TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based trip planning service TripTrace.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
We are TripTrace, a new location and travel planning website, founded by Michael Rubin, and produced by Rubin, Tom DiGrazia and Russ Chaney.
- Michael Rubin, CEO has had a diverse career beginning at the Lucasfilm Computer Division; he was a professional editor of movies and television; the author of several books about video; and a history of Pixar called â€śDroidmakerâ€ť. He also co-founded the you-paint-it ceramics industry, launching Petroglyph Ceramic Lounge. Most recently was in product management at Netflix, as one of the architects of the famously consumer-friendly website.
- Tom DiGrazia, CTO, with experiences at Raychem and DeepDyve, he distinguished himself at eBay and really understands how to build and scale a product and how to keep it light and fast.
- Russ Chaney, VP of User Experience and Design, worked with Rubin at Netflix as Design Director. Â Heâ€™s also directed design at Ancestry.com & Like.com (which recently sold to Google).
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
TripTrace was seeded in the Spring of 2010 through the usual twisted ways a traunch of capital finds its way to an entrepreneur with a big idea, and currently in process for the next round of funds.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Itâ€™s not a surprise that consumers report that online travel planning is frustrating. Not only is the information spread across the web, some of it is online and some is offline. And much of it is private â€“ like my address book, or my purchase history.
Travel products online today are great if you know exactly where youâ€™re going and when youâ€™re going there; but more often than not, this isnâ€™t the case and decisions are based on many random things â€“ my kids school schedules, a suggestion from a friend on Facebook, where my buddy lives in that town, consumer reviews, price, and so on. Pulling together the information is unpleasant and challenging.
In addition, once a consumer does all that work and finally starts booking elements, those efforts are lost quickly as the trip begins or after they return â€“ when instead it could be very useful if they could hang onto info and organize it.
TripTrace is about helping people benefit from organizing information by location. There is a social component to travel info, certainly, but what is really missing is appropriate personalization and the connection to â€śplaceâ€ť.
Describe the business, core products and services?
TripTrace helps users plan trips around the corner, or around the world.
Information you need for trip planning might come from Friends on Facebook, or blogs you happen across, and in every case, it needs to be organized in the same format for map viewing, budgeting and scheduling.
We want to make trip planning as fun as the trip itself. Itâ€™s not a separate thing â€“ trip planning IS the first part of the adventure.
What TripTrace does is make it very easy to put anything and EVERYTHING into a personal, private map â€“ we sit on the Internet and aggregate all the data users create from other services (from Facebook, Foursquare, and TripIt to Flickr, Eventful and Fwixâ€¦and so on) and integrate them it a grand location mashup.
In addition, users can easily add information manually into maps from web clippings or address books. Weâ€™re largely agnostic to where information comes from, and where bookings take place.
TripTrace provides a series of â€śbooksâ€ť with distinctive and simple interfaces that are specifically designed to put location data in formats that are useful.
- An Atlas is ideal for organizing and researching Â It maintains maps of places you have been and want to go, displays all your saved points of interest, and displays dynamic information around them (news, events, photos, recommendations) for fun exploration
- A Travel Notebook helps estimate costs of trips you plan to go on, and lets people swap in real bookings for estimates as departure dates approach, for the most accurate vacation pricing all the time. The notebook seamlessly combines budgeting with scheduling.
- A magazine for inspiration, recommendations and browsing.
- Mobile applications allow maps to be with users wherever they go, and lets new data be added to maps and trip on the fly.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
TripTraceâ€™s first users will likely come from people who already enjoy a range of location-oriented products and will find value in how that data is useful in travel planning.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes, we validated and refined our initial ideas with potential users. That sanity check was tremendously valuable.
One kernal of DNA we have brought with us from Netflix was the ethic â€śshare early and oftenâ€ť which is how we work internally, developing ideas and features, but also with users, choosing to get ideas in front of users quickly, with rudimentary development behind it, to test behavior.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
TripTraceâ€™s business model is not unlike a majority of travel planning sites that make money primarily through lead generation.
We have a broad range of products and services (broader than most travel sites) that we can direct our users to based on our deep understanding of their preferences and travel ambitions.
The key is meaningful personalization, a factor missing from many travel services.
SWOT analysis â€“ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- TripTrace has developed a proprietary recommendation engine, constructed through our unusual experiences at Netflix that will connect people to destinations and trips theyâ€™ll love. Weâ€™re also leveraging usersâ€™ existing behaviors at myriad other websites, and pulling that information into a single safe vault that gives them far more value from that data than they had experienced with it siloed. Finally, we have experience at building consumer products, and iterating on them over time to increase customer satisfaction at the same time as improving business objectives.
- We still have a lot to learn about the travel industry, as admitted outsiders. Generally, however, we tend to look at our outsider status as an asset â€“ we see problems differently and hopefully can solve problems in ways the industry might not have tried. Regardless, we plan to add travel expertise through key hires in 2011
- The travel industry opportunity is embarrassingly large â€“ US travel is a $750 billion/year industry; US consumers spend $112 billion annually on online travel and $15 billion is spent on travel related advertising. Hyperlocal and location-based advertising is estimated to make up another $100 billion/year.
- There are countless travel start-ups every year, and any one might hit the right magic to capture the public imagination; or a larger established player might choose to copy the parts of our service that they can, just enough to take the wind from our sails or get it in front of a large audience more quickly than we might. You never know where disruption is going to come from.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
The best advice we got was that we had a killer idea, but out-executing larger established players would be a challenge. No one said this wouldnâ€™t be successful.
A few people said a great idea wasnâ€™t enough. But we knew this: itâ€™s always about execution.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
High customer satisfaction, accelerating growth, and lots of trips planned, booked, and experienced with the help of TripTrace.