women and ambition / women at work / working women

Starting up a startup like no other ft. Pallavi Agarwal

. 5 min read . Written by Muskan Miglani
Starting up a startup like no other ft. Pallavi Agarwal

Indian startups raised 17 billion dollars in funding in 2022, almost 1.8 times that of 2021. The startup industry is booming in the country, and there couldn’t be a better time to become a startup founder. Whether it’s a unique business idea or a new spin on an old one, the country and its investors are welcoming startups with open arms. Television show, Shark Tank India is making waves in India, enrapturing millions of people to their tv screens with novel startups and flourishing businesses.

If you’re thinking about having your own startup, you have had your own set of dilemmas– whether I should leave my secure job or not? Whether my brand will make money or not? Do I have what it takes? Am I up for challenges that await me?

On the edge about launching your startup but not sure how to take the first step? We talked to leading entrepreneur Pallavi Agarwal, Founder and CEO at goSTOPS, one of the country's first backpacker and youth hostel brands. From thriving through trials and tribulations, to turning her dreams to reality, here is the boss lady’s journey on how she made strides in an industry that didn’t even exist in the country.

Taking the first step

The first step in launching your own startup is identifying the service or product you want to offer. Once that is in place, you must examine the competition in the market. If that service or product already exists, you must create a USP for your brand that is not present elsewhere. Most importantly, you have to trust the brand you’re creating.

Pallavi says she started her journey after returning from a trip to Europe. Greatly inspired by the hostel culture, she realised nothing of the sort exists in the country. She found a glitch in the matrix, and she sought to correct it. The idea was simple and bold– launch an establishment that caters to both millennials and gen Z; one that is affordable, comfortable and unique. The aim was to create “accommodations that cater to the minimalistic tastes of the current generation and are practical yet comfortable and inspiring”.

F for focus, not fear

Being nervous before starting out is a natural feeling. Some might even say, it’s a good thing to be nervous because it means you care. But the key is not to let that nervousness of fear of failure cripple you. Like so many of us, Pallavi had her set of fears about starting out in an industry that hadn’t seen a concept like this. When she founded goSTOPS in 2014, the concept of backpacker hostels didn’t exist. People had just started moving away from the ideas of family vacations and evolving into group trips with friends and solo trips. While she was scared that the concept of backpacking existed only outside India, so her only customers would be foreigners, she was proved wrong, much to her delight.

“The biggest fear as for everything new that you do is uncertainty”, says the goSTOPS CEO. But what is imperative is to look beyond and huddle up on your search for success.

The building blocks

The building blocks of any business are its people– the team is one of the most important components of any startup. Look out for people with similar vision and ideas. In a world where most jobs are skill-based, the idea is to assimilate a group of like-minded people who excel in their area of skill.

Pallavi says that she has handpicked her team to bring together some of the most driven individuals with invigorating ideologies. Trusting your instinct becomes pivotal when choosing your team: “Having developed my own skills tremendously as an entrepreneur, today I can quickly evaluate whether someone would be a good fit with the rest of our team, and how to empower them to deliver their best.”

Identifying your target audience

One of the most important things in any business is identifying the target audience and modifying your brand to suit the dynamic needs of the same. Pallavi, in her exciting venture, knew that her target audience was youth– anyone and everyone who was between 18 and 30 years old was a part of her target group.

Once she understood this group, she began to modify and build her brand according to the needs of the same. It was difficult for a bootstrap venture to go digital, but what other alternative is there when the people you seek to cater to hardly look up from their phones. So, smartwork was what Pallavi directed her team towards– “With a limited budget to invest in technology, we decided early on to incorporate commercial solutions from domain experts that addressed our various needs, rather than building one from scratch. So this entailed us cherry picking off-the-shelf solutions to create an integrated solution for the company”.

goSTOPS successfully created a digital-first product that was a comprehensive solution for all their customers– from bookings to customer support, everything was online.

Doing the money talk

When setting up your startup, it's critical to set a price on everything beforehand. The idea is to set a price that will suit your audience while also being profitable enough to sustain your business. When deciding upon their price point, Pallavi says the focus was to attain a balanced figure. “But how do you decide a suitable price for something that never existed?”

The team had a challenge ahead of them– the only comparisons available were ultra-budget hotels and homestays. So, the price had to be lower than whatever they cost to create a more pocket-friendly bracket.

The brand came up with a price of INR 500 per night, and the model hasn’t wavered since then. The success of this model is evident in one fact– goSTOPS continues to acquire and transform budget hotels into backpacker hostels that are loved by millennials and gen Z alike.

Hovering over the hurdles

Any business is subject to its own set of difficulties. While it’s important to keep a contingency plan for expected problems, there are some issues that cannot be predicted. So, the aim is to adapt without stopping.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the entire hospitality sector was hit. But goSTOPS adapted– they transformed into an ideal workation spot for their customers. From investors to upper level management, the entire team joined hands to keep the company afloat when business was slow. With a thorough mix of refined effort and persistence, the company sailed through one of the most difficult times in history.

E for Entrepreneur. E for Effort.

Being an entrepreneur is all about putting your best effort. You can get tired, but you can’t stop. While consistency is key, courage is paramount.

Pallavi started with one hostel in Varanasi, and now runs 28 hostels across 27 cities in India, and her business continues to grow.Having catered to over 500,000 travellers since 2014, we asked what’s her secret to this resounding success, and she had just one thing to say: “Once you realize there is no shortcut to success, you realize that you need to learn from the people around you, and incorporate the best practices you come across.”

What keeps her going we asked, it’s learning, she responded, “There will be challenges, mistakes will happen, but you need to learn from them and forge ahead.”

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