Building the world’s largest digital visa provider

21st September 2023

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” This encapsulates the persona of the modern traveler; they are individuals who value both the nimbleness of the process of getting to the destination and the calm that ensues upon reaching it. Innate to both is the ability to find quick and accurate solutions for the gamut of transactions that we engage in while planning for travel.

We have indeed come a long way from the time of planning grandiose vacations months in advance. Gone are the days of coordinating with 3 separate vendors for accommodation, flight tickets and experiences separately, queueing hours in advance at the airport and making frantic calls to figure out check-in timings. The modern traveler is lucky, for they have a multitude of information at their disposal. Ranging from OTAs that tackle information asymmetry common to the process of booking for accommodation/commute to a host of creators who helped us discover the tuck shop that serves pizza for $1 behind the last stop on the New York subway. As the world emerged out of a pandemic, millennials and Gen Z embraced longer workations. Flexibility became the overarching need to solve for. As we made significant strides on the discovery front across flights, experiences, accommodation and even people (hello, group trips curated by your favourite Instagram travel vlogger), we continued to paper over our plight of applying for visas for international travel many months in advance.

The visa process causes the most anxiety among travelers. This is especially aggravated in countries such as India, with weak passports and relatively high rejection rates, even for clerical errors and incomplete evidence gathering. Even the information on embassy and consulate websites is often not updated or described in technical terms which tends to leave people confused.

Visa applications tend to leave travellers confused

This confusion is the main reason why travelers rely on a network of agents for executing the visa process. These agents themselves struggle to manage, with the longer tail of agents not offering this as a service altogether. The more established agents struggle with trying to provision ample manpower to collect information and coordinate with 5-10 travelers per agent per day. Agents are, therefore, able to charge a 5-20% commission on top of the embassy’s application fee. Even as countries make attempts to introduce e-visas, adoption of the DIY approach has been scant, limited to a few international travel-savvy individuals. We estimate that 90%+ of the industry is still controlled by agents, including OTAs themselves, who work with agents at the backend. The pervasiveness of the problem was apparent with around 16 million travelers in India alone traveling for short trips (business trips, holidays, visits) in 2022. This number is expected to be closer to 25 million by 2027. On average, we spend about $150-200 on visas for short-term travel, sizing the market at close to $2.5 billion in India alone.

Agents are also able to upsell attachments such as travel insurance, forex cards, and VAT refunds in many cases, which is a market opportunity of another $200-250 million. We also noted that the problems of travelers from other countries with weaker passports (Russia, Malaysia, Ukraine, etc.) mimic those faced by Indians and that this is a pain point for around another 60 million short-trip travelers across the other top 10 countries with the weakest passports. Given the severity of the pain point (and our lived experience), we were looking for a solution to this issue.

Introducing Atlys! We were lucky to have met with Mohak Nahta, the founder of Atlys, in early-2021 when Atlys was a B2C app in the US solving the complexity associated with applying for visas. They saw organic adoption from NRI travelers for whom the visa process was a significantly bigger pain point than US travelers. As NRIs started recommending the product to Indian citizens and Indians organically discovered the product in early 2022, the team decided to shift their focus to building for weaker passport countries, starting with India. Today, the team offers both a simple DIY flow as well as a SaaS product for travel agents, which they started in July 2022.

Atlys’ solution is intuitive, boiling the complex visa process down to only an essential and easy-to-understand guided process. A few easy image uploads and simple questions is all it takes for you to get a visa on Atlys. You start by specifying the date of travel and duration of visa. Post which the app asks you to upload pictures of yourself and your passport. They use the information to automatically file visas on the official portals on the backend. There are several aspects of simplification that Atlys leverages, such as removing repetitive questions, removing parts of the application/questions which have obvious answers (E.g. First question on the Australian Visa form is ‘Is the applicant currently outside Australia’), auto-populating information basis your documents uploaded (e.g. Name, Family name, age etc. with passport information), etc. Atlys also makes the documentation process significantly easier by auto-uploading any previously uploaded document and building integrations for information (e.g. integration of Indian ITR portal, etc.). With their entire simplification stack, they manage to make the visa application process much easier and extremely fast - the Australian visa application - a 20-page form that requires several documents - can be completed within less than 3 minutes.

For us, it was heartening to see that the product spoke for itself, and Atlys has grown its GMV 8x in the last 8 months and went from working with 1 agent to 1000+ agents for its B2B product since inception. Mohak is deeply customer-obsessed and displays strong product-first thinking, which is telling of why we have seen robust M3 retention at upwards of 85% for the travel agents. We believe that there is a large headroom for expansion into ancillaries – Forex, Bookings, VAT refunds, etc. – as Mohak looks to integrate some of these attachments.

We are very excited to partner with Atlys by co-leading the $12.5 million Series A round in the company. Our vision for Atlys is to be the bespoke solution for all your visa and travel planning-related worries and we couldn’t be more excited.