Quite a number of startups featuring on TLabs¬†over the years have focused on in-destination services via the web, such as tour guide services, activity finders and reviewing tools.
Increasingly, startups are trying to drill further into the idea that “what to do once you get there” is where they might get some traction, especially as technology is making it easy to create sites beyond just a simple listing service.
The company is a online booking service for dive centres, including some of the best known diving spots on the planet as well as lesser known or specialist locations. Reviews and tips are also strong elements of what TangaReef is trying to do.
Created by Oliver Bremer and Robert Aarts (CEO and CTO respectively), TangaReef was originally bootstrapped but ahead of its launch has managed to attract a Finnish government grant and won a startup competition called Pitch18.
Laura Hakala (business development), Jose Pablo Hernandez (partnerships) and Christophe Mannoni (marketing) has since joined the company as it looks to capture some of what it claims is a multi-billion dollar industry. European diving activities apparently bring in over Euro 1 billion per year.
TangaReef is using the classic online travel agency model of commissions from diving centres, but knows it has strong competition from other agencies, tour operators and, of course, locals that pound the beaches or airports in destinations with flyers plugging products to tourists.
Q&A with CEO Oliver Bremer:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We are combining our knowledge from software and internet businesses with our own experiences as avid travelers and divers to improve the experience for divers and dive centers in this particular segment of the travel business.
And there is more to TangaReef than just business. We are approaching this opportunity as a triple bottom-line company from day one:¬†TangaReef is good business, it’s fantastic for our customers who love diving, and on top of that it’s great for the oceans. Every dive or course you book with TangaReef contributes to ocean conservation at the same time.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
There are a number of reasons why divers like booking with TangaReef. To name a few:
- When you start your dive journey with a booking via TangaReef, you are already doing a good deed even before you get into the water. Every course and dive you book with TangaReef gives money to ocean conservation projects. Note: that does not mean booking through TangaReef is more expensive than through other channels. On the contrary! See next point.
- Oftentimes booking in advance with TangaReef is less expensive than on location. It is also much more convenient to do so from your desk. You can compare the different options online rather than walk around in +35C heat in a dive destination just to find out that dive center offices all look very similar, plus the boats and most of the staff are out anyways during the day. Thanks to TangaReef’s scale dive centers are able to give us special rates which we pass on to the ocean and their inhabitants and all of us who visit them as divers.
- With TangaReef, you can pay for your diving with the same safety and convenience you are used to from booking flights or hotels online. This compares very favorably to carrying a lot of cash on your holiday to pay a dive center at the destination, or to pay the extra 3-5% a dive center will ask you if you want to pay with credit card.
There are more, but let’s leave it with these. Three is a good number.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We are pursuing multiple options and we’ll do more of what works well, and less of what does not: campaigns, SEM, articles, social media, a few “crazy ideas” which are too early to talk about, and SEO, of course.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We are fully focused on this opportunity now. We are just getting started, and if we would start planning what-if-this-fails scenarios then we will fail.
We are now executing according to our plan. And we will adapt based on the feedback we are getting from partners, customers, and advisers.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Several. The number one mistake would be to not have had sufficient focus and to have tried too many things distracting us. With TangaReef we have a very good focus, and we are executing our plan step by step, or rather dive by dive.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
We don’t think there is anything wrong with the travel or tourism industry in particular. Like any market, there are opportunities and room for innovation and improvements.
We believe there is an opportunity in the online booking space for dive activities that can be very nicely combined with contributing positively to the oceans.
Bookings, reviews, decent content, images, nice ethos around sustainability, exciting product – what could go wrong?
Well, if TangaReef can get a decent group of early customers, on both the supplier and consumer side, then the company will have gone some way to overcoming one of the first significant challenges for any B2C brand.
Like any OTA, certainly in the specialist market, TangaReef will live and die by the quality of the product it is trying to sell. And with diving being not only a relatively expensive product but a service which has strong communities of users, supplier management and reacting to customer feedback will be hugely important.
The service is relatively simple, in some respects (an OTA, content, etc), so TangaReef will no doubt have to watch out for other players (existing and new) reacting to it if the brand starts gaining significant traction.
And, of course, tour operators may have the financial muscle and influence to secure discounted rates when negotiating with suppliers for large numbers of bookings.