Diving In

Starting a company in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression is a daunting task.  You’re diving into the relative unknown – like jumping off a cliff.  Not a very positive analogy, I know.  And a bit cliché.  But what the heck, I wanted to find some way to include this video in a post.

From a distance, the jump looks very doable – as does a startup business.  Then, with each step upward you strain a bit.  You begin to feel just a little bit of apprehension.  But you keep on.  You put the building blocks of a business plan together.  And then you reach the last step, the point of no return.  The jumping off point.  You’ve done the research – others have made this jump before – but there’s still doubt.  It could be low tide.  The business opportunity might not be so large after all.  The water may not be as deep as you think.  But you have this vision propelling you.  The seeking of a thrill, however short, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with confronting one’s fears and doubts directly, of persisting in spite of it all.

Then the moment of truth arrives and there is only one way to break through the lump forming in your throat.  You must act, quickly.  Otherwise if you linger too long, you will find a rapid stream of reasons why you should not do it.  Doubt will settle in, and you will forego a chance to pursue your dreams.  So even if you have the best laid business plans, in the end what’s needed is a bit of craziness with a heap of confidence and an unwavering belief in your vision.  It’s the only way you can take that last step, and plunge into the exhilarating realm of uncertainty – or in this case, the waters of the Fiordo di Furore, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

While the potential rewards of business success are great, in this case I was happy to earn the admiration of my daughter (who’s excited scream you’ll hear midway through my jump).  Thanks for listening and welcome on board what is sure to be a refreshing plunge into new experiences.  Triptuner.com is now live.  Here we go!

Asia Travel Advice On-the-Go: A Tale of Two Travelers

Two acquaintances of mine were on the road recently, doing their own separate solo tours of Asia.  One is a female post-graduate student in her mid-20s (we’ll call her Julie) on what Australians might call a “walkabout”, an extended trip of a few months.  The other (let’s call him Brian) is an urban professional in his mid-40s, taking a three-week break between jobs.  Because I’ve traveled extensively in the region, they asked me for help in planning their respective trips.

While both of them shared the same wanderlust, it is interesting to see their divergent approaches on getting travel advice.  Both had the same big-picture questions (is X period of time enough to see certain countries, what’s the best way to get around, etc.)  But when it came to more specific suggestions about hotels or activities, Julie was just fine scouring the web for free info.  I’d offered my help, but she didn’t really see the need.  Maybe it’s just a sign of her generation: “millennials” are well-known for their comfort with technology.  But I’ve even heard older travelers boast of how easily they can dig up good travel info.  Indeed it’s almost a source of pride.

So what’s the big deal? I too enjoy uncovering valuable nuggets of travel info – whether it’s a more direct flight, the perfect hotel or a unique activity. Some websites will even give you a “medal” if you play along and contribute your own info.  Which in turn makes such sites more attractive to search engines, creating even more opportunities to sort through an ever-increasing amount of info.

But over the years I’ve found that it can eat up a ton of time.  And when I do search, my signal-to-noise ratio is much tighter – I’d like less searching and more finding.  Call me old and crotchety but my brain gets enough info searching and processing every day at work.  It’s like getting your driver’s license.  All you want to do is drive, then years later all you do IS drive.  The novelty wears off.  Same thing with technology.  The excitement of getting 4 million search results in 0.7 seconds wears off after clicking on the 4th or 5th result.  (Like many, I’m still waiting for technology to deliver my increased leisure time).

Perhaps Julie is simply a better multi-tasker, whose younger brain can withstand more info processing like a newer-model computer.  But as a recent Stanford University study shows, over-tasking the brain affects even the hardiest multi-tasking college students.  Try keeping it up in an office environment for 20 years, and you begin to understand why people like Brian want to cut to the chase and get solid, timely advice.  Without a ton of searching.

So when he asked me to help finalize an itinerary for his Asia trip, I tried not to bog him down with a ton of options.  I promised to help him out on the go as needed, but emphasized that above all he needed to GO.  Get out there on the road and enjoy these precious travel moments as much as possible.  Of course his tight time frame can explain why he chose to rely upon my on-the-go help rather than do it on his own.  And what an ironic twist that having a “virtual trip assistant” of sorts inspired Brian to hop on a flight and delight in spontaneity – something usually reserved for college students.

How did this all turn out? Brian had a great time and became a loyal early advocate of Triptuner.  As for Julie, she finally got her fill of DIY travel planning and sought me out for her last stop in Singapore.

We each have preferred ways of getting travel advice.  I just think that there’s got to be a better way of accessing all of this valuable info in a meaningful way, while providing the personal service to help fill in the gaps.  It’s one reason why we’re building Triptuner.

Marketing Tips from a 6 year old

So anyone who’s a parent or who’s been around younger kids are amazed at how quickly their young fingers become adept with our iPhones and iPads. And yes, listening to fathers gloat about their kids’ accomplishments can get tiresome.

But I gotta give it up to my daughter. Just started 1st grade and I think she’s ready to help run my web startup. One recent morning, she let out this zinger: “Daddy, how can people you don’t know get to your website?” I was flabbergasted. Just the other day a friend asked for my elevator pitch. And I was ready (it’s a web app for personalized trip ideas and on demand expert advice). But my daughter stumped me. Here I was, giggling on the outside but somehow stymied as I searched for a simple kid-friendly explanation of my marketing strategy! “Well…ah…you know, first you have to create something that people want…so that when they want to read about something…or, when they are searching for something that you have, you want to make sure they click on your site.” I totally flubbed it. How the hell am I going to pitch potential investors? Fortunately my wife chimed in: “you know, it’s just like when you search for Jonas Brothers videos on YouTube.” My daughter got the relevant example. “Oh. So you make it so people can find something they like on your website.”

Now as any entrepreneur knows, marketing is critical to any new business – the old adage about building a better mousetrap (and how the world will beat a path to your door) doesn’t hold true anymore. Finding a core group of “earlyvangelists” or champions for your product is critical to its success for sure. But continued growth will need to come from new customers – the strangers my precocious daughter was talking about. Fortunately I do have a plan, and part of it is something you can participate in. Please take the quick 3-minute survey at http://svy.mk/my6yrold

to see if you fit into our target market (or at least what we think it is). If you’re selected, we’ll give you a chance to earn gift certificates to your favorite places like iTunes, Amazon or Starbucks. And in the process, you’ll be helping out an entrepreneur trying desperately trying to stay one step ahead of his 6-year-old daughter. Which may just ensure success!

Genesis of a Curious Traveler

This story begins many years ago, with a young boy taking his first transatlantic flight.  At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be on board what is now perhaps the quintessential symbol of global travel – a Boeing 747.  It was my first true taste of travel, the spark that ultimately led to my current livelihood.  I can still recall the feeling of wonderment when I awoke to find that after a full night’s sleep, we were still over water.  As the sun rose, we crossed over a neat patchwork of Holland’s verdant green fields.  I remember thinking “what’s it like down there?” It’s a sense of curiosity that has never left me.  I get it even when I look at maps of random places.  An unquenchable desire to see new places.

Fast forward to the late nineties.  After ditching a corporate cubicle for a year-long trip around the world, I caught the tail end of the dotcom boom.  Amid the lavish launch parties and overnight wealth of the dotcom boom, I was quite content to be writing promotional copy for a brash young startup called Site59.com.  My job? Get people to take a spontaneous weekend trip someplace by crafting evocative, vibrant descriptions.  It was a dream job. Describing destinations in a way that captured the inherent pleasure of travel was the perfect outlet for my travel curiosity.  Our focus on communicating the overall experience was partly by pure necessity: as a young company we didn’t have inventory in places like Orlando and Las Vegas.  We had to sell places like Cleveland and Omaha (no offense).

In two years we managed to sell enough to be acquired by Travelocity.  Suddenly, we’re selling the big destinations and my focus shifted to the business side of things: market share, supplier rate negotiations, volume.  Still, it was an amazing job.  I had a choice territory (Caribbean, and then Europe) and naturally it required extensive travel (hey, somebody had to do it).  But as with any mature business, the focus became more about driving volume and profits in popular destinations.  Not much discovery.

A concept started forming, a way of capturing the sense of discovery in travel.  While this is very much en vogue today (my project is one of a current bevy of “travel inspiration startups”) it was not a top priority for most online travel agencies.  As these ideas germinated, an opportunity arose to work for an online agency called eDreams in Barcelona, a city I’ve always loved.  Through my years there I gained tremendous insight into the European market, while taking advantage of the many nearby destinations: Tuscany, Tunisia, Provence just to name a few.  And while the experience was amazing, the desire to start my own business brought me back to the US and to this project.

This is where we’ll write the next chapter.  That’s right I said “we” – you and I.  You’ll provide the comments and feedback (and perhaps one day become a customer), and I will do the work.  Not a bad deal, huh?  Please join me as we build an exciting new way to discover amazing travel experiences.