After two years in development Cruise.me "soft" launched last week with its take on improving the online cruise booking experience.
Tnooz put a few questions to the team to find out what it has been doing with its time and whether there have been any major pivots.
The core team is still in place apart from the chief marketing officer who left a year ago.
Cruise.me (Startup pitch here) is still bootstrapped and co-founder Stephen Chip says the team is proud of what it has achieved - building the website with a clean and easy user experience completely in-house. Doing everything internally has had its advantages in Cruise.me owning its own code.
"Outsourcing is great but having done plenty in the past, much can get lost in translation. You end up spending way more time than necessary. We are nimble and can move very quickly. This is a huge advantage."
The startup is now looking to raise its first round to be able to grow quickly. It's revenue model remains the same - commission from cruise companies as well as technology licensing fees.
The challenges so far
"Setting out to re-imagine how cruises are booked online is quite an undertaking. We could have easily put up a cruise booking site fairly quickly that was a clone of the other cruise sites out there. However, eliminating pain points and iteration can take time. As it turns out, more than we originally imagined.
For example, early on we started looking around for port and destination content. We were shocked that at every turn, we came up empty. When we did find content, it was patchy and/or poorly written. When we started talking to cruise industry pros, the first two questions they asked were "Do you have content?" and "What are you doing for deck plans?"
These were just two indicators that there was demand in the industry. Obviously there were more.
When it came to the actual booking funnel, this proved to be the trickiest part to get the workflow right. Especially because we had to re-engineer the deck plans to make the interactivity work."
As a pointer to the complexity involved, Chip adds that while brochure pictures are fine, they are more than lacking on the internet in usefulness and interactivity.
Chip says the company has solved that and made booking a cruise more like a flight:
"Let's take booking a seat on a flight. Could you ever imagine not selecting the actual seat but instead matching color codes, labels and categories from an image to text? By today's standards that sounds rather primitive. And that is exactly how it works on other cruise booking sites."
He adds that another question that came up consistently was "If you could travel all over the world and visit amazing port cities, why can't you visualize this on an interactive map?"
And from that, Cruise.me's Map Explorer was developed. The startup partnered with Mapbox and set about plotting every port and destination on a map and made it searchable.
While the home page is given over to deals, there is more going on in the background such as a price tracker service showing users the best time to book and an interactive map of itineraries.
"There haven not been any major pivots. Our goal was to always launch a consumer cruise booking website. We knew instinctively along the way that the tech we were building to solve pain points would be invaluable to others.
"Word got out fairly early and we started getting lots of inquiries from some sizable organizations. It's far easier and quicker to buy vs. build for established players. It comes down to time and resources and keeping the bottom line top of mind for these agencies."
He explains that the company has had interest from a cruiseline as well as travel companies but it doesn't intend to sell for the time being.
Taking the pain out of booking a cruise online
"We have managed to reduce the time it takes to book a cruise online and that was really important to us to get it right.
The cruise passengers are getting younger and this was part of our overall goal to target 25 - 45 demographic. Now that's not to say that younger or older cruisers wouldn't book on our site, we just had to have a target."
He adds that by making it "akin to booking a seat on a flight" there's nothing new for consumers to learn. In addition, the booking flow has been simplified to four steps including cabin selection and payment.