Interview with Ritesh Mohan Srivastava, Head of Analytics at Yatra

Ritesh Mohan Srivastava Interview - Fusion Analytics World

In a conversation Mr. Ritesh Mohan Srivastava, Head of Advanced Analytics, Yatra divulged Fusion Analytics World how Yatra is changing the game at user level using advanced ML algorithm and predictive modeling. To add diversity to his team, he is currently hiring ML data scientists and Sr. Data engineers.

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I hail from Varanasi, UP, did my engineering from Lucknow. After doing an advanced analytics course from Praxis Kolkata and I went ahead to complete my executive education from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. I have worked across various geographies in different domains over the years. I worked with Fortune 30 companies in the US as well as led analytics team for early age start-ups. I currently head the Advanced analytics and Data sciences team at Yatra. I and my team take care of every data related need of the company. The team is broadly divided into 3-subdivision mainly: Data Visualization, Data engineering, and Machine learning/ Predictive analytics team. We closely work with CXO’s on solving unique and complex problems.

If you can briefly introduce Yatra to our readers (employees, revenue, offerings, USP).

Founded in August 2006 by Sabina Chopra, Manish Amin, and Dhruv Shringi, Gurugram-based online travel portal Yatra currently claims to have tie-ups with over 65,000 hotels in India and nearly 500,000 hotels across the globe. The 11-year-old company is backed by IDG Ventures, Vertex Venture Management, Norwest Venture Partners, and other investors.

Yatra has made a string of acquisitions geared towards growth and expansion. These include Travelguru, Travel-Logs, WhatsApp-based concierge app Dudegenie and Bengaluru-based auto rickshaw aggregator MGaadi. In July 2016, Yatra signed a reverse merger agreement with NASDAQ-listed firm Terrapin 3 Acquisition Corp (TRTL).

Yatra has been consistently awarded as the most trusted travel brand in India.

Your professional experience is impressive. What key elements have guided your choices? How has been your journey till now?

Thanks. I would say my journey till now is far from normal. I never intended to land in this particular field. I hated math as a child and wanted to join the army or be a social activist. However, when I started my career and got to understand the difference between a decision and a well informed – data backed decision. I got interested in Data analytics.

My time at Praxis and IIM-B helped me a lot and changed the way I perceive analytical problems. Thanks to the more than awesome faculty of the colleges like every journey, there have been a fair share of high and lows in mine too. Thanks to my family, they always stood beside me like a rock and that helped me overcome the barriers.

Though there is no substitute for hard work, I believe success is also about acting upon right kind of opportunities at right time. It is very important to set the right kind of goals and doing that only after understanding your positives and negatives. Have peace with yourself. Focus on what you have rather what you don’t and while you act upon it, keep upgrading. I believe that’s the key. Don’t be a person you were a year back, Be a better version of yourself.

Upgrade. Evolve. Fail

But learn from your past and fail better every time.

What are some of the dilemma businesses are facing while setting up of the analytics teams? In your opinion what checklist they should follow?

Setting up an analytics from the scratch is always challenging and luckily I have done it a couple of times. There are two major issues that one can face.

1. Match up the expectation of the CXO’s. Every CXO I have worked with in my career had a very different vision and understanding of ‘Analytics’ and the analytics team they want in place. The vague use of term ‘Analytics’ also adds into the confusion. For ex. An online company wants to set up a Digital/web analytics team but hires a Machine-learning engineer instead.

2. Getting a candidate with a right mix of skills – I believe every role in an analytics team requires a different skill set with right kind of attitude and unique amount of perseverance and temperament.  We interview candidates who have just started their career and hate number crunching/data cleaning and settle for nothing less than a predictive modeling project and experienced managers who have the technical expertise but can’t communicate the project’s findings to stakeholders in an effective manner.

Our approach is to have a very clear understanding of what the leaders want from the team and align our team to their vision. A clear and detailed job description also helps a lot as the person knows what he is getting into and thus reducing the probability of talent-churn.

Topic of big data is a hot one in the travel industry these days, but it seems that many companies are still struggling with the concept of data collection and using the right data to improve their business strategy. Your thoughts?

Data collection is tricky and what’s trickier is to make sense of all the data you have. For ex. Web scraping – It’s pretty doable but leaves you with a huge amount of information. Now if you are doing it just because everyone is doing it will put you in an uncomfortable space, rather have a detailed plan and act accordingly. If you are a startup which doesn’t have much traction on the website, you don’t need Hadoop but you go ahead and have it anyway because everyone is doing it.

We can get data from ‘n’ number of sources but bringing it down to user level or connecting all of it with a unique id is an issue, which everyone faces. A decent approach to this problem would be to take it slow and have more data sources pour in as you mature your analytics team and have well-defined projects in place.

If you can take us through Yatra’s analytics journey: when did it start, team size, data sources used, how analytics is applied and the tools/software used?

BI and Analytics was always a part of Yatra however with recent market development and competition, we are more focused on becoming a completely data driven company from the last couple of years. The current team size is 20+ with more people joining in coming months. We have really bright minds from IIT’s, NIT’s and IIM’s with solid analytics background working with us. Talking about data sources, we have various sources of data such as clickstream (user behavior data on the website), transaction level data, data coming from GA, CRM and call center data and then there is offline data coming from our partners and vendors. We use a decent mix of open source and proprietary tools such R, Python, QlikSense, Cassandra, Hadoop, MongoDB, Talend etc.

Besides reach out and acquiring customers, do you also use data analytics to customize your packages and your services to create packages especially for individual customers?

Besides doing the conventional marketing analytics, we have brought the game at a user level for Flight and Hotels LOB’s using advanced ML algorithm and predictive modeling. Real time user level discounting and cross sell recco engine is something, which is a good example of what we are trying to achieve for all of our LOB’s. By the end of the year, we will be in a much better position.

If you can talk about how analytics is used to segment customers, make predictions? How do you trigger promotions? How has analytics helped in improving customer experience?

Customer segmentation is the key to a business like ours. The idea is to not take a decision only on the transaction data of the users but also collate and bring in data sources, which tell a story about him/her. For ex. If a user is coming on my website to book a hotel, clickstream data helps us to understand the behavior of the user by giving me numbers like how many times he changes his destination and to what, how does he sort, his payment patterns etc. We can then marry this information from other data source to come up with smart an accurate recommendation that ultimately reflects in traffic/conversion. So if you book a flight with Yatra, we show you smart hotels options based on your previous history, the behavior you display while booking a flight, your social media activities etc, which in turn ensures that you see what you really want.

It is estimated that hotels and packages as a revenue stream will become more important in the future compared to air fares. Would data analytics and targeted marketing be even more critical?

I couldn’t agree more with you. Air tickets sell on a very tight margin and that makes Hotels, Holidays, Cabs etc becomes more important. Due to digital boom and awareness from social media, people are traveling like never before. However unlike the air tickets business, selling hotels and holidays is a much more complex process and so is the analytics involved.  Competition is fierce and customers want a bang for their buck, that is only possible with right and real-time tailor made recommendations for him/her. We have a very small window to act upon and a precise amalgamation of analytics and targeted marketing can help us here.

What are the particularities of the data scientist role in Yatra? What will it look like in 5 years? How analytics team is scaling up and what its future goals is.

It’s a relatively young team and we have a lot going on. We are in prices of becoming a 100% data driven company, which is a long-term process. The problems that we face on daily basis are quite unique and need different analytical approaches, also the data is huge. So a typical data scientist will be an all rounder with the data engineering and analytics skill set, machine learning/AI is something which will be a big plus.

Which are the analytics positions you are recruiting currently? How can our readers apply for these positions?

We are currently looking for ML data scientist with strong NLP exposure and a Senior big data engineer. Apart from these open position we also open for good and dynamic interns. Interested people can email their resume to me at ritesh.srivastava@yatra.com

It’s been a pleasure to chat with you Ritesh. Thank you for your time.

Thank you Kalyan!

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Kalyan Banga203 Posts

I am Kalyan Banga, a Post Graduate in Business Analytics from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, a premier management institute, ranked best B-School in Asia in FT Masters management global rankings. I have spent 6 years in field of Analytics.

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