Few years ago I was searching for a bus ticket from Singapore to Malaysia. Few months ago again I was searching for a bus ticket from Jakarta to Bogor, and a few weeks ago I was looking for a bus from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. Finally I ended up the same way by going to the bus station few hours or few days in advance to make sure I can reserve the tickets. My life would be much easier if I had known 12GO.Asia before. 12go.asia was created when the founder met the same issue as above problem while travelling on the road. I have had a chat with Bogdan Butyrev – one of the key persons helping Alexey implement his idea to the reality.
How did the project start?
The project started in 2011 when Alexey Abolmasov, the founder, decided to change the way a foreign traveler could plan his/her trip while exploring the exotic countries of SEA region. At that time he was moving around Thailand quite extensively as a backpacker and found that it’s really not a trivial task to book your transit within the country: first you should physically find the provider – the location of its box office, then select a proper route, and buy your paper ticket by cash. No options for online bookings were available with a very few exceptions, which appeared to be useless – unless you could read and write in Thai fluently.
Who are the target customers?
Initially the main target audience was the foreign travelers in SEA, specifically backpackers. Now we have seriously expanded the coverage as far as the service is unique and really useful not only for tourists but for the locals who need to travel inland the region. I.e. there were more than 25 million tourists visiting Thailand in 2013 and counting, and that looks big. Or better – BIG. However most of the tourists are so called “packaged tourists”: they are brought in with a charter flight, then moved to their hotels with a charter bus, and finally got back to their home countries hardly even leaving the resort once. Obviously the vast majority of riders are represented by the local people who use buses, ferries and trains daily – our research shows the growing demand for the online ticketing services as well as for a common clearing house to support a single ticket document for all the means of “non-flying” transportation.
What is the value proposition for the customers?
It is all about providing the convenient service, and it is quite simple:
- Quick – we allow travelers all around SEA to book in advance their ground, water and low-cost air trips online in no longer than 5 minutes time.
- Easy – our customers will book their tickets without a hassle of dealing with various local languages and having multiple paper tickets to keep.
- Secure – we sell tickets for officially licensed public transit operators only delivering a selection of payment options including but not limited to credit cards, PayPal and counter service (7-Eleven).
How do customers know about your website?
That’s our major concern now, and we do a lot of efforts to promote 12Go Asia’ service online. We use multiple tools i.e. our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/One2go.asia), promoting our mobile applications available for iOS and Android now; also we do some offline promotion like leaflets distribution nearby the major bus & train stations, printed adverts in travelers magazines etc. At the same time we offer our online partner program (http://agent.12go.asia/) for those who wants to take part in earning some money on selling tickets offering our service to their web sites’ visitors. We developed an excellent widget to put on a web site – it is pretty simple, efficient and looks nice:
There are some startups disrupting this field in Southeast Asia and Asia: BusOnlineTicket – Malaysia, EasiBook/CatchThatBus Singapore & Malaysia, Tiket – Indonesia, PinoyTravel – Philippines, RedBus in India… So what is the difference between 12GO and these players?
All the companies you’ve referred to are dealing with buses only having their home country coverage. 12Go Asia is the only service offering multimodal traveling using buses, ferries and trains. At the moment we are the only company offering the pan-regional coverage as well: for instance right now an adventurous rider could book a travel from Singapore to Chiang Mai at the Northern Thailand – it will take 2 days and will cost around USD 90, and it is a real alternative now!
We all know there are lots of people using bus to travel. Could you share some of their portraits and behaviors? Any statistics?
Well, so far the vast majority of our riders are foreign travelers, mostly backpackers. There are some foreigners who reside in SEA permanently as well. A lot of booking are made from overseas locations as the customers are planning their trips in advance.
Desktop and mobile, which option has the higher priority. And why?
Mobile – no-brainer. Getting back to our value proposition I’d say it is all about convenience: all our life depends on smartphones now. We’ve got everything there starting from an alarm clock, pictures, e-books, your favorite games, and up to your e-wallets and social networks. Just have a look at the people in the nearest bus or metro car: 90% of the riders are watching their smartphones all the way. Saying that a bit more formal the current trend shows a huge increase in mobile data traffic, which means we should seriously consider that as our target area for development. Also delivering a travel-related service means dealing with people on the road – have you seen many of them having their desktops in the backpack? J
You’re from Russia, and have worked across many countries in Asia. How does this experience support your current work?
Asian people have a different mindset comparing to Europeans indeed. I’ve spent more than 5 years in Asia, both Southern and Northern, still struggling to understand the local mentality sometimes. However it definitely works better for me than for a newcomer as I see some small tiny things which are important here and goes completely beyond the common sense of a standard “farang” from EU or US. Doing business – especially a startup – means communication first, and I do believe it is a bit easier for me after all those years in Asia.
How could a traveler buy and pay a ticket from 12Go? Is it much different from the traditional process to buy a ticket offline? What is the thing they’re concerning while buying bus ticket online now?
The buying process is pretty easy indeed and similar to buying something from any e-shop online. A traveler should select his destination and departure points, then find an appropriate time and mean of transport, and click the green “Buy” button. The system will then lead the customer through the whole process until the very moment of selection of the way of payment. There are 2 buttons now: credit cards or counter service. With the first option you pay right away and getting your tickets immediately via e-mail, while with the counter service your seat is reserved for the period of 3 hours to let you go and pay with the closest 7-Eleven. Easy as 1-2-Go! J The only difference with the offline is that you should not even leave your chair to make the purchase.
Which cities is 12Go covering in Thailand?
We cover the whole country: more than 350 destinations inland. However it is important to remember that the service is aimed to make your booking experience better – not to create a shortest route. Of course the system apply a specific algorithm to build up the best route using some connections if needed, but sometimes it does not look the shortest way as we use the official public transit companies with fixed routes, thus the system could create a longer path.
Which countries 12Go operating in Asia? Any interesting stories while running in these countries?
12Go Asia currently provides the data for 8 countries in SEA: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam and Indonesia. Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia & Brunei are bookable while all the rest are just searchable for the moment. Plenty of funny things happened to us while we were traveling to check the best buses and ferries ourselves just to offer the best options to our customers – safe, reliable, good quality of equipment etc., but most of the stories are like in the old black & white comedy movies: it is difficult to explain because you should see that. J
How does 12GO make money?
It is a simple formula: we are trying to get some small discount from the operating companies as the tickets are provided at the same price you may get at the offline box office. In addition 12Go Asia takes a 10% administration fee to cover the expenses.
Finally what is your most challenging work for the next six months?
We’ve just launched our new mobile apps at the Apple AppStore and Google Play Market; now we work hard on the next version of our main web site (follow the news and you’ll see the facelift very soon – that will be a real boom!). And of course the major challenge is the regional expansion: for the coming 6 month we should move 3 more countries from searchable to bookable mode and that’s a real job to be done!