Startup pitch: OutBounding – a platform for discovering and sharing quality travel content
How many times have you tried searching for some travel related content and ended up finding something totally unrelated, and of mediocre quality?
The web is filled with loads of travel related content that is written by well known travel content publishing brands, blogs of travel service providers, travel bloggers/writers etc. How do you pick the best of this heap of travel content?
For example: A search for “adventure holiday ideas ireland” gives pages of results in Google.
In the first results page, there is a link provided by Thrifty Car Rental that says Thrifty cars are available for rent at all major airports in Ireland (that takes people to adventure places). Now, how is this relevant to the search intended? This is an issue of “finding the (right) needle in a haystack”.
And then, how do you know there is a needle at the first place. For example: Tourism Ireland’s “The Wild Atlantic Way” project is a 2400 km long Atlantic coastal drive that has 150+ strategically placed attraction points for travellers to stop and experience. This will be completed by 2014, and it will be world’s lengthiest coastal driveway. Does that sound like an adventure?
How do users discover content like this?
OutBounding.org, a community driven website that curates quality travel content says it has the platform to solve all the above problems.
Any web user will be able to submit travel related content to OutBounding, users can upvote content, and comment on it. Also, the company has a team of editors/moderators who constantly keep a check on the quality of content that surfaces in the platform.
The platform’s algorithm adds muscle to the curation process by restricting behaviour that would harm the overall standard of submissions and by rewarding users who play a positive role with more voting weight. By this process, the platform acts as a channel for publishers (irrespective of their size) to reach out to the target audience with quality content.
For example: Users who only ever submit weak content from their own domain will see their influence decrease in relation to users who submit strong content from diverse domains.
Q&A with Matthew Barker, co-founder of OutBounding:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
My background is in online travel marketing, writing and publishing and I have long been aware that one fundamental problem in our trade is the signal-to-noise issue, namely that there’s so much junk and mediocre travel content on the web it is overwhelming our ability to discover and filter for meaningful substance.
This is a problem that hurts everyone: content creators, publishers, brands and ultimately our audiences.
Social and search algorithms, and exclusively community/crowd-based solutions to discovery are problematic for numerous reasons, while human-based approaches alone cannot possibly process all the content out there. I realised that a system that harnessed the best elements of all three could effectively curate an evolving “must-read” list of the excellent travel content that is published on a constant basis.
What started out as an altruistic project quickly developed into something more significant when we realised there were many potential applications throughout the industry for a high-value content-curation and distribution tool.
From there we developed plans to operate feeds of travel content to audiences across the web via a number of content-curation tools and applications aimed at travel brands, DMOs and other industry players.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
We have four co-founders: myself, Ethan Gelber (travel writer, blogger and responsible travel advocate), Sonja Holverson (tourism and marketing professor, practitioner and author) and Belinda Whittaker (community and social media expert).
Supporting us is an incredible team of volunteer editors/moderators. Our platform partners are the highly talented folks behind Inbound.org, the marketing community started by Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, and Dharmesh Shah, CTO and co-founder at Hubspot.
Bootstrapped, as lean as it gets. Our minimal operating costs are largely met by my company, I&I Travel Media, but so far it’s a labour of love for all involved.
Estimation of market size?
Massive and global (albeit English-language, for now). We are developing tools and services that travel brands, DMOs and publishers of all sizes will find extremely useful to their digital-marketing activities at a time when (quality) content marketing is an imperative.
We are also providing a critical filter for consumers overwhelmed by the volume of content they must ply through in search of relevance and caliber.
We have well-established competition in multiple areas:
- In content discovery, we are up against the search and social-media behemoths.
- In curation/aggregation/distribution, there are the likes of EverPost, Curata and even Outbrain.
- In sharing and bookmarking, there are Digg and StumbleUpon, among many others.
However, none of them use the same model as we do, none share our clear focus on content excellence and none specialise exclusively in travel and hospitality.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We are building a suite of curation tools on a freemium model. There will be basic (but still powerful) curation and distribution tools available for free and a more sophisticated suite of premium tools and API support for enterprise-level customers.
As our distribution network grows and begins to reach larger audiences, it will open up some very exciting new opportunities for further monetising the network.
What problem does the business solve?
First, we are alleviating a major pain point for travel brands that find it time-consuming and expensive to curate the kind of content they need to support their digital activities.
Second, we are creating a shared asset for both content creators and publishers that finally lets “quality” do the talking and rewards content based on merit alone.
Third, for the consumer, we are helping to improve the state of digital travel publishing by tackling the deluge of garbage and supporting the people who take the time and effort to produce excellent content.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We started out from a community perspective – the original idea was simply to create an aggregator and RSS feed of curated travel content, but we realised that without a credible distribution mechanism it would be impossible to get sufficient buy-in and engagement from the content and publishing communities. That led us to explore all the potential applications of media distribution, which we see as vast and very exciting.
Why should people or companies use the business?
The site’s user base is predominantly bloggers, writers, journalists, photographers, videographers and other people in the content-publishing communities.
The incentive for our users is the opportunity to share their content with huge new audiences via our curation and distribution channels. We only ever link directly to their content, so there are obvious benefits for their involvement.
Our industry customers (both paying and non-paying) will use our curation tools because they offer a substantive improvement on any existing service, in terms of the sophistication of the toolset and the potential for customisation, but most importantly in the uniquely high standard of content that our platform allows them to curate.
Of course, our ultimate target is the consumer, who is clamouring for excellent content and deserves a better way of filtering the noise.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Our community-building phase is based on good old-fashioned relationships and outreach, particularly among the travel-writing, blogging and publishing communities that form our core industry user base.
As our distribution network and audience grows, so will the incentive for the travel community at large to engage with the platform.
Customer acquisition: we are forming strategic partnerships with various DMOs that allow access to and use of our destination feeds. We are also in talks with several major travel brands and other industry organisations. Eventually we will use a combination of PR, social media and industry advertising to reach our full market.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Our principal challenge has been a chicken-and-egg problem of needing a distribution network to demonstrate credibility to the content-creating and publishing communities, but first needing their buy-in and engagement to help build and power parts of that same distribution network.
The community is justifiably jaded by years of false promises from industry wise guys like us and by the beleaguered state of their trade.
It has taken a lot of time, effort and relationship-building to get us this far. It will continue into the future, as we are nothing without our community.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Content curation can be hugely rewarding for travel brands. When done properly it can dramatically reinforce other digital-marketing activities. However, discovery and distribution remain difficult, labour intensive and inefficient.
We plan to remove these pain points and, in doing so, improve the relationship between creators and publishers of great travel content and the wider industry.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
We don’t look and act like any tech startup that I know of, but we are influenced quite heavily by people like Seth Godin and Simon Sinek.
Are you thinking of this question – “How is OutBounding different from sites like Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon”? The company has answered this as the first FAQ. OutBounding has a team of moderators who constantly keep an eye on the content quality, this differentiates OutBounding from other content-sharing sites. Also, the company is focused only on travel industry content.
Is there a need for a platform like OutBounding? Yes, definitely there is, for the same set of reasons mentioned in the beginning of this article.
Currently, the site has 340+ registered users. As the company says, its a chicken-and-egg problem to solve: users in need of quality travel content, publishers in need of a quality platform to take their content to their target audience.
Revenue generation is going to be interesting. Once the company grows the network big enough as expected,will it monetize by charging users a monthly fee for accessing special features like content search (similar to Feedly), viewing influencers etc? Running context specific advertisements? We will have to wait and see.
Vine video about OutBounding:
Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.