Srin Madipalli is co-founder of Accomable, a service to help people with mobility difficulties find accessible hotels, vacation rentals and apartments around the world. Based in the U.K., Srin and the Accomable team successfully raised £300,000 in seed funding recently, a record amount for an accessibility platform. He spoke with Ireland-based curator Elizabeth Douet to share Accomable’s story and future plans.
What is the easiest way to explain Accomable?
Accomable is platform for people with disabilities or mobility issues to find and book suitable hotel and vacation rental accommodation.
This is currently a majorly underserved market where a really major need exists. What’s more, increasingly ageing populations in the Western world will mean there are more and more travellers with mobility issues.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what fueled you to start-up the platform.
I’m a 30 year old tech entrepreneur from London. I’m also a wheelchair user who travels frequently. I became frustrated with how hard it was to find suitable accommodation and how few online services and resources were available.
How long did it take to build Accomable?
I’m a self-taught coder and I built the prototype in about 3 weeks. We iterate and improve the product on a daily basis in response to user feedback. Following a soft launch in July 2015, we initially focused on small to medium sized hotel listings that could get up and listed right away. We are now working with large international hotel groups on a pilot scheme. As for users, we have been active in social media forums and partnered with organisations specifically for people with mobility challenges. Reaching potential users online and having them use digital platforms to procure services is quite straight forward as tech is usually already a central enabler to the daily lives of people who have disabilities. Accomable is another digital channel helping them to meet their specific needs.
What funding have you had along the way?
We have just raised £300,000 in seed funding – a record amount for an accessibility platform. This will enable us to continue building a world class product, and to increase expansion in new markets. We’re really excited about the year ahead. When we started out in 2015, we received a £20,000 grant from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University.
What is Accomable’s business model?
Like other popular hotel booking sites, we charge our vendors a commission. We also plan to offer additional services, including specialist insurance and accessible vehicle hire.
What is your favourite success story so far?
I love hearing from our customers. We had a fantastic review recently from a young woman who had just been on holiday to one of our B&Bs in Cornwall. She had been nervous about the trip, as she’d had bad experiences from booking accommodation independently in the past, which turned out to not be accessible. But she came back absolutely glowing about her holiday. That’s what it’s all about.
What is your biggest challenge?
Finding and vetting accessible accommodation and giving our users the trust they require. There is a balance to achieve in how granular facility listings get. Our users potentially require a wide range of adapted lodging facilities, starting from hand rails in a bathroom for minor mobility issues on to quasi-medical facilities for anyone with a spinal cord injury. Additionally, the level of adaptation in lodging vendors is also broad. Accomable strives to strike a balance in how it lists adapted lodging options, we want to be understandable and clear to our users. Right now properties are vetted by photos and videos to maximize transparency and ensure provision of adapted lodging facilities. We are also looking into enabling our customers to ‘endorse’ a property’s accessibility.
In your opinion, what is necessary for Accomable to continue its success?
We need to finalise partnerships with the major hotel chains so we can get inventory at scale. We have great in-house technical and engineering capabilities and are now looking to grow partnerships with hotel chains worldwide and to work with community organisations to scale both sides of the marketplace rapidly.
How important to Accomable’s business model is building a community?
The business model makes the site something that can be commercially sustainable and in turn allows us to hire people to help grow and curate the community. Building a strong community will be a key element to Accomable’s success, initially to help scale and then to generate user reviews, a strong Q&A section and dynamic community where users help each other out in recommendations and lodging selection.
For us, building community is really important, not simply in terms of reaching more people and generating sales, but in ensuring we build the best possible product for our customers. We love that collaborative approach, which is why we’re always inviting our community to recommend accessible properties and to join in with our forum on the site.
What steps have you taken to build a community?
We have an active Facebook and Twitter following. Also, Accomable was originally part of the DisabilityHorizons magazine which in turn has 25,000 monthly readers. Our team actively engage with users, but we also spend a lot of time helping users communicate with one another to share advice on travel.
How have consumers responded to the business?
It’s been pretty easy to gain users on the traveller side as this market is so poorly served. Finding vendors with suitable accommodation and getting the large hotel chains to work with us has been harder. We are currently establishing pilot schemes with global hotel groups.
How might your company work alongside other collaborative consumption services?
Longer term, we want to offer our users a host of related travel services such as adapted car hire, medical equipment hire, specialist insurance etc. There may be other sharing economy platforms offering such services that we can partner with and offer our users a better travel experience overall.
Does Accomable have competitors? If so, how is it different?
There a couple of early stage ventures trying to create something similar. We already have a community and the largest collection of adapted properties. Also the fact that the founding team has wheelchair users who really understand the problem that our customers face, gives us a unique insight that other companies do not have. Our plans to expand into a number of other services that our users require when they travel also makes our offering unique.
A unique fact/statistic that surprises people about Accomable is…
That we recently listed our first adapted canal boat.
Where do you see Accomable in five years?
As the world’s leading platform for people with mobility issues, offering specialised hotel, transport and insurance.
What’s the one thing you wish someone would have told you when you started Accomable?
To get some sleep now. It’s going to be a busy year!
Accomable by Numbers
Team: 5 team members working full time
Listings: Over 500 properties in 36 countries
Bookings: 70-80 bookings per month on average (current platform matches user to property, future platform will be able to manage in-app booking and payment services)
Funding to date: £300,000 seed round from a group of leading technology investors in London and £20,000 from the Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship at Oxford University