Traveling luggage-free is the future. Unicoaero provides the end to end solution for airlines to manage and track the mishandled baggage claims and deliver back to the passenger, while passengers can track each stage of their case. This helps to increase the NPS for airlines, and also improves their customer service at the same time.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ziko Atamuloev, the Founder and CEO of Unicoaero. He is a young serial entrepreneur who is passionate about revolutionizing the baggage space within the airline and travel industries, and who is committed to positively transforming the world. He founded Unicoaero in 2016 and currently resides in Sunnyvale, CA.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Everything started in 2008 when I was on a trip from Kiev to Prague. I was a student at the time and traveling for a summer school program. My bag was mishandled during that trip.
I didn’t get my bags back for 4 days and had no way to track them at that time. I thought that I was one of the few unlucky people who had their luggage lost, but now I know that I was one of the billions of upset passengers who experienced this unpleasant scenario. I didn’t know at that time, but later on this experience inspired me to revolutionize the baggage space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most interesting stories has been the issuance of IATA’s Resolution 753. Our goal as the Unicoaero team was to create a platform where airlines, ground handlers, couriers, and passengers experienced seamless transparency when it came to baggage tracking and handling.
We didn’t know the details about IATA 753 at the time, but we ending up building all of the features directly in our platform that helps airlines comply with IATA 753, which is mandatory for them.
IATA 753 officially came into effect in June 2018. We already had a ready product for airlines to start implementing immediately to comply with the resolution.
Long story short, we built the perfect product at the right time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A lot of things have changed since we started, but initially our goal was to build a platform similar to uber for baggage. We were thinking about developing a website where passengers could go and book an order, which helps them bypass the baggage carousel at arrivals on their trip.
But, after learning that this is going to be a very big challenge because of addressing a direct b2c market, we then turned our focus to b2b, which basically means that we help airlines trace and track mishandled bags more efficiently.
This strategy helps us grow the number of airlines and airports we work with, and build relationships with airlines and airports at the same time.
Nevertheless, even during the early days of the project, I would go and meet airlines for a pitch. After closing the deal, when airlines would place orders, I again would go and pick up their bags, and then deliver.
If someone would ask something like, “where is your driver?” my answer would be something like that they are waiting in the parking lot or another excuse.
I was a Unicoman, multi-tasking CEO.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our team and vision definitely make us stand out. Our team has the combination of travel expertise and Silicon Valley. I always wanted my team to be close to the Silicon Valley mindset, but to also understand the travel. The product roadmap that we have built is the perfect path to change the way people travel.
First, we focus on a b2b market and help airlines with mishandled bags and lost and found. This is the end to end solution that will help passengers to bypass carousels and baggage offices in the case that their bag is mishandled.
Also, they can file their mishandled baggage claim remotely. The tracking link will be provided to them so that they track their case and be aware of updates every step of the way. This is the valuable product that helps airlines cut costs and provide better customer service for passengers.
The next step is to provide b2c products which will help billions of passengers to travel luggage-free. Airports are getting smaller but the number of passengers to them is increasing. Our role is to provide door-to-door baggage delivery. That is the vision and how we want to impact the future of travel.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
The travel industry is very interesting. The market is very big, but the barrier to entry is also high. People don’t understand how difficult is to enter the b2b side of travel industry. Also, when it comes to b2c side of it, there are many tough regulations.
I always suggest focusing on a niche that would target the b2c market, but to also always find the middle man to reach out to the consumer.
The perfect way of succeeding in the travel industry is the b2b2c path.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Of course. First of all, let me share a story about how I hired one of our VP of Biz Developers. It was only me and one software developer at the time, so we needed someone who knew how to reach out to decision makers in the airline industry and sell the product.
I reached out to the former VP of Avianca and board member of Star Alliance and asked him if he could be the advisor to the company and later join us when we grow. He was also considering leaving the bureaucratic world of airlines and working on something more dynamic. Therefore, it was a right time for both of us. We reached out to many airlines together to make an important initial impact.
Another story is about my current VP of Products, who joined us when I only had a demo product and 2 airlines who were testing it. He introduced me to Plug and Play, which then invested and helped us close out angel round. Soon after, we had a bigger and team and developed a great product from scratch. I also appreciate Lynn Hampton, a former CFO of MWAA and Catherine Mayer, who used hold important positions at SITA. There are many other people who have helped us to achieve the current success and these people are from the VC world, travel industry and also even government officials.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
One side of Unicoaero is b2b, which focuses on mishandled baggage and lost and found items. The other side of Unicoaero is Unicobag, a b2c product which provides on-demand baggage delivery from airport to door, door to airport, and the long-term vision is to bring the solution from door to door.
Traveling luggage free is the future. Unicoaero provides the end to end solution for airlines to manage and track the mishandled baggage claims and deliver back to the passenger, while passengers can track each stage of their case. This helps to increase the NPS for airlines, and also improves their customer service at the same time.
Unicobag is a unique product that helps passengers to enjoy every part of their travel experience and never have to carry heavy bags.
Why carry bags with you to downtown, when you can request a delivery right from your hotel in Dubai and get back your baggage directly in your house in LA?
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Currently, passengers check in their bags at departure and if the bag is mishandled, then in arrivals the passenger has to go to the baggage carousel and wait for the bag which is not there.
After, the passenger has to go to the baggage office, wait in line, and then finally can start to fill out the claim form. After, the passenger goes home and starts waiting for updates about when the airline will find and deliver the mishandled baggage. Are we in 1993? No!
Our product helps the airline to communicate with the passenger much sooner and sends a link to them directly via sms and email. The passenger clicks the link and submits an auto filled form remotely. The tracking link will be provided for the passenger, which will help the passenger to track each stage of the delivery process.
Airlines at this moment just monitor the case, while the software starts tracing the mishandled baggage. When the baggage is found and sent on the earliest flight, the order will be auto created for the courier to pick up the baggage and delivered.
All parties can track every step of the case online. When the bag is delivered, the passenger enters a digital signature on the drivers app, which will close the case at the end. See the difference from the current process of waiting, wasting time, and ending up with frustrated passengers?
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We currently have 40 airline users and most of them are expanding to more airports. I believe that any airline that is customer satisfaction is focused will want to use our product to jump to the next level for their own efficiencies and passengers’ satisfaction. We don’t have an airline that started to use the product and left. Passengers should not wait at baggage carousels for something that is not there and airlines should get rid of manual handlings.
This will change and Unicoaero will be the game changer.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
Travel companies including airlines and IT providers like Amadeus are putting efforts to change the travel industry. Many airlines are creating venture arms like JetBlue Ventures, Air Asia, JAL, Israel Airlines, Amadeus, and Sabre, just to name a few.
This shows how the travel industry giants are close to innovation and also to Silicon Valley, specifically to invest in startups that are solving major issues in the travel industry.
JetBlue Ventures is one of our investors — the idea of door-to-door delivery excited them and they wanted to be a part of the Unicoaero family.
Another example is that airlines like Emirates and many others started to think about the travel ecosystem and end to end solutions for passengers and baggage.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Let’s say that I am flying from SFO to San Juan. My perfect experience would be to check in online. Meanwhile, I request a baggage delivery from my house in San Francisco to my hotel in San Juan.
The airline app tells me the latest time that I should leave my house, so I don’t miss the flight. The app needs to also know the traffic from my house to the airport, the security queue wait time at the airport, and the walking time from security to the gate. One of the major issues at the airport is the security. There are many advances technologies that airports can use which won’t force you to take off your shoes or belts. Dubai is a good example, so this travel experience would also have a similar security experience.
The baggage delivery app and the airline app would be integrated, so I can track my baggage along the way as well. The airline provides fast WIFI, so I can still stay connected. (Note: JetBlue’s wifi is very good).
I arrive, jump into an uber and get to the hotel. The doorbell rings, and I receive my bag shortly after arrival.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My lesson is to always give back. You can help young entrepreneurs, communities, students, or anyone else that you connect with. Sharing your knowledge really important to any success story.
I would say that the business that we do is not easy, and we also consider it as a social entrepreneurship. We want to be successful, but also to help others. If we are making other people’s lives easier, if we are being able to help people travel easier and with ease, if the question is yes for us, then we are on the right path. Always give back.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start a critical thinking movement for the young generation. I would also want peace and tolerance for everyone.
Critical thinking may be advanced, but a light version included in education is what millions of kids need today. We want kids to grow up and already know what they want from life. Being educated or having a diploma from an ivy league university does not mean anything anymore. We want a generation of people who know where they belong and how they can make their lives and other people’s lives successful.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!