Image-led search certainly appears to be all the rage in travel - especially when combined with social elements such as sharing, recommendations and lists.
IKnow.Travel is the latest startup to take the Pinterest approach to social media, going heavy on the pin-board style approach to sharing ideas for travel and collaborating with other users to discover places to visit and things to do.
The Russian company was created by Roman Medvedev (CEO, previously with Pliq.me) and Anna Bicheveskaya (editor-in-chief) with backing from an unnamed business angel.
In short, IKnow.Travel allows users to source travel recommendations from social networks to create personalised travel guides, pretty much in the style of Pinterest.
The company has already evolved from the original idea of a content and flight search system in December 2011 to its current guise, launched six months later in June this year.
Revenue is primarily via lead-generation on affiliate deals to airlines and hotels.
Q&A with CEO Roman Medvedev:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
IKnow.Travel hosts a native expert community offering more natural, localized reviews focused on planning activities at travel destinations. More than just where to stay, IKnow.Travel is about what to do, points of interest and cultural features of a given destination.
It uses a social graph-approach to achieve personalized recommendations based on interests from trusted sources in a user's social network.
Users can collaborate when planning trips and connect directly with those making recommendations, expanding their travel community.
IKnow.Travel has adapted a visual approach to its user interface that makes it easy to use, offering a higher information density without crowding visual space.
We also offer users booking on one site and delivering a better travel experience by focusing on activities, impressions and shared interests.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
On the one hand we help people to travel savvy and plan their trips with little effort required, creating a "lean-back travel experience". With the possibility to arrange a door-to-door trip, IKnow.Travel focuses its expertise on content highlighting the most inspiring places around the world.
This helps people to create their own travel guides fitting their interests, way of traveling, friends’ recommendations and budget.
At the same time we connect people and help them exchange travel experience by showing how they travel and what places they are planning to visit, or have already visited.
IKnow.Travel is also a B2B platform to promote destinations. For example, travel bloggers or country representatives can post content on IKnow.Travel, arranging it to inspiring collections.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We use SEO, SEM and SMM to attract visitors and convert them to registered users and then, step-by-step, we help them to become better travelers, so they could refer us to their friends.
With Facebook and Vkontakte (the biggest social network in Eastern Europe) IKnow.Travel has strong integration with erxisting platforms, helping us to spread information to millions of customers. Partnership with popular online resources and OTAs are also ways to attract customers.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
IKnow.Travel business model is balanced and covers not only lead generation (CPC) but also CPM advertising.
Cash flow is divided between CPC and CPM model, creates balanced foundation for growth. We are already working in both directions, analyzing approaches to sustainable combination of both models.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
First version of IKnow.Travel was a combination of travel blog and OTA, offering inspiring reviews and the option to book flights. That was a mistake to offer only one provider for the flights, because people thought that we were creating beautiful content only to sell flights.
We changed the whole approach and now we offer the best prices to the flights and hotels, based on meta data from the market. And customers love it, as we have become experts, not only in content but also in offers.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The main thing is the asymmetry of information. Travellers have a difficult and time-consuming process getting access to destination information they need while planning and during the trip.
What do we have now:
- paper guides – most of them just recommend the same places to everybody
- social networks – people are sharing millions of spots and photos there, but there is no way to find it when you need it
- blogs – they are great, but cover only one direction, not easy to know about all great blogs out there
- friends’ recommendations are offline and based on them we need to make a lot of work to arrange a trip.
IKnow.Travel arranges up-to-date guides, connections with social network data, inspiring travel blogs and friends’ recommendations on one easy-to-use platform to give a "lean-back" way to arrange a trip.
While there is a tendency to raise a quizzical eyebrow at those which have adopted (copied?) the Pinterest-style user experience and model, perhaps IKnow.Travel will face less scepticism because it is in the heart of the Russian web bubble.
Very much early days for the new version of IKnow.Travel, but if it can educate users into playing with the pin-board style template then it may well be on to something.
Integrating with Facebook and the other biggie in social media in Eastern Europe will go a long way to smoothing that process.
But will that integration be enough to capture a groundswell of users?
With users comes revenue, with revenue comes ability to refine the SEO required to get more users in the front - rather than side - door.
A tricky task to manage, but within Russia, rather than the US or Western Europe, IKnow.Travel may stand a better chance than its contemporaries.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.