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HANSA 08-2019

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Schifffahrt | Shipping

Schifffahrt | Shipping »You have to understand refundability of flights« Booking, managing, changing and cancelling flights is a major task for crew managers who send marine crews around the world. Dmitrii Beliakov is currently turning the marine travelling market upside down with his app C Teleport What is the story behind C Teleport? Dmitrii Beliakov: I have been building start-ups for the past 15 years, primarily in the software and IT area. One of my companies before C Teleport was Crew Planet, a recruitment company for the maritime industry. It actually was one of the first for online recruitment solutions in the world back in 2005. One thing that we could not automate back then was flight booking. I could not understand why and obviously competitors either considered the market to be too small or the technology to be too complicated. In the beginning, we suggested to our flight providers that we would develop the software and use their flights, plug them into our platform and that’s it. That did not work out. This was the moment for us to say: »This is a business opportunity«. And we decided to explore it. We started the platform two years ago in June 2017 and in January 2018 we already were profitable. This is my fifth start-up and it is definitely the fastest growing. Companies we have showed it to were all super-excited. What exactly does the app do that traditional travel managers can’t? Beliakov: Flying has become a lot cheaper. 75% of the costs for traditional flight agents are labour related. We don’t have that. We just have servers to do the job, thus, we can offer lower fees and significant time improvements. Those who book flights – the crew managers who arrange crew changes and move marine crews around – they just spend a couple of minutes booking a flight and their job is done, instead of sending multiple emails back and forth. That means a time saving of 90%. There is nothing left to do for travel managers. Another important point is finances and accounting. Transparency of costs is very important, but it usually is not there. It is very hard to control the costs and flights is one of the big items on crew managers’ profit and loss reports. We make everything related to flights super-transparent. Everything is online: all sorts of reporting, invoices, cancellations etc. Pretty much all our competitors, all of them major players, come knocking at our door to get the license for our software. For them it is difficult to develop or even adopt the technology, as they don’t need their office staff anymore. What should they do with all the personnel they have been hiring over the past 30 years? One can imagine that this process isn’t easy since the maritime industry isn’t exactly quick in adopting new technologies... Beliakov: I knew that everyone would have to say »why not« to the product. There were just a few checkboxes to be closed to make even the implementation very efficient. One thing that we do is change management. It is not only the maritime industry that is very old-fashioned and slow in changes, but more or less any large company as it means responsibility, risk implications etc. We give them a very clear roadmap of how the technology is going to be implemented. We do that in a risk-free environment – if you don’t like it, you just pull the plug and go back to your traditional vendors. We are so confident it gojng to work that we take all the financial and operational risk. We have had a few not so successful cases in the early history of the company, but all the customers © C Teleport 42 HANSA International Maritime Journal 08 | 2019

Schifffahrt | Shipping we closed in 2018 and 2019 are successful. Change management in a corporate ecosystem is extremely complicated. It requires commitment from us to deliver a cutting-edge product that works spotlessly, but also significant commitment from the customer. The management level employees have to be determined to bring the new technology to life. But they also need some kind of insurance. We allow them to feel really secure in change management, that what helps us to grow fast. Why is there a particular need for an app like this in the maritime industry? Beliakov: When I started this company, I already had some experience in venture capital. All over the world, venture capitalists and big investment companies tell entrepreneurs: »If it isn’t a half a billion dollar market, we’re not investing.« Every investor is interested in a large market. The marine travel market is not a big one, it is a slim margin business. So I wasn’t interested at first, too. But then I discovered the reasons why there were specialized marine travel agents. To be a travel agent in this industry, you have to understand one important thing: refundability of flights. Without this factor, it is impossible to build the online platform for it. That is why huge players like GMT, VCK or ATPI haven’t come up with online solutions, because refundability is very hard to understand. That is due to technical limitations in the airline industry. They cannot explain travel agents how to exactly change, cancel or refund tickets. We took another route: With our experience in artificial intelligence we decided to build an algorithm that works as a travel agent. It mimics the behaviour of a human travel agent, it reads the airlines’ rules for refundability and interprets them. This means that we can sell tickets to marine companies online – that is the easy part – and we can change and cancel tickets online. The global business travel market has high demand for this capability and there is no solution on the market except C Teleport. Even big companies like airline KLM still do this manually and have decided to invest in us. So, last year we got 1.2 mill. € from the investment fund backed by KLM. Are you offering the platform only to the marine market right now? Beliakov: We started with marine flights for the crew and then experimented with flights for marine office staff. In the coming years, C Teleport will be shifting its attention to broader markets, not only marine but also offshore, energy, passenger, yachts, journalists, TV teams, mining etc. – all the markets that require high flexibility in travel. When sales started growing we increased our team that currently consists of nine people. We have plans to double this team within the coming one or two years. We are not bound geographically. Who are your customers and what is your market share? Beliakov: For the past 1.5 years we have been growing 18% per month in terms of number of customers in our portfolio. And the rate of customers leaving our platform is close to zero. I cannot disclose the absolute number of flights – it is not really that interesting when you look at a start-up, which we still are. We cannot conquer the whole world within two years, but we are growing faster than any travel agent in the industry, that’s for sure. For those who don’t have in-house travel agents, it is a no-brainer: you take the platform and don’t need the external service providers anymore from then on. For those who have the personnel in-house, it is a different story. In the beginning we thought: »We cannot address this market, how can we compete with those travel agents? They have their own in-house chemistry and processes etc.« But we recently launched a new platform that is based on our technology, where in-house travel agents just take their own flights, plug them into C Teleport and use it as The app uses artificial intelligence find the most favourable terms an interface, improving their workflow. A problem for in-house travel agents is that they cannot compete with global players like ATPI. You have to use multiple geographical locations to be able to provide the best price. With C Teleport we allow any user to use global search and plug into international content without affecting their cost structure. Who are potential investors? Are large shipowners or ship managers an option or do you want to stay independent? Beliakov: That is definitely an option. In fact, we are inviting large shipowners to look at us. We already have a few shipowners in our list of investors. However, we are not a small company anymore so the next investment will be substantial. We are in discussion with a few pretty large players in the market. How will the next steps for C Teleport look like? Beliakov: One of our recent milestones was the release of the iPhone app. Now we cover both Android and iPhone systems. Crew managers can now book and manage flights via mobile phone. The next step for the company would be to attract new investments. And using that, we will expand our offering on the office flight side. We want superintendents, quality engineers, service providers, traveling engineers and teams to use C Teleport. By the end of the this year we will deliver a cutting edge app for corporate travel where you just swipe to change or cancel your flights. Interview: Felix Selzer © C Teleport HANSA International Maritime Journal 08 | 2019 43

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