5 MINUTES WITH… THE CO-FOUNDER OF ACCOMABLE
Genetics student turned corporate lawyer Srin Madipalli has started an Airbnb-style service for travellers who have a disability.
WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA FOR ACCOMABLE?
I’ve always loved to travel. A few years ago I took six months off work from my city law job to go travelling, and it is one of the best things I have ever done. I have spinal muscular atrophy and use a motorised wheelchair but was still able to go scuba diving in Bali, wheelchair trekking in California, and even learnt how to fly a plane!
I did find the logistics of planning a trip with a wheelchair incredibly difficult at times, especially when you arrive at accommodation that is advertised as accessible only to find steps up to the front door – and that didn’t just happen once! It was incredibly time-consuming and sucked a lot of the joy out of such an exciting trip.
WHAT MAKES YOUR STARTUP DIFFERENT FROM OTHER HOLIDAY RENTAL PLATFORMS?
We guarantee that all of our properties are accessible. For other holiday rental platforms ‘disabled access’ is just a tick box and it’s not something the platform verifies. At Accomable every property has to back up an access claim with pictures. So if you say you have grab rails in the bathroom, you need to provide an image. In the early days, many of the properties were places I had stayed at or visited, or [that] a member of our team had recommended. We also have a closed Facebook group where we discuss helpful advice to plan a fun trip – such as the best properties with accessible hot tubs!
YOU’VE JUST CLOSED A SEED ROUND WORTH £300,000. WHAT’S BEHIND THE ENTHUSIASTIC INVESTMENT?
The accessible accommodation market has been massively underserved, and I think investors are just beginning to realise this. I think it’s often surprising how many people have a mobility issue – more than 10 per cent in the UK and 18 per cent in the US – yet hotel booking sites often give bad information when it comes to accessibility, and can be difficult to trust, which in turn has made many people with a disability very nervous to travel. We found that the disabled travel market was valued at around US$18 billion, which poses a huge opportunity for innovation. Travellers who have disabilities contribute US$17.3 billion to the travel industry every year, and that’s not even counting their companions.
ARE THERE ANY UNIQUE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A START-UP FOUNDER?
One of the things I love about the start-up world is that it’s pretty much open to anyone. I taught myself how to code so I could build the prototype for Accomable from scratch on a tight budget. As a disabled person, I have never been willing to be left behind on anything. This especially applies to any cool advancements in tech and the brilliant benefits of the sharing economy. That being said, I spent much of last year working long hours, seven days a week, while feeling paralysed with a kidney stone. But that could happen to any founder!
WHEN DID YOU KNOW ACCOMABLE HAD MADE AN IMPACT?
I was particularly chuffed when we reached the milestone of offering more than 1000 accessible stays in over 60 countries worldwide, something we weren’t even sure was possible in the early days. I also had the chance to go to the Rio Paralympics to speak at an inclusion summit about accessible travel. I’ve also advocated for better handling for wheelchairs by airlines. But, it’s feedback from users that matters most – people who’ve been on their first ever holiday because of us.