TLabs Showcase focus on startups featuring US-based MeetOnCruise.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
MeetOnCruise.com is a social network for people interested in cruise travel. MeetOnCruise gives cruise travelers the ability to meet people going on their cruise before their cruise. Â We also help prospective cruisers research and plan their vacation.
MeetOnCruise.com was co-founded by Faraz Qureshi (CEO and based in New York) and Eddy Garrido (VP of marketing and based in Miami, FL) in the summer of 2009.
Faraz has a background in technology and management consulting.Â After several years working for large corporate clients, he decided to pursue his passion for startups, the web and travel. Â Eddy has a background in psychology and business development.
After several years working in the mental health field, he co-founded a couple of technology and travel based startups.Â Also, we’ve been fortunate to have a few talented freelance designers and developers help us build and shape the product.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
MeetOnCruise has been privately funded since its inception, with no outside capital used to this point.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Cruises are the ultimate social activity and are typically booked months in advance. Â While social media technologies have been around for a while now, they haven’t significantly improved the consumer’s experience in either planning or taking a cruise.
The first problem we are solving is improving the overall cruise experience for the consumer. Â Being on a ship with thousands of other folks for a week provides many opportunities to meet other great people, but why wait until the cruise?
We’ve built an an easy way for people to meet other like-minded travelers BEFORE their cruise, so that they can interact DURING their cruise and keep in touch AFTER their cruise.
The second problem we are solving is information overload during the planning process. Â Today, there is no shortage of information.
However, its not easy for the consumer to synthesize all the information and make a decision based on facts as opposed to marketing spin. Â We’re currently developing a comprehensive and objective Cruise Guide that taps in to the social networking part of our product to simplify the cruise planning process for consumers.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Essentially, MeetOnCruise is a cruise travel destination site with a social network at its core. Â Travelers can simply enter their ship name and cruise date, and MeetOnCruise will show other cruisers who have also ‘checked-in’ to that cruise.
Once a user has setup a profile (or simply login via Facebook), they can engage in an online conversation with their new shipmates. Â This conversation can consist of anything from finding an activity partner (ex. scuba partner, 4th for golf, etc.) to finding someone to split a taxi with.
MeetOnCruise also has a forum for questions and answers, as well as, the ability to read and write cruise reviews.
We’re currently building a comprehensive Cruise Guide which we will launch later this summer. We’ve already released profiles for the major Cruise Lines and Ships that include their latest news, tweets and photos.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our target users is really anyone going or thinking about going on a cruise. For those who have already made their travel plans we offer a way to meet and interact with others on their cruise, to enhance their experience.
For those thinking about going on a cruise we provide tools and information to help plan a vacation they’ll always remember.
Additionally, travel agents specializing in cruises have shown a strong interest in using the platform.Â We’re not trying to replace the travel agent – on the contrary, we want travel agents to be an active part of our community (without shameless self promotion).
We believe the agents that provide objective and valuable advice will establish their reputation in the community, which will drive prospective customers their way.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We have spoken to many current and potential customers. Â In fact, while on a cruise we spoke to many people who said they would use such a service.
Most of our friends and family have been enthusiastic supporters. Primarily, though, we are scratching our own itch because as cruise travelers, we would have liked to have this product years ago.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
MeetOnCruise will always be free for its users.Â Our focus from the start has been, and continues to be, to build a great experience for cruise travelers.
We believe if we do that, we will have plenty of opportunities to generate revenue. Â Specifically, we plan to generate revenue in two ways:
- Tour operators, cruise suppliers and other players will have the opportunity to advertise their services on the site.
- We’ll collect affiliate/lead generation fees for qualifying potential customers and passing them on to partners for booking.
SWOT analysis â€“ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- MeetOnCruise at its core is a social network. This is key in delivering the social experience that travelers are looking for. Also, as technologists and avid travelers we know how to simplify the planning process by giving travelers tools and information to make decisions.
- We don’t have a large editorial group churning out lots of content.
- Only about 20% of Americans have ever taken a cruise. Â Of those that do, over 50% return to cruise again. Â If we simplify the planning process and enhance the travel experience by adding an effective social network component, we’re convinced more consumers will choose cruising as a vacation.
- Large suppliers or OTAs have the resources to duplicate and build this product more quickly.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
We’ve had a mostly positive response, particularly from those in the industry. However, several people have said something along the lines of “That’s just another social networking thingy…”.
We think there are and will continue to be niche markets for social networks that can thrive because they solve a problem for consumers in that vertical.
We’re convinced that cruise travel needs to be easier to plan and can be significantly enhanced by an effective social network. Â We are building MeetOnCruise to do just that.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
100K unique visitors a month. More importantly, lots of satisfied cruisers using MeetOnCruise to plan their cruise vacation and meet and share their travel experiences.