TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Holland and UK-based hotel search and content site Gekko.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Gekko is changing the way users select a hotel by bridging the gap between inspiration and reservation. We are a hotel booking service that has built a number of tools for users to find easily a hotel that is spot on for them and for publishers to monetize their content.
Our team of 12 is based in London and is led by Michel Cassius (CEO), Romain Eude (CTO) and Rodrigo Dauster (Product).
- Michel is an experienced MD/CEO of games and internet businesses having worked at Apple, EA, Xbox and co-funded YoYo Games.
- Romain has over 15 years experience in start up businesses, most recently at TouchLocal.
- Rodrigo has over 19 years of experience in strategy and product development recently at Imagini and vielife.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Gekko was launched In November 2009. We have had two early-stage rounds of funding led by our founder, Dino van Es, a Dutch internet entrepreneur, and a consortium led by Velocity Capital B.V.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Bridging the gap between inspiration and monetisation.
Our recommendation engine on Gekko is an example. Users give a hotel they like and with our algorithm we find a selection of hotels that match their taste everywhere in the world.
We also compare prices from 43 providers. People can really find the best hotel for them an a great price.
With Gekko Links we also bridge the same gap on partners website.
Online travel publishers’ content inspires and encourages users to book recommended hotels. Â However, there is a permanent break in the user journey.
To learn more about a hotel that appeals to them, a person needs to open new windows to start a search process (that’s partially why 66% of bookings starton a search engine).
This prolongs a person’s booking process and causes the publisher to loose their attention (as well as any potential revenue upside from a booking).
With Gekko Links we add an ecommerce and information layer over a site. Â The user doesn’t have to go elsewhere–we bring the information to them–and the publisher makes money whether the user books on their site or, later after having saved the hotel to Gekko.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Our core products are Gekko Links which we described above and our Hotel Recommendation tool.
The Gekko Links product is distinctive because it is able to identify hotel references, in a body of text, which are very ambiguous; in exact. Hotels don’t have a fixed name and users tend to abbreviate them. For example, people write about “the Ritz” instead of “The Ritz-Carlton, New York.” Â We currently can identify over 200,000 hotels.
Our Hotel Recommendations is powered by a proprietary algorithm based on a market study of 7,558 consumers from USA, Germany, England, France and Spain to identify what criteria they considered when choosing a hotel. Â We focus on hotel’s characteristics – ie personality (“the hotel that is right for you”) instead of popularity (“users looking at this hotel also looked at these others”). A user can therefore ask Gekko to recommend hotels in Rio de Janeiro like the Benjamin Hotel in New York.
We also have a important complementary products such as price comparison (we compare rates for over 200,000 hotels across 43 hotel providers) and the shortlist (which allows users to save and share the hotels they are researching).
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
With Gekko Links, our key customers are large publishers or travel content such as lifestyle brands, guides and newspaper sites. Â We launched Gekko Links with Business Traveller. Soon, we will announce a partnership with a large publisher of travel content.
We have also started to reach out to small and medium travel bloggers such as TKTK.
Installing Gekko Links is free of charge and simply requires the inclusion of a line of HTML to a publisher’s site (the same effort that is required to add AdSense to a site).
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
The development of our hotel recommendation engine is based on customer feedback. It is self learning and depends very much on user validation.
We developed Gekko Links with the user in mind; we wanted to make finding the right hotel easier. Â But, as soon as we began showing Gekko Links to publishers we received very positive feedback and suggestions of how to make it better. Â The product development plan for Gekko Links is defined to respond to the needs of our publisher partners.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Currently, our business model is an affiliate model where we earn booking commission from OTAs. Â We share the booking fee with the publishers using Gekko Links.
Future revenue streams include advertisement and sponsorship, as well as expansion to other e-commerce segments. We are already working with a partner who will apply Gekko Links to the automotive sector.
SWOT analysis â€“ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Our strengths include our teamâ€™s focus on improving relevance through the user booking experience. Our technology behind Gekko Links that allows us to identify ambiguous references to hotels (and other products) is unique. Our technology platform also gives us flexibility to quickly develop our products. Finally, we are getting great feedback from users and partners about what we do. This should bear some fruits at the end.
- The user engagement right is a tough nut to crack. People have been trained for over 15 years to search for hotels by typing in their desired destination into a search engine. We need to continuously improve the user experience to get more people engaged with our services.
- At least 3% of the $150 billion online travel market. In a recent study, the World Travel Market estimated that 3% of travelers consulted blogs. Also, 30% of the people donâ€™t know what to book and how to book it.
- The size of the online travel market attracts a permanent stream of new entrants and forces the established players to continuously innovate. It’s a very dynamic market. At any moment a competitor to Gekko could emerge. Our best defense is to evolve our product quickly.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
Many people told us that we have a great conceptâ€¦ adding in the same breath that it was a difficult problem to solve. We braved this one out. We perceived there was an opportunity to improve people’s hotel booking experience and we went ahead. The Gekko team was fully on board and our investors very supportive.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We will measure success in terms of of number of publishers that have installed Gekko Links, the amount of people using our products/services and the revenue that we are generating (which is a measure of customer engagement).