Philippine travel startup Bliimo eyes expansion to six countries

Ronn Mitchell Esguerra, founder and CEO, Bliimo

Bliimo, a travel experience-based startup from the Philippines, is targeting to expand into at least six countries in the next two years, with its newly-launched app that provides a fully-integrated platform for users to book trips and customize itineraries.

Launched in late January, the Bliimo app allows users to personalize their itinerary by selecting from a pool of activities and adventures. They can also create their very own bucket list, Ronn Mitchell Esguerra, founder and CEO of Bliimo, told DEALSTREETASIA in an interaction.

Bliimo is just one of the few startups in the Philippines that have actually managed to launch. With the scarcity of venture capitalists and angel investors in the country, startups in the Philippines often get stuck into becoming a mere idea, without a chance of kicking off.

“The Philippines’ investment community is still young and most often than not, still traditional. There are a variety of challenges that we founders face here than in any other country,” Esguerra shared.

Currently, Bliimo’s operations span across cities in Luzon, a few in the Visayas, and in Mindanao. Esguerra said the company is looking at having that base grow as it saturates one city at a time, starting from the Mega Manila Area.

“Eventually, when we’ve saturated most of the major tourist hotspots together with those that are yet to be discovered but offer a wide variety of activities and experiences, we’ll be expanding further into 6 other counties in two years’ time,” he said.

Esguerra talks to DEALSTREEASIA about Bliimo’s operations, the company’s goals, and how Filipino founders should never quit despite their failed attempts at raising funds.

Edited excerpts:

Can you talk about Bliimo’s business model and operation?

Bliimo has been ideated to help the growth of the whole “experience” industry, most especially here in the Philippines before going global. Our business model is anchored upon providing a direct line between activity providers and users to maximize efficiency and revenue for the merchants.

We place a small amount of commission as we intermediate between the two parties. We only charge a maximum of 10 percent commission in every transaction and it goes down from there, even down to only 4 percent. We’ve conceptualized a tiering system to make sure that the merchant takes home enough, to grow their business and improve their services. That way, when they grow, we all grow with them.

We also do not ask for discounts at this point, as we give the merchants freedom to control their pricing so long as it is under our fair pricing policies which should eventually promote in-app competition between merchants.

What is your short-term and long-term vision for Bliimo?

Bliimo has always been envisioned to be a product that would boost economies, particularly through the tourism sector of the nations we touch. Now that we’ve started, we’ll tirelessly promote the Philippines by giving tourists a glimpse of what they will experience here.

Even if we have so many beautiful islands, landscapes, and beaches, so many natural wonders, plus the fact that our culture is almost indisputably the most hospitable in Asia, we are still lagging in terms of the GDP contribution of tourism as compared to our neighboring countries.

Of course, that comes with a variety of challenges, but I always see to it that if we can start it, we will, so here we are. We want to provide users with a new way of using technology in travel and tourism by marrying ideas that work and innovating on old models of transaction.

We’re always in it to provide fresh ideas to the market. When all goes well within two years of our projected local expansion, we’ll be expanding to six other countries.

What makes Bliimo different from other existing travel apps?

Bliimo was developed for the people. We have also developed the very first customized itinerary system, we want to empower users to be able to decide on their own and plan their adventures the way they want to. From what to do, to what comes next, to how much they have budgeted to pay.

Plus the fact that we’re developing a collaborative system of planning your itineraries and sharing your bucket-listed activities and experiences through our very own chat system so your loved ones can easily contribute to the planning. At the end of the day, have given what all travelers were always supposed to be given – a choice.

As a Philippine startup, what are your fundraising challenges? How do you deal with them?

The Philippines’ investment community is still young and most often than not, still traditional. There are a variety of challenges that we founders face here than in any other country. Getting funding does not only concern money, but also an agreement of principle between investors and founders. Both sides have to choose each other, in order to maintain a relationship that would lead the whole company into success.

It is hard enough to find the right people to talk to, and even harder to convince them that you are worth their time, but you simply have to be persistent and push through.

Any advice to Filipinos who have the idea but are taken aback by funding woes?

Do not stop. If you feel like you’ve done everything you can, you haven’t. If you feel like you’ve exhausted all your options, you haven’t. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture again, there’s always something there that you’ve missed. Remember the purpose you had when you started the idea, and have that in your heart always as you strive and push through all the challenges. Rejection is part of the game, and as you keep on trying, the law of averages will at some point still make you win.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.