Episode 149 / December 26, 2021

Bootstrap to IPO in 10 years ft. Prashant Pitti, founder EaseMyTrip

34 min

Episode 149 / December 26, 2021

Bootstrap to IPO in 10 years ft. Prashant Pitti, founder EaseMyTrip

34 min
Listen on


“The world is going through one of the worst recessions, and you plan on starting a Travel venture. You must be out of your mind!”

This was precisely the reaction of everyone around Prashant Pitti, the guest of today’s episode, and his co-founders when they decided to launch EaseMyTrip during the 2008 Recession.

In fact, when they approached a few VCs during their early days to pitch for an investment, they received multiple preset filters and nuances –

# A B2B travel venture won’t grow big enough

# You’re late; there are so many travel startups already

However, proving everyone wrong, they’ve grown leaps and bounds since inception, so much so that they were one of the first internet companies to go public during Covid.

During the episode, Prashant talks about how they are thankful for not being VC-funded, some of the tough calls they took during their journey, which propelled their growth, and much more.

Notes –

01:02 – Starting a travel venture during recession

02:52 – Problem statement solved by EaseMyTrip for Travel Agents

05:49 – Impact on growth because of not charging “Convenience Fees”

07:44 – Being extremely efficient and disciplined as a company

13:41 – Decision behind going public

16:59 – How did EaseMyTrip remain profitable even during Covid?

25:31 – Why does EaseMyTrip prefer hiring Non-IITians?


Read the full transcript here:


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur Podcast. Today I have with me Prashant Pitti, co-founder of Easemytrip. Easemytrip is a category leader in travel sector, where you can book flights, hotels, and much more on their platform. It’s the only Indian internet company to be built, bootstrapped without raising a single penny from investors and then going public, even after going public at around 208 rupees per share. They created a lot of wealth for their retail investors, currently trading at 560 rupees per share. Welcome Prashant to the podcast and fantastic to have you.


Prashant Pitti 00:40

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me over here. I’m looking forward to the conversation.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:46

Prashant, you and your co-founders built Easemytrip during the recession of 2008, tell us your experience of building it then, weren’t you called insane by your friends and family for starting a venture in travel sector during the recession?


Prashant Pitti 00:59

Yeah, so we all grew up in Delhi. And, I graduated from IIT Madras. And for the first three years, I was working for a couple of banks in the US. And I quit my job and moved back to India in late 2008. By that time my two younger brothers, they had already started Easemytrip. Now, so basically, the way we started Easemytrip was also very different, we actually started a regular Mom and Pop travel agency in Delhi first. Now with that travel agency, we ran the travel agency for about seven to eight months, we understand a lot of pain points a travel agent has to go through. So the first version of easemytrip, as a tech company was started to solve the pain points of a travel agent. It wasn’t for a regular consumer. So we knew exactly what pain points travel agent had since we ran a travel agency ourselves. And we wanted to solve those pain points of a travel agent using technology. And that’s how easemytrip came into life. So easemytrip wasn’t fighting against makemytrip, cleartrip, yatra in the beginning for the first three years. They were almost about 11,000 travel agents were using easemytrip by the end of third year. And business was going pretty well. And that is exactly when we decided to pivot and start a consumer business. And now our consumer businesses is 93% business and travel agent businesses only 7%. So we are basically competing against the likes of makemytrip, cleartrip, Yatra, ibibo, cleartrip as we have become a consumer tech company since last 11 odd years. But we began with a very strong moat, which was we knew exactly the pain points travel agent had to go through. And we were solving them using easemytri[.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:52

And what are the problem exactly you were solving for the first three years for travel agents.


Prashant Pitti 02:50

The problem statement was actually very simple, you know, as a travel agent ourselves, airlines used to give us 3 to 4% commissions. And we needed to put money in various airlines in order to be able to book using their systems. Now the solution, which easemytrip offered to travel agent was that, hey, instead of putting 50,000 rupees in each and every airline account, why don’t you put money on easemytrip. And as we are aggregating bunch of you, we will get 6 to 7% commissions from the airlines and we’ll pass on 5% to you. So your margins will improve. And your capex will also reduce. So this was a very simple solution, which we were offering, we integrated all the airlines on our website. And we’re offering service exclusive to travel agent for the first three years. Now through this means we were able to we were the only salespeople in the team. So we met 1000s of travel agents all across India. And then soon the word started spreading as the service easemytrip providing and by that we basically got the business


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 03:55

and how much of your own capital, you and your brothers put in the beginning.


Prashant Pitti 04:00

Oh, we come from an extremely modest family. So it’s not that we come from the wealthy beings, you know, we probably put in about 5 to 10 lakh rupees to start the business. And the business is still bootstrapped. In the last 13 years of running, we have never raised any money either from VC or PE or or a bank. And we have become the second largest travel portal in India by being at it for the last 13 years.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 04:27

And at the end of three years in 2011, if you could remember right, how were your cash flows looking at that point in time?


Prashant Pitti 04:36

So business was growing. At the end of the third year, we had almost about 11,000 travel agents who were using us, business was growing but that business wasn’t profitable. It was barely breaking even, see, I mean, we would get 7 to 8% commissions from the airlines we would pass on 6% to the travel agent. So within that one and a half to 2%. We had to manage all our operations. We had to manage all our cost our technology cost overall cost. Server cost everything right. So the business wasn’t very profitable at that time, we were breaking even, but we were doing pretty well. Now, that is when we actually decided that, hey, why don’t we open up ourselves to the regular consumers. And as soon as we did that, we realised that, hey, I’m getting 7 to 8% commissions from the airline’s but I don’t have to pass this 6% discount to the regular consumer, just giving them one one and a half percent discount is good enough, because that’s what market was doing. And also, at that time, we decided we will not charge consumers convenience fees, which everybody was charging at that time. I don’t know if you know about what convenience pieces, mostly OTAs and even Airlines for that matter, charge convenience fees at the end of the page. So, at easemytrip, we decided that hey, we anyways, our systems are built such way that we would be extremely profitable even without convenience fees. So, why not to not just charge it and see where it grows. And so, we primarily grew by word of mouth, this is how the company grew in the last 11 years. In the year 2011, when we opened up ourselves to regular consumers, we didn’t charge conveniences when we and we still stick back to that policy and because of which the company has grown to where it is, we are not a very marketing driven company. Most of the users who are using easemytrip, they stick by easemytrip and they usually got to know about easemytrip through their friends and family.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 06:26

And as you started expanding into segments, what are the various segments and what was introduced into easemytrip offering at what point in time.


Prashant Pitti 06:47

So, when we started, we started with the flight booking but now almost everything is available is easemytrip, you can book your hotel, you could book your holidays, you could book your train bus cabs, everything on easemytrip. And right now, we are basically focusing on the non air part as well via cross selling. So people are using people come to easemytrip flight booking, but then we are able to cross sell them the other travel packages or other travel product. So, at ease my trip, there is no such service related to travel, which is not with us, but it is available with somebody else. It’s a full stack OTA right now.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 07:27

And what’s interesting is that you were able to keep your operations lean, because travel is extremely competitive sector, everybody in 2011 was throwing VC money giving discounts to consumers. So how were you able to create a unique offering and a brand positioning in front of consumers?


Prashant Pitti 07:49

See, you you absolutely mentioned it correctly, that easemytrip was able to keep its operational cost very minimal. See, we are not the market creators, the market was created by somebody else, and honestly, hats off to them creating a market is extremely tough job, our job was relatively easier, our job was to be extremely efficient and be extremely disciplined. these are the only things which I will ask you to take away from easemytrip that be extremely efficient and discipline through which we were able to continuously serve people, not just at breakeven cost, but while making money, and we continue to utilise the money which we made into the business to grow even faster. So that is how the company is not only just the second largest, but we are also one of the fastest growing travel companies in India right now. Now, how did we do that? Basically, the answer probably lies in the beginning as our operations or technology everything was streamlined to sustain in 2% business right, when we began. Now, as the business was streamlined to sustain in 1.5 to 2%. As we shifted to consumer business, our profit margin increased dramatically but lower cost did not change by much.

Prashant Pitti 09:06

So, as soon as we shifted from b2b to b2c, the operations did not change much, our operations remain the same. But however, the profitability increased dramatically. Just because, now, our margins are no longer 1.5 to 2%. But it’s at around 5 to 6%. And that is how things change for us. And one thing, which, for the first three to four years from 2011 till 2015, our b2c business did not grow by much. Now, this is where I think by being not funded, you know, there was a blessing for us. We were patient enough to wait to see that business grow slowly. You know, while our b2b business was doing all right, from 2011 to 2015, our b2c business did not grow by that much. But formation is basically paved the way instead of spending money on marketing, we just continue to evolve versus make our customer service even better, make our product even better. And, sooner or later, the word started spreading that, why to use somebody else’s some other website when you could use these matters without paying convenience fees. convenience fees is also not a small amount, right? It’s like per passenger, most of the OTAs are charging anywhere between 300 to 500 rupees per passenger, as convenience fees. So that’s a very substantial saving which consumers have when they use easemytrip. And we grew primarily via, the evangelism, whichever consumer showed, by spreading the word for easemytrip.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 10:39

And you mentioned between 2011 to 2015, you were just building the base for the consumer business, if you could remember, right, how was the revenues in the consumer business during this time?


Prashant Pitti 10:51

Very little, you know, we were growing almost 15 to 20% per year, and that to the base was very small. So I think, back in year 2008, by the way, we did approach, couple of VCs, to try to raise some funds. In year 2008, when we began, I must have approached three or four of them. But now I can say, thankfully, we could not convince them. You know, So we approached them. And their thought process was that, hey, why to invest in a b2b travel company, when the travel agent is going to die? And they were right. And then our thought process was that, hey, we will not always remain a b2b travel company, we will switch to consumer business one day. Then again, the thought process was that hey cleartrip makemytrip yatra they all exist already. So what’s the point of investing another one, you already are too late? So according to me, I think they were right in their analysis, there was nothing wrong. And to be honest, there are so many nuances about the business, you are a VC yourself right now. So you would know, so many nuances about a business which you cannot make out in the first meeting. So and sometimes, I also invest in startups. Right. So my advice to the startups in which i advice is that, hey, you know, you might be 100% Right, but I just, I’m using my quick filters to judge yes or no, and, you know, the chances of me wrong are much higher. You know, just don’t be disappointed. I’m just using a filter. And that’s exactly what happened. You know, the VCs just use their filters to shut us out, right, that a b2b travel, no way. b2c travel No way. But the nuances are the things which were missed. So anyways, because we could not raise money near 2008, we, we were patient enough to continue our slow growth from year 2011 to 2015. And from 2015 onwards, there’s something more than maths, I don’t know what exactly happened in year 2015. But there is something really more than math, you have to be there for the consumer, they must try one or two times before they start advocating you. And that is exactly what happened. I’m assuming that many people must have tried us twice. And both times they did not pay convenience fees. And then they started paying, then they started spreading the word. So from 2015 till 2020, there was no year where our business did not grow by more than 60%, every year. So the business continue to grow. And we are catching up. We were the third largest travel portal two years ago, we are the second largest travel portal right now. And the next couple of years, we are looking forward to change the change the status again.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:35

you are you know, before the current bull market, right? Before you know anybody’s right, right now, many people are identifying this is an opportunistic time to go public, you went public really early, what was the thought process behind that during you know, going public and what did it require?


Prashant Pitti 13:52

So, to be honest, there was no internet company which went public in year 2018-19-20 We will first which went public in year 2021. yeah, internet company, first pure internet company to go public in year 2021. Then came Zomato, then came others, right? For us, we started thinking about being listed in India in year 2018, when it was almost unfathomable for most of the internet startups. And the reason why it made sense for us was that we are growing really rapidly and we are growing profitably. You know, profitability is one key thing right, which is looked after an Indian market. So that is how, we felt pretty convinced that we don’t have to take the VC money anymore, since the business is anyways growing without any capital requirement. But we could probably get listed and since profitability is, is looked very seriously in Indian market, I think we would be welcomed. So, in year 2018, we actually started preparing for IPO 2018 and the date which we decided when we will go public was 22nd, march 2020. that was the date, we decided then 2020 to go public and everything was done to be listed on that day. All right. So the bankers, the lawyers, the CAs, the auditors, everybody who’s working on a backward track. Yeah, to get easemytrip listed on 22nd, march 2020. So we met a lot of investors in January and February of 2020, not knowing what’s to come. And, on sixth of March 2020, I remember calling all those investors myself and saying that, hey, something big is coming. And it’s better that we put our IPO plan to indefinite position, because, you know, we were also planning to raise some pre IPO money. So a couple of people were almost about to wire the money. And we stopped them saying that, hey, maybe the IPO will not happen, something big is coming, it looks like so let’s just wait it out. And that is how the the original IPO plan actually got postponed. And then we actually successfully did our IPO on 19th of March of 2021.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 16:11

I’m also a very small shareholder in easemytrip as I bought it at the time, you went IPO


Prashant Pitti 16:23

arey great thanks.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 16:27

So, how did pandemic affect you right during the last one year has been very tough for for travel OTAs, anybody in trouble sector in hospitality sector?


Prashant Pitti 16:39

Absolutely. I mean, you know, I can easily say this, that the travel industry is one of the most severely affected industry by this pandemic, the company did business of about 4400 crores in FY 20. Okay, now, that business fell to half in FY21, our business, you know, came to almost 2100-2200 crores in FY 21, thanks to the pandemic, right, the business volume went to half however, there are many things which this company did, because of which our profitability did not fall. In fact, we are one of the very rare travel companies, travel technology companies, which remain profitable even in the COVID year. and I think that’s a bit like a litmus test for this company. Yeah, the last 13 years, including the COVID year this company did not lose money. So, this is how efficiently this company is built, this is this is how consistently we have performed that even COVID could not make this company loss making company. So, the efficiency shines out specially even for us knowing that one of our competitor even went to a distress sale right, during the COVID times. So, I think this, this is what the company is all about that we have built such a lean efficient company, that even COVID could not stop us from being profitable. Then there are many things which we did, which helped us during this journey during the COVID times to remain profitable. There are a few things which I would like to share. First is, as soon as the lockdown was enacted upon, we realised that everybody is looking for refunds right? Now, you know, all the flights were cancelled, voluntarily. Right. Now, what happened was, we realised that everybody is asking us for refunds. And we were waiting for airlines to give us the refund, then only we could give it to the consumer side, like, not just we all the OTAs everybody was waiting for airlines to give the refund, now at easemytrip, we decided that we will use our cash reserves, we had about 150 Odd crores of cash reserves in the company. We thought that for certain airlines, we will use our cash reserves and we will give money to to consumers even before airlines gave us the money. That was pretty gutsy decision at that time. Because you never know what if those airlines go bankrupt, then you lose the money on both sides, right? airlines don’t give you money anymore. And you have already given money to the consumers. And it’s the lost, so we dipped our cash reserves by about 70 to 80, cr, and we gave consumers money even before airlines gave us the money. just hoping and knowing the fact that at least for these airlines, they’re not going to go bankrupt. Just having that very good feeling comfort feeling around those airlines. Now after two to three months, you know, business resumed again. And we were able to get that money from the airline. So net net, there was no loss for the company. But what happened by this decision was there was a huge uproar on social media, where people were tagging our competitors and saying that hey, my friend got money from easemytrip, Where is my money? Yeah. I mean, they don’t know that. It was done, you know, as we were going on mile a head by doing this, there was nothing wrong from a competitor side, because nobody got the money. But but that definitely created humongous amount of goodwill for the company during the COVID times. And the second thing which we did during the COVID times, this was during the first lockdown, right, but during the second lockdown, which happened in the month of May 2021, six months ago, where we had a devastating wave at that time, just after the second wave, we realised that people want to travel, but they’re scared. what, if they get quarantined? What if they get COVID and stuff like that. So at least what we came up with a very unique service, which is book any ticket on easemytrip. And if you have to later cancel it, because of any medical reasons, just upload doctor’s prescription, and you will get the full money back, including the money which airline deduct, and this service was provided free of cost to everybody who was using is my trip. So, you know, this service also helped, you know, get travel back in shape. You know, we could see a humongous amount of job just coming because of the service which we were providing to the consumers. So yes, there are multiple things which we did, because of which the company fared pretty well during the pandemic times.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 21:18

And what is the value behind you know, such decisions that you and your team took?


Prashant Pitti 21:29

So, we believe that there are only two reasons to do any business. That one is to serve your consumers very well. And this is what is the primary reason which is driving most of these decisions. And second is to do it profitably. So you can serve them for long duration of time. this is what I believe that there are only two reasons One should be doing business. So, for the sake of the first reason to basically serve you consumers very well, which we keep at the epitome of all the decision making, is how we basically derived both these decisions.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:08

And, though, you have mentioned it in the podcast, but just to summarise for our listeners, what do you think is the biggest moat of easemytrip versus the other travel players and what has helped you and keep on helping you to grow 50 60% year on year from here on?


Prashant Pitti 22:26

So basically, I think what’s happening with the internet these days, is that internet is getting commoditized what, what was novelty 10 years ago is not a novelty anymore. Yeah, it’s not a novelty anymore. It’s the same service, which you can get at three or four different players. Now, I believe that in a commodity business, the basic of a commodity businesses, that you should keep your costs low, and you should give maximum value to consumers, you should pass back the maximum value to consumers. And if you’re able to do that consistently, then you don’t have to market yourself. That’s the basic of a commodity business. And I think that, the VC funded companies do a great job at creating a market or expanding market, but they barely focus on efficiency, they barely focus on efficiency of a company, you know, just to grow too fast, the efficiency takes a backseat. And I think now the time has come that a lot of edtech companies or of E commerce companies, a lot of travel companies could start seeing rationalisation in the cost. Because I think eventually the one which has the strongest unit economics will win. See, eventually, one day for I can speak for my industry, my travel industry, the money has dried up, the VC money has dried up just because none of the players have successfully delivered the value to the VCs, to the PEs, to the Banks. So, I think the money has dried up in the travel industry, which is a great thing for easemytrip. Because now it’s a level playing field earlier my competitors could use raise billions of dollars, because capital was cheap for them. And while capital was extremely expensive for easemytrip, since we never raised money, but now we have almost come to a level playing field where raising money is extremely difficult hence the value of money is the same. So I think that is the time with for the next decade, I’m seeing that the same thing will happen for a lot of internet companies which are almost commoditized in nature. So the biggest mode is that our unit economics is so strong, that you know we are so resilient that even pandemic could not make us a loss making company that I think is the biggest moat and because we are so robust we are so capital efficient, we are so operationally efficient. We can afford to not charge convenience fees and be profitable while our competitors even after charging convenience fees are loss making. So this is this is the great difference and since we have called not charge convenience fees, we are growing primarily via word of mouth, which becomes extremely hard for anybody to challenge


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:09

Prashant So, you would have taken very different decision or example you will not have hire the the highest package IITian for the market just because you need to be so efficient right. So, how did you take care of your hiring and from other parts of the business?


Prashant Pitti 25:26

No Actually that’s that’s actually a very great question. The hiring philosophy the expenditure philosophy, which this company is actually very different. we actually hire a lot of students freshers from nit rather than IITs, being an IITian myself, I can tell you that there are certain things we are good at and certain things I think, just, you know, one pedigree below could be better. For example, I think most of the iitians are actually risk adverse people. I mean, we studied to be too hard to get into IIT. So, and I value people from BITS, I value people from nit is because they didn’t study that hard. They’re not that risk adverse people. They didn’t study that hard to get into iit. So I don’t think so that there’s this huge amount of difference in talent. It’s a difference in mentality between the IITs and nit. So we heavily depend on, you know, hiring people from an NIT, right, or BITS. And the other thing which we do is very different is, you know, we also hire a lot of freshers from tier two, tier three towns, and then we allow them to grow in the role. For example, you know, when I could talk that when we had about 20 people, the first time we had 20 people was in Year 2010, right? When the company had about 20 people, of those 20 founding members 17 are still with easemytrip. This is how amazing our retentions are and all those 20 people, they might not be the best in the industry at that time. Many of them were freshers, or many of them only barely had one or two years of experience. But now, almost everybody of them is enjoying a VP position or a director position at easemytrip. So another thing which we have done very well is that we have allowed people to grow within the role rather than finding somebody external. Because we think that what we are doing is extremely different, at least in terms of operations, and hence hiring s,omebody from makemytrip, cleartrip, yatra they’re not going to help solve the problems which are solving this kind of structure, which we have. So this is this is how you know things things are done differently at easemytrip while hiring.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 27:39

And I believe they wouldn’t have been having the best of the salaries. But now their stock options must be like valued hugely, which is what has paid off.


Prashant Pitti 27:49

we have recently given started giving esops to all those amazing people who have helped us till now we didn’t know what value have we created since the company never had any VC. but now we know that there is decent value which this company has created, we recently got a billion dollar tag. So now, of course, we have created an ESOP policy. And we are of course, you know, offering them generous, esops at you know just to just to thank them for their for their services to easemytrip.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:24

And these are not even esop, these are rsu, right, reserved stock units, which are immediately valuable, and they can sell in the public market as soon as they get absolutely


Prashant Pitti 28:33

absolutely that’s one value of being listed. You know, like, in the startup, you hold the esops and you don’t know when they’re gonna be liquidated at easemytrip, our stock is as good as cash.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:49

I think that gives a very unfair advantage to you right now, you know, to get in people who can stick in for the long term and give them a lot of rsu. And, you can keep the cash component. You know, that suffices a very frugal engine.


Prashant Pitti 29:07

we are extremely excited. So you basically, we did an IPO at 180. Price. 187. We, you know, the IPO was at 187. Right now, the stock is trading at like 565-70. Right? So people have been that, you know, we have delivered the value in six months, in six months, the stock has gone up three times, and that too during the pandemic times. Yeah, so, I think our investors also understand that we actually left a lot on the table by being listed. So we you know, and I think our employees also understand that and I think there’s still so much more value to be created by easemytrip And our employees are also extremely excited about holding the shares of these metrics.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 29:51

It’s been a fantastic conversation. Prashant, I would like to pause here, you know, and thank you for building a company. which is very different, which set very different benchmarks. And, I think is an example for entrepreneurs that you don’t need to run after VC money, you can create something very valuable in a long period of time and 12 years is not so long. But when an entrepreneur starts their timer ticking in his head, right, I need to hire, I need to pay salaries, but what you have shown is a very different thought, a very possible path for an entrepreneur, I believe you would have personally done and your co founders, your brothers would have done a lot of sacrifices to reach where you are.


Prashant Pitti 30:37

So I think, you know, I think we are we are a very hands on founders. honestly speaking, Rikant is practically the CTO of the company, he learned how to write code for easemytrip. So we are we are extremely hands on as an entrepreneur. But how, however, we also delegate a lot since we have actually a very good level of second level management. There’s also a lot of delegation, which happens and we have been, we have been thankful that we actually found the right market at the right time, we switched to the right MC, there are a lot of things which I could probably take as a credit, but you know, a lot of it is basically just the right time. In year 2011, as we switched from b2b to b2c, you know, that was a time when internet was going online. And, you know, people were looking for options, the ones who are going to travel, and they were looking for options at that time to go online. So, you know, decisions happen at the right place at the right time. And I think I think the it, I think it goes without saying that we must have worked hard to get where we have. But I think I still also think that we are at square one, and there’s still so much more to attain for this company.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:47

Thank you so much. It’s been a lovely conversation, one of the conventions which I’ve enjoyed a lot, you know, thanks for being on the 100x entrepreneur podcast and showing entrepreneurs how they could grow 100x of themselves without any external limitation on capital.


Prashant Pitti 32:01

Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me over here. Really appreciate it. Thank you.



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