed his venture as Ayojak.com and launched an online ticketing and event discovery business.
Panda had to cut costs dramatically to run his startup from the salary he earned from his regular job in UK. "It was a difficult time.
But I had learnt the art of survival and bootstrapping from my father who managed a 9-to-5 job in UCO Bank, while also operating a dairy farm," says Panda, whose family hails from Berhampur in Odisha.
"Sometimes there would be a delay of a week in paying salaries to employees back in Pune." After his wife and child were refused a visa to return to London, Panda decided to move back to India.
He was almost broke and the British High Commission had found this out. In 2012, after his return to the country, he had his first stroke of good fortune— an old friend invested Rs 15 lakh in the venture.
The business started generating cash, but it was still consuming more. "Till 2012, we had scaled to Rs 1.69 crore in revenues without taking anybody's money.
But we needed money desperately to sustain operations," says Panda. During a startup event in Bangalore, he metGoogle India managing dir e c t o r R a j a n Anandan who introduced him to Ravi Gururaj and Raj Chinai, cofounders of HBS Angels.
"We found Santosh (Panda) to be relentless in his pursuit. He had great product design sense, unimpeachable personal ethics and had invested a ton of his own savings and sweat into the venture.
A combination of these factors made the venture irresistible," says Chinai. Anandan with HBS Angels looped in Srijan Capital and Blume Ventures, who were already interested.
All four angels co-invested an undisclosed sum in the startup this January. "It's the perfect business to transition to an online model—which will result in greater convenience and lower costs for operators," says Gururaj. The company's revenues come from a commission of 1.99% on every ticket sold, coupled with a `15 'convenience fee.' For customisation, the commission goes as high as 7%. In India, online ticketing and event management is a Rs 5,000-crore industry, growing at the rate of 20-25% every year. However, events is also a seasonal market in India.
This led Ayojak to again re-brand itself last month as Explara.com. "Lot of people confused our old name Ayojak with an event organiser which we are not. We are a technology platform," says Panda.
The company will now start exploring markets, such as Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Middle-East, in the next six months. Worldover, event management is a $25 billion (Rs 1.5 lakh crore) industry, the largest player being Ticketmaster, which has over $10 billion (Rs 60,000 crore) in revenues.
Another startup Eventbrite which is in the same space as Explara has sold tickets worth $1 billion (about Rs 6,000 crore) since 2006. While large companies, such as Ticketmaster, provide ticketing for big events such as concerts for a Madonna or a Beyonce, Explara wants to tap neighborhood workshops, fund raisers, parties and Bollywood concerts.
"Our goal is to make an engine for small and medium events like what RedBus did for the small time bus operators in India," says Panda.