Startup of the Week: Eddy Travels
Eddy Travels is an AI travel assistant on Facebook Messenger. By partnering with Skyscanner, they help busy travelers find the best flight deals right in their favorite chat app. It’s also the world’s first travel assistant with voice support on Messenger, making it a perfect solution for planning a trip on the go. Sounds perfect, right? Let’s read the whole interview with Edmundas Balčikonis, CEO of Lithuanian startup “Eddy Travels”.
What are your competitors and competitive advantages?
More and more companies are looking for ways to incorporate AI and chatbots into their businesses. However, most of them use chatbots only as an additional sales or customer support channel.
With Eddy Travels we are taking a completely different approach. Our main goal is to build the world’s best virtual travel assistant. In the short term, we are focusing on delivering an amazing flight search experience. Later, we will expand more to other travel-related services – hotels, places, visas, insurance, guides, tours, etc.
As we don’t any inventory of our own, we can partner with the top service providers and deliver the best deals to our users. As we mentioned, we are already partnering with Skyscanner for flight search results and we will announce a new partnership with a global travel insurance provider soon.
What were the reasons behind coming up with this idea and launching this product?
It was a combination of a few things. First, while traveling in China, Edmundas noticed how truly irreplaceable the WeChat application had become for local people. It wasn’t only used for chatting with friends, but also for booking and paying for a huge variety of products and services – everything from a cup of coffee to a hotel room and even flights.
Looking at it, we truly believe it’s only a matter of time until the same features and services will become available in the Western world too. For example, Facebook is already testing payments on Messenger in the US, and they have just announced their decision to merge the backend of Messenger, Whatsapp, and Instagram apps, which will open many new business opportunities.
Even more importantly, the travel industry contributes enormously to the global GDP but the mobile trip-planning experience is still very poor. Our goal is to simplify it so that people can plan their trips with just a few messages, instead of going through dozens of websites to find what they need.
When exactly did you launch, what were the main challenges before launching?
We wrote the first lines of code in August 2018 and launched our beta version at the end of November. We hoped to achieve that much sooner, but there were some unexpected events that derailed our plans.
Due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook had completely stopped the approval of new applications. Because of that, we had to wait for a few months, submit multiple requests, and go through a very rigorous app inspection process before we could finally launch our assistant.
The chatbot can already be accessed and interacted with from any country in the world. We help busy travelers plan their trips more effectively regardless of their age, gender, or location. And although we can only process English queries at the moment, more languages will be supported in the future.
What are the main challenges while working on this product and how are you overcoming them?
One of our most important tasks is improving the language understanding capabilities of the travel assistant. When we first launched, we relied heavily on using some simple off-the-shelf language processing products. While it definitely helped us get out to the market quickly, we soon realized how limiting those systems were. Now, we are in the process of creating our own custom language processing system that will take our chatbot’s functionalities to a whole new level.
How are you funded? Do you seek extra funding?
The initial development was funded by the founders. After being accepted to the Techstars Toronto startup accelerator program, we received an additional investment of $120,000. Now, we are in discussions with a number of angel investors and funds and our goal is to complete a $500,000 pre-seed round by the summer.
Please introduce your founders, your core team and your broader team?
The team consists of six people. Edmundas Balčikonis is our CEO. His previous startup Trackduck was successfully acquired by Invision in 2017. Pranas Kiziela is the CTO with over 10 years of experience in Software Development in Lithuania and the US. Adomas Baltagalvis helped his previous clients generate over $30 million in sales via crowdfunding campaigns and joined Eddy Travels as the CMO. Vytautas Galaunia and Mangirdas Adomaitis, both with extensive knowledge in big data and machine learning, joined as Senior Developers and Rugilė Vegienė as a Customer Success Agent.
How has business been so far? Could you share some numbers to illustrate this (users, sales, etc)?
Since launching Eddy Travels in November we have already attracted over 2,000 users. Knowing that the majority of them came from word of mouth, we are extremely happy with the result.
Our goal for the next quarter is to improve the flight search functionalities and level up the language understanding capabilities. Once we have moved to our custom-built language processing system, we will start ramping up our marketing activities too.
Future plans, ambitions? Simply speaking – what’s next?
As we mentioned already, our goal is to build the world’s best AI travel assistant that would be used by millions of travelers worldwide. The journey has only begun and we can’t wait to see where it’ll take us!
Thank you for your answers!