Millennials love to travel.
In fact, they’re said to spend more than $200 billion annually on travel.
But more than just saving up for the next luxurious trip to a faraway (preferably picturesque) place, millennials crave trips that aren’t cookie-cutter, tour guide-led ones.
More often that not, they prefer to plan their own itineraries, bookmarking travel articles and asking around their social circles for recommendations on places to go.
Cue hours spent on Google Docs, editing, re-editing, and re-editing again an itinerary that’s meant to be shared among a group of friends – all of whom have very different ideas of what the ‘perfect’ holiday is.
A visually-driven generation, nicely-taken photos also tend to be the ones that draw the eyeballs and the visits, but stock images provide a less-than-ideal visualisation of what to expect.
To address these (admittedly first world) problems, a bunch of young Singaporeans are now looking to help fellow millennials plan their holidays without the hassle and arguments.
Goodbye, Google Docs
The inspiration for coming up with Packdat is simple – it stemmed from the personal experience of co-founder Lee Zheng De (20), who was surrounded by classmates who were planning for their Polytechnic graduation trips.
A final-year Engineering and Business student at Singapore Polytechnic (SP), he found that a lot of his peers, himself included, were still relying on the often tedious process of consolidating their trip research on Google Docs.
“They all start with a plan on Google Docs, and this is followed by hours and hours of research. People didn’t really want to get involved in the planning phase or even look at it because there were dozens of links to refer back to.”
This was when he approached his brother and co-founder Zheng Dao (21), a fresh graduate of SP’s Mechanical Engineering school, to come up with a solution – one which eventually became Packdat.
But this wasn’t their first romp with entrepreneurship.
Before Packdat, There Was Tripcendo
Tripcendo, the Lee brothers’ first venture, is particularly reminiscent of Airbnb’s Trips, where travellers can book ‘experiences’ hosted by locals.
Inspired by their trip to Taiwan, where a local friend they made there provided them invaluable insights on the best places to go, their return to Singapore saw them wanting to build a platform to “connect the world with travel”.
But without much capital (the only amount they had was raised from family and friends), the duo had to convince a developer friend to build the website, and later on, an ex-Garena software engineer to join them in their journey.
In May 2016, they launched Tripcendo, an online community marketplace that connected travellers with local hosts for specially-curated travel experiences.
At their peak, they acquired over 200 local hosts in Singapore alone, and even expanded to Manila – however, the problem of growth haunted them.
“The problem was while we had a good number of bookings, we had very little growth. We knew we had to pivot, so we moved to interesting experiences our team came up with, and we saw a little bit more growth there…but that went to almost zero in a few months.”
“After months of not working out, we found out that travellers, in spite of the growing trend of ‘local experiences’, were still looking to go for touristy attractions.”
But with the closing of one door, another opens, and at a small space in school, the team discussed ways to make a comeback – all while retaining their vision to connect people with travel.
“When left with almost nothing but a platform and a community of really passionate travellers, all we could do was to fall back to what we knew – and that was solving problems.”
Eventually, one of their team members left due to health issues, and the other for a full-time job to support his family – though the two still remain as advisors to the Lee brothers in their new venture.
“It Wasn’t Any Eureka Moment”
Soon, the brothers found their answer in the very tedious process of trip planning.
“It wasn’t any eureka moment, we had gone through the same process before.”
“The team started doing our research and brainstorming on a simple wireframe prototype. Within 2 weeks, we went out testing the mockup with our community.”
Revealing that the initial users gave them a lot of “constructive feedback and were so supportive because it resonated with them”, they also rebranded to Packdat – a name that “would represent an experience and a story told through travel. Like the pun ‘Packdat into your trip’, haha!”
During this period was also when they met their current CTO Shiva (27), who was graduating from his Masters in NUS.
“While giving us feedback and brainstorming alongside us, Zheng Dao and I thought that Shiva would be a great fit with the team. Now, he is doing the website for Packdat.”
What Is Packdat?
How Packdat works is simple – pick your destination, travel dates, and then invite your friends to join in on the planning fun.
What’s unique is that locations are rated using emojis that the regular social media user will be familiar with, and thus won’t need to read through lengthy reviews to gauge if a place is worth checking out or not.
Short descriptions of the location are also available on the platform, and users would be able to add them into their itineraries by simply choosing the date of visitation and the duration of time planned to spend there.
Launched barely 2 weeks ago, the platform is at its infancy stages, and the team is still working on implementing more features such as ‘Pack My Trip’ (to smartly arrange your itinerary by recommended routes and timings with the team’s hand-crafted algorithm) and ‘Real-Time Photos/Videos’ (a Snapchat-esque curation of content from the last 24-hours of a particular location).
“We are still working to fix the backend, and will be continuously working on the product itself. But such features will be rolled out within the next month or so, as there’s still work on the website and user experience that needs to be done.”
Difficulties Starting Up, And Moving Forward
Having needed to solidify the business and product strategy and gather a team of like-minded individuals, the team also needed to settle more administrative matters – like setting up bank accounts and taking into consideration legal matters.
Zheng De admitted that while there were several hiccups along the way, he found that “finding the right fit of people for the startup” was a lesson he benefitted the most from.
“We believe that everyone in the company is like part of the DNA of Packdat. It comprises of finding people with the right attitude, right skillsets, share the same vision, and more importantly, the right timing.”
“There will be people that share the same vision and the right skillsets, but will slowly fade off over a short period.”
However, Zheng De says that they take all the challenges in their stride, expressing their wish to just “keep learning and moving forward fast”.
Marketing-wise, they’re also producing their own content to engage current and potential users, and using “non-scalable” methods like the pasting of posters around their schools.
“We also wore our Packdat lanyard and went down to several schools to promote Packdat before the holidays, haha!”
Zheng De reveals that eventually, the team is looking forward to further “integrate community features into Packdat that can easily enable friends or even strangers to better share their travel experiences so that users can discover things that are unknown to them”.
At the moment, the team is still working on constantly improving the platform, having made the promise to launch updates every 3 days based on comments and feedback.
“This will keep us moving forward, fast. We believe in both good and bad feedback in keeping us connected to our community, and relentlessly improving the product for them to have a super simple and social experience while planning their trip.”