Despite a strong official start in 2009 (it actually started operations during 2008), when the site ranked highly during a SeedCamp Week in London, was a finalist at the EyeforTravel Get Funded competition and generally managed to catch the eye of the mainstream and tech media, Joobili entered a marketplace brimming with other so-called travel inspiration startups.
The proposition was pretty simple: a different way of searching for destination attractions and events, based not on the location but on interests, using some – for the time – interesting web gizmos such as date sliders, etc.
The site was easy to use, rich in content (images, descriptions et al), appeared to have quite an active community of users recommending services.
All appeared to going reasonably well, securing another round of capital in July 2010Â from a group of existing investors (apparently in the six-figures) including Dyson who became a mentor.
Later that year it launched its own version of sponsored listings.
CEO and co-founder Jared Salter, an American who ran the company from its base in Hungary alongside co-founder Tamas Gabor, said developments were under way to maintain and grow the business.
Six months on and Joobili will be closed this week after failing to pin down a strategy to secure its long-term future.
Salter is one of startupland’s good guys, a former-Interbrand consultant working with the likes of Intel, eBay and T-Mobile amongst others, who had an idea and an eye for the creative side of web-based brands.
Despite the demise of Joobili, Salter agreed to a short email interview (unlike the curious people behind the hyperbolic TraceMyTrip) to explain what happened to Joobili and what other startups can learn from its experience of building a B2C travel startup.
What led to Joobili’s decision to cease operations?
Startups tend to get in this “survival mode” where all your energy goes toward simply staying alive through next week or month or year until SOMETHING happens and your business becomes suddenly successful.
At a certain point you have to step back and ask yourself, “Am I not failing, or am I actually succeeding?”. There is a big difference. In Joobili’s case, our web traffic steadily increased last year to over 130,000 monthly unique visitors.
Our monthly revenues grew to a break even point. It was easy to convince ourselves we were successful, and there were plenty of travel awards and journalists that reinforced Joobili’s notion of “success”. But in moments of self-reflection and candor, it became clear we were not meeting our own definition of success.
We founded Joobili with lofty aspirations of shifting the travel mindset to an emphasis on when you travel as opposed to where you travel.
And let’s be honest, we founded Joobili to get rich.
At the end of the day we had a lot of very happy customers, we made small waves in the travel inspiration community, and we made enough money to support a decent lifestyle.
But again, we were probably “not failing” more than we were succeeding in achieving our original aspirations. Some entrepreneurs are satisfied with a “lifestyle business”, and I think that’s admirable, but it’s just not the path my co-founder and I wanted take.
What happens to Joobili’s assets?
Our most valuable asset, without a doubt, is our 5,000+ events database. These events were curated and written by our global network of writers. With so many content aggregators out there I think people appreciate quality original content.
Google’s search algorithm certainly does. Joobili also has a solid user base. We would like to see our content and our users find a nice new home on the web.
We are currently accepting offers for Joobili’s assets. The ideal buyer will have both the right amount of money and a compelling vision for integrating our assets into their business.
The process of selling our assets is just beginning, but I expect it to move quickly. Anyone interested in making an offer should contact me at email@example.com.
Advice you would give to other startups, especially those in the same kind of space as Joobili?
Be careful where you get your advice. Everyone has different expertise and motives. The really helpful advice can sometimes be drowned out by the sheer volume of “advice” thrown at new entrepreneurs.
With that warning out of the way, my best advice is to build a product that can make money from the moment it’s launched, even if it’s a small amount of revenue.
My second piece of advice is have the founding team trinity of Marketing, Operations, Technical. Not having a technical co-founder on our team was a monumental mistake.
Lastly, for companies in the travel inspiration space, my advice is to find a way to focus less on the two to three trips your users actually take each year, and focus more on the 20 to 30 trips they vicariously take each year. It’s the only way to crack the repeat visitor problem in our industry segment.
We couldn’t solve it, but someone else will.
What are you going to do next?
Don’t know. We have been riding the startup roller-coaster for long enough I think we’re looking forward to a break from all the stress-excitement-disappointment that goes along with being an entrepreneur.
Personally, I don’t carry many regrets. If I had to do it all over again, even knowing the final outcome of Joobili, I’d still go for it. Succeed or fail, I will always respect the person who jumps in the arena more than the person observing from the sidelines.
When problems first surfaced did you seek any help from others in the industry?
We did reach out to mentors and friends in the travel industry for advice. Everyone was incredibly supportive and generous with their time.
But more than solutions to our problems, we came away with the reassurance that everyone else was struggling with similar problems. In a weird way it was helpful to know we weren’t the only ones having difficulty.
I imagine the ones who have it all figured out either don’t exist, or they are too busy to fiddle around with giving advice to struggling startups.
Can inspiration sites such a Joobili “make it” without huge levels of investment?
Yes, I still think travel inspiration sites can “make it” without large VC investment. I believe the right team can execute a good idea using a relatively small amount of money.
A large VC investment is validation of your early execution more than it is pre-requisite for “making it”. Joobili’s problem was not a lack of early investment. And we did not lack a compelling idea.
What we lacked was execution.
What was the single biggest issue (most complex?) which hit Joobili?
Our biggest challenge was deciding where to focus our limited resources. As entrepreneurs we had a specific vision for Joobili. Our investors had a slightly different set of expectations.
Our users had other priorities for Joobili’s progression. And potential investors had yet another direction for our company. We tried to placate all stakeholders and it was simply an impossible endeavor.
Did Joobili ever come close to its goal of VC investment or acquisition?
On at least four occasions Joobili came painfully close to receiving a large VC investment or selling out to a large online travel company. In two of those cases paperwork was on the table and the only thing missing was a final signature.
It was frustrating to be so close and see it slip away. But I think it’s all part of the startup experience. Most entrepreneurs I speak with admit the line between success and failure is very thin and a little luck goes a long way.