Srin Madipalli is a builder. He’s an adventurer. He’s very well-educated and traveled. He also has spinal muscular atrophy and has been in a mechanical wheelchair since birth. But that hasn’t slowed or thwarted his ambitions in the slightest. Quite the contrary, in fact. Madipalli has been a corporate lawyer, dived in deep, blue oceans and camped in the South African bush. He’s had his van attacked by baboons and he’s flown miles high over the oceans he’s dived in.
Of course, not all of Madipalli’s life has been a romanticized life of wanderlust. As Madipalli recalled in a column he penned for BBC, his traveling has been met with many frustrations. Once, in Sydney he landed with a smashed up and damaged wheelchair and was stranded for the night waiting for a mechanic to fix it. In Bali, he spent hours on the phone with the manufacturer of his wheelchair’s battery charger because it was broken and he had no idea where to get another before his wheelchair completely died. In Las Vegas, his personal assistant went out for a drink and ended up in a drunken brawl and was detained. Madipalli was left stranded in his hotel room unable to reach a phone to call for help. The list goes on.
“It was a growing frustration,” Madipalli, 30, tells We See Genius on a Skype call from his native London. So Madipalli and his friend, Martyn Sibley, who did a lot of the traveling with him and also has spinal muscular atrophy, decided to do something about it. They founded Accomable, a website for disabled-friendly rental properties around the world. “Think AirBnB for disabled people,” Madipalli has written on his LinkedIn page.
THE SIX-MONTH VACATION TO BEGIN IT ALL
The idea for Accomable began when Madipalli was bored as a corporate lawyer. He spent nearly five years working up to 15 hours a day in equity and infrastructure funds. And it was about as fun as it sounds. So Madipalli took a six-month vacation to travel the world. “Each time I traveled it was the same thing,” Madipalli recalls. “I can’t find a place that’s accessible, I can’t find pictures of the place. I can’t find any information.”
Nevertheless, the duo pressed on. They also created a blog and online magazine called Disability Horizons to serve as a news source and community for the disabled community. They soon learned they were certainly not alone in the desire to travel and adventure. They also learned other wheelchair-bound individuals experienced similar frustrations with rental properties.
“There are people who do want to get out there and travel more but they just haven’t had the opportunity or the services to do that,” asserts Madipalli.
TAPPING INTO THE OXFORD SAID SOCIAL ENTERPRISE FOCUS
The frustration swelled so much, Madipalli quit his job as a corporate lawyer to attend business school. The London native enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School in 2012 and immediately began tapping into the social entrepreneurship-focused areas the Said Business School is infamous for.
The focus on social entrepreneurship is something that’s “reiterated at the business school,” says Madipalli. “You’re working on problems that are really going to have an impact on people’s lives,” he continues, recalling his B-school projects.
Madipalli used courses such as entrepreneurial finance, entrepreneurial project and designed thinking, which he says taught him how to understand user needs and how to empathize with users. He also worked on other ventures in the Oxford Launchpad and was one of the founding committee members of the Oxford Seed Fund, a student-run fund to invest in alumni and student early stage ventures.
All the while, Madipalli continued developing Disability Horizons and working on some side ventures. He worked on a professional networking site called Globle for about a year. Then he developed FlyWave, a data collection and analyzation platform for “unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Then he taught himself to code. Through an online course offered by New York-based coding boot camp startup, One Month, Madipalli learned how to code and develop. He put his newfangled skills to work by co-founding and developing Lawreo, a Q&A app that allows people to get legal advice from trained lawyers.
But Madipalli continued to dwell on life as a disabled traveler. And all the problems that come with it. “They (disabled travelers) need adaptation, maybe medical devices and special insurance,” explains Madipalli. “And I thought, what’s the most important aspect? Accommodation. So let’s make a platform for accessible accommodation.”
GOING BEYOND THE ‘ACCESSIBLE CHECKBOX’
So Madipalli developed Accomable in March of 2015 and launched for users in June. And it’s grown rapidly. Madipalli says there are now about 400 properties listed on the site in 33 different countries. They’ve had more than 600 bookings and are currently speaking with “several major world hotel chains” while also raising there first seed round. Accomable has already gained the support from the Skoll Foundation, original President of eBay Jeffrey Skoll’s project to support early stage social enterprises, through a $30,000 grant.
Currently, the majority of the listings are in the United Kingdom and Europe, but also include the United States, South Africa and a few countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Of course, AirBnB has a checkbox option to narrow searches to “accessible” properties. But that’s not always good enough, Madipalli believes. In one instance in Los Angeles, Madipalli was staying at a hotel that was listed as accessible. Except there was a step up to the restroom in the room and Madipalli was unable to access it until a hotel employee created a ghetto-rigged ramp.
Accomable allows users to search with specificity. For example, a listing in Mill Valley, California includes step-ups to the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. It also features a roll-in shower and grab rails. The listing also includes equipment such as multiple hoists and a shower seat as well as pictures to show each feature and item. It allows those with mobility disadvantages to truly see what the property offers. The one caveat is Accomable doesn’t personally screen the properties before they’re listed.
With the upcoming seed round, Madipalli hopes to hire his own engineers and developers to continue to scale and improve the product and site and essentially share what he’s been blessed with.
“Growing up as a wheelchair user in a developed country has allowed me to do things that are not available in other places in the world,” says Madipalli. “There is accessibility and I do have the opportunity to get the education. We want to take that and solve a problem for people with similar experiences, who have mobility difficulties.”