A London-based e-commerce company that makes travel easier for people with disabilities has picked Austin for its U.S. headquarters.
Accomable is a platform for users to find and connect to hosts with disabled-accessible places to stay all over the world, said Srin Madipalli, the company's co-founder. The website features more than 500 listings in over 35 countries, with plans to add more listings.
“The problem that we’re trying to solve is that if you have some kind of mobility problem like myself, or are elderly, it’s really hard to find suitable accommodation for travel services on existing travel providers,” said Madipalli, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair.
Information about ramps, step-free access and roll-in showers is usually not collected by travel companies about their vendors. Even if it is collected, it usually isn’t curated or readily available, Madipalli said.
Accomable has taken the guesswork out of planning by adding additional filters to their site’s search feature. Besides the usual amenities, users can search by the availability of ceiling and mobile hoists, shower seats, wheelchair hires and more.
“That’s one of our key differences between us and mainstream sites,” Madipalli said. “Things like mobile voice and roll-in showers are incredibly essential to our user base and could be the make it or break it aspect of having a holiday.”
Accomable got its start when Madipalli took a six-month break from his job in 2011 to travel for the first time.
“It was something I was always a bit terrified about,” he said. “Just because ‘I’m not going to be able to do that, I won’t be able to do this, what if this goes wrong?’”
During his travels around Europe, the U.S., Asia and South Africa, Madipalli saw how tough it could be to find accommodations for wheelchair users.
“It was really difficult to find appropriate places to stay, things like taxi providers or medical equipment I needed to hire,” he said. “Even back then, it got me thinking, ‘Surely in the modern world, we can make this easier.’”
During the California leg of his trip, Madipalli met up with his friend Martyn Sibley, whom he met as a child through a support group. Sibley also has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair. Together, they ran a blog for nearly three years called "Disability Horizons" that focused on travel for disabled people. It was during this time that they saw the need to create a resource to make information regarding accessibility and travel more readily available.
“We thought, ‘Let’s make something for people like us who have a similar travel need,’” Madipalli said.
Sybley has since moved on from Accomable, but still owns a small shareholding.
The choice to open their first American headquarters in Austin was a natural one, Madipalli said. By the end of April, Accomable plans to have the team based at Impact Hub Austin alongside other startups in the social impact space.
“We wanted to work in a tech hub in the U.S.,” he said. “What we found interesting about Austin was that there were a lot of other startups there that had social impact as a focus.”
There’s also a great talent pool and a lower cost of living compared to places like San Francisco, Madipalli said.
“I loved the startup scene of Austin, I loved the energy,” he said. “I loved the atmosphere there, it was incredible.”
Heather Kerstetter, Accomable project manager of North America, was brought on less than a month ago and was already based in Austin. Madipalli said Accomable will hire another three employees for their Austin office once a funding deal with investors is closed within the next couple of weeks.
At the moment, the company is not making a profit and is using grant money, but plan to eventually take a commission on online bookings, similar to the way Airbnb operates.
“We want to focus on growth at this stage, and validating that we’re helping people,” Madipalli said.
Accomable is currently available on web and is optimized for mobile use, but Madipalli said there are plans to eventually create a mobile app in the future.
“We just want to solve a problem and make travel easier for a lot of people,” he said.