FOF Travel thinks its social trip-planning service can be profitableNewsBy Sean O'Neil | June 2, 2013Share This article was originally published on Watch out Gogobot, Couchsurfing, and WAYN.Friends of Friends Travel is an online marketplace that gives members the chance to share opportunities for free accommodation, storage space, travel tips and local meet-ups through, well, you know -- friends of friends.Co-founders are Krissa Curran (CEO), Mark Strickland (chairman), and Daljeet Singh (head of marketing).Launched last year, the company is bootstrapped with money from the founders, close friends and family.The founders' plan is to raise money through the startup's premium membership service -- at rate of between £12 and £20 to join for a year. Membership gives access to discounts via the site's partnerships with STA Travel, HostelWorld, travel insurance supplier World Nomads, among other companies.By year end, the founders hope to secure a round of funding from venture capitalists and angel investors.Q&A with CEO Krissa Curran:Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom? FOF Travel is an online marketplace and social travel network that is aimed at 18-35-year-olds who are keen to travel cheaply and safely -- and to help their exchange essential travel services through a trustworthy network.Members can offer each other a place to stay (a roof), somewhere to leave their stuff (a locker), travel tips and advice (a guide) and a chance to meet up with a friendly, trustworthy local (a cup of coffee).Revenue model and strategy for profitability?We aim to have 54,000 registered users, with 10-15,000 premium club members by Easter 2014. Other revenue streams will be from partner and affiliate commissions.Why should people or companies use your startup?FOF Travel aims to make the world better through the sharing economy.Because FOF Travel only extends as far as friends of friends, it is the only social travel network that can immediately expose you to safe and cheap ways to travel, via a map-based user experience.It takes what people already do on a day-to-day basis – ask their friends and family for help – and makes it better.We've created an electronic platform dedicated to making the process of finding cheap and social travel opportunities much easier, whether it’s for a gap year or just a few weeks’ break during the year, through deals with our travel partners, our members can also save hundreds of pounds on their travel.We can honestly say there is no other social travel network in this space at the moment, doing what we do.Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?Partner endorsements whenever possible plus appointed brand ambassadors in key cities around the world including London, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Philippines, Melbourne, Sydney, NZ, Vancouver, San Francisco, LA, New York.How did your initial idea evolve? What's your Plan B?I founded FOF Travel with my old international school friend from Hong Kong DJ Singh.The business had been stewing in the back of my mind for two years prior to launching it this year and was prompted by the fact that after high school in Hong Kong, all of our close friends dispersed around the world, which made it difficult to keep in touch.Also, growing up as a third culture kid/expat gave us a view of the world where we are global citizens by nature, and don’t see any boundaries around countries and people.There's so much opportunity to adapt based on what we think people are looking for.Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?This summer, the startup aims to debut some enhancements, such as "Footprints," a list of places people have been, with user-generated reviews from within one's peer network – and "Bucketlists" – a list of places people want to go, so they can find other travelers who are also interested in visiting those destinations.We see ourselves as a successful social network for travellers, owning a significant share of the youth, budget and social travel market.We want to be the first place that young people go to when planning their travels. And we want to be acknowledged by our peers and partners in the travel industry as a “major industry player”.What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?Like the most popular social networking sites, FOF Travel is enabling young people to do something that they have been doing for years, but much more quickly and easily and on a significantly bigger scale.A recent emarketeer report shows that 83% of online-savvy travelers trust a travel recommendation from friends.Tnooz view: We know what you're thinking, dear reader. Why does the world need another social travel platform? But people thought America didn't need another tech blog, and then The Verge came out of nowhere and became an industry leader almost overnight. The kids are social and they're traveling. According to the UNWTO, the Youth Travel market (15-30 year olds) is a $165 billion industry and around 20% of the world's international tourists are in that age group in any given year. Based on that research, FOF Travel estimates its potential total market size as 150 million travellers in any given year. FOF Travel sees its competition as Couchsurfing and AirBnB and, to an extent, Facebook. It's slightly surprising FOF Travel is starting first as a desktop browser tool. It would seem more contemporary -- more like WeHostel's and HotelTonight's models -- to be mobile-first. FOF Travel needs to fix some of the practical details, too. Regarding its premium club membership, it could use more work on constructing its offers to potential customers on its site for more effective conversions. Learning from Chris Guillebeau's Empire Building Kit -- which gets into the nitty gritty of how to effectively convert customers into paying members -- might be advisable. On another point: Grassroots marketing, the old-fashioned meaning of social, isn't prominently part of the startup's plans. Yet companies like Yelp and Pinterest only got to scale by being able to connect like-minded customers with each other in organized meet-ups and parties. Should FOF Travel organize some parties worldwide, which might spark authentic conversations among travelers at a deeper level than social network connections? Maybe. Anyway, there's definitely an opportunity at reaching out to this demographic around the ideas of travel and the sharing economy. It's also good that the company has begun with social as the spine running through it, and reassuring that they're thinking about cash flow, such as with the premium offers. They seem like hard-working, enthusiastic people, and determination is half-the startup battle, right?Share this quote NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.