TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based Gap Daemon, a community platform for young travellers on gap year trips.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
We’re Gap Daemon, a select group of travel-loving types who want to give young, independent travellers a platform to plan their trip, share their experiences and maximise the benefit of their gap years.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- James Capon, chief executive officer - From 1994 to 2002, James Capon was consecutively President of the two largest divisions of Levi Strauss based in San Francisco. He built Dockers into a $1 billion plus global business and went on to lead the $2 billion Levi’s brand. He was until recently a partner with SalesBrain, whose Neuromarketing and decision-making insights helped boost communications impact and bridge gaps between sales, marketing and the leadership of companies across Europe. He holds an MBA from the Solvay Business School in Brussels.
- Darren Wray, chief technology officer - Darren is a specialist in the management and development of high quality websites and web systems for such brands as EPSON, Mitsubishi Motors, Siemens and Bosch. Additionally Darren has acted as a CTO and IT Director in the financial services and publishing industries. A Microsoft expert, Darren also has well-established links with the majority of complementary sites in the travel field and is regarded as an authority on mobile and web interactions.
- Peter Duncan, chief commercial officer - Peter is responsible for marketing and sales. Peter has a track record of building and managing profitable long-term commercial relationships with companies such as Virgin, London Weekend Television, ASG plc, Warners and The British Film Institute together with extensive experience in Marketing Partnership/Sponsorship and Advertiser Funded Content provision. Peter has particular responsibility for brand building and commercialisation and will work closely with the external advertising, PR and media sales teams.
- Katie Bolton, operations director - Katie’s experience is from the world of travel and Internet booking systems. After beginning her career with STA Travel in 1998, she joined lastminute.com. Her responsibilities grew as she progressed from Holidays Account Management to European Travel Development, introducing new product lines and spearheading Dynamic Packaging Technology for customers to tailor their own holiday packages on-line. In 2004, Katie was appointed head of Internal Communications and tasked with developing company culture and building brand values across Europe.
- Matt Jerwood, commercial director - Matt is a freelance consultant with eleven years digital experience in product development, business development, mobile, social media, and marketing. His past consultancy projects span a range of travel and media organisations such as Global Radio (stations such as Heart, Capital and Classic), ITV.com, Black Tomato and Trusted Places. Previous full time positions include; Director of Business Development at WAYN; Head of Mobile at Dennis Publishing, (working on titles including Maxim, Evo, Auto Express, Men’s Fitness and The Week); and Head of Multi Channels at lastminute.com.
Round one start-up investment is $2.2 million of private funding.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Most gap year sites are about selling packages to young travellers. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not us. Young travellers need impartial advice without the "hard sell" and a community that they can trust, add to and grow themselves.
Gap Daemon is founded on the idea that although there are many online sites dedicated to travelling, as well as many online social networks, to date no one has created a site that brings together the concept of community with travel advice, resources and record keeping, for young people, their friends and family.
This means that when we recommend something, it’s because we know and trust that it’s good. But more importantly, it means that our community can share tips and recommendations with each other, without experiencing a hard sell at any point along the way.
Describe the business, core products and services?
The business is young, knowledgeable and trustworthy. The management team have all travelled widely and know what it’s like to go out there for the first time, with that mix of excitement and terror burning away in your gut.
Our core services:
- A growing advice section (which covers everything from managing your money abroad to tips for first time flyers)
- Articles and case studies on volunteering, working and studying abroad (to get a real feel for what you’re letting yourself in for)
- Travel guides written by backpackers (find out if the water’s safe to drink, a rough daily budget, how much you can bend the rules and more...)
- Your Zone, the social network side of the site that allows users to store photos, keep a journal, plot their journey on a map and post status updates.
- Gap Daemon lets the user publish their experiences to discreet audiences. For example; it enables Mum and Dad to see one version and to track the progress of their wandering offspring, while also allowing friends to see alternate versions (like the Full Moon Party photos parents really shouldn’t see).
Still in Beta at the moment; we are working on a full site launch in January 2012. Look out for a party invite! In the meantime the audience is growing, and we have a healthy community of members already using the site.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our core demographic is young, independent travellers aged 18-24, though we feel that the site is useful to a much wider range of people.
Parents, for example, can follow their children’s progress as they travel, as can friends and other family members back home. And although the site is written primarily for a first-time traveller, there’s so much great advice on there we feel sure second, third and fourth time gappers will find it a great resource.
Our commercial customers are wide ranging, including tourist boards, mobile comms, financial services and many more.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Prior to the Beta launch we organised intensive interviews with young pre-and-post gap year travellers in London and Birmingham.
This provided genuine insights and helped us define the vision. Gap Daemon is continuing to listen to its current and potential customers having recently completed on online survey about young independent travel.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The business model is based on advertising, e-commerce, sponsorship and commercial partnerships. By delivering a high volume of young aspirational users, with a secondary audience of parents and friends, Gap Daemon can drive significant revenue without the need to charge the user directly for its services.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Hugely motivated, experienced and enthusiastic team with a strong business track record.
- Lots of young travellers and rising travel bloggers contribute to the site and blog. Our editor, Nadia, encourages the voice of young travellers to come through strongly on the site, so you’re as likely to read a post from a young blogger currently on a gap year, as you are a really experienced “old timer”.
- Not all the functions and features planned are live yet, but all that’s to come (and we are still in Beta!)
- We believe that a gap year and indeed any form of independent travel is immensely valuable to young people. However we want to enable a wider section of the young community to take advantage of this. It’s all about being non-elitist and appealing to a wider social demographic.
- Research undertaken by Gap Daemon shows that young people are increasingly choosing to take some form of interactive technology with them (iPad, smart phone, laptop). With that in mind, the opportunities on our site are far-reaching. We want “daemons” of all types travelling around the globe and having the best gap year possible, thanks to our site. Look out for Ski Daemons, Surf Daemons, Beer Daemons, Jungle Daemons, Screaming Daemons (the latter being those into more extreme experiences – Bungie, Free Fall and so on.)
- We’ll also be launching a phone app, integrated ability to plot and plan trips and “Parent Zone” (working title!) dedicated to the nail-biting folks back home.
- Like our users we aim to stand out from the crowd. The Greek derivation of Daemon means Guardian or protector; in other words… your mate. Gap Daemon is therefore perfectly placed to be your 21st century travel companion.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Speed to market: there are many gap year and travel sites out there, so a lot of competition, but we think it reflects demand for a growing world market and sociological change. We’re also confident that there’s nobody out there quite like us.
- However good ideas surface simultaneously and we see concepts we’d thought of but not yet implemented, appearing all the time. One of the most exciting things about the net is that we are all continually playing catch-up and the dynamics change almost daily.
No one advised us that we weren’t going to be successful. Like any startup we spent a lot of time assessing the risk involved and how we would minimise it.
The revenue model is often being challenged, however the increase in brand advertising, coupled with the upsurge in niche and specialist social networks give us confidence in our approach.
Life is all about facing-up to challenges. If you don’t like it, go live in the ‘burbs and mow the lawn.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Having a site full of travelling daemons telling the world about their adventures and seeing a "knock off copy" of the Gap Daemon T-shirt on sale in Hong Kong.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.