In the year that miniTime has been operating, the family-focused travel startup has collected thousands of age-appropriate reviews and recommendations. This user-generated travel information has allowed the site to deliver trip planning and booking tools specifically targeted to families.
CEO John Smelzer says to "think TripAdvisor for families, with superior search results, social hooks and tools."
These additional tools include direct bookings, social trip sharing and the ability to plan trips. Users are also encouraged to share their specific trip plans, which can then be followed by other users seeking similar activities.
The pain point is especially acute for families seeking to plan a vacation involving children of different ages, while ensuring that each child has enough age-appropriate activities to keep them engaged during the journey.
The trip planning tools are also effective for managing time, and the ability to see other families' trips offers a straightforward inspiration tool that emphasizes the company-created content geared towards travel inspiration.
This niche is especially lucrative, as it allows attraction marketers to specifically target a travel decision maker that has shared exact ages of children. By focusing directly on the right age, the marketer will both be more likely to cut through the noise to the traveler and to be successful in delivering a great experience that leads to a positive review.
The company, which has been funded with seed money and convertible debt, has a full-time staff of nine employees and several freelancers. The full-time staff includes Oleg Sandler (co-founder and CTO), Nimrod Lev (co-founder and chairman), and Suzanne Rowan Kelleher (managing editor).
Co-founder John Smelzer shared more about the company's road map with Tnooz.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
MiniTime’s founders are serial entrepreneurs, having together built and sold several businesses. They both have kids and personally struggled with planning family vacations. Like all good entrepreneurs, they identified a real problem for real people and set out to solve it.
What is your estimation of market size?
Family comprises one-third of the $150 billion US online travel market, with an estimated 36 million parents planning and booking family travel online.
Please describe your competition in this segment.
Our primary competitive set consists of TripAdvisor, FamilyVacationCritic, Trekaroo, CiaoBambino, and FamilyTravel.com.
What is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Currently, we are predominantly “Click-based” and CPM advertising. We also have the potential for paid business listings, agent-assisted commissions and e-commerce.
Please describe what MiniTime does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
MiniTime.com makes family travel planning easy by providing parents with detailed information, recommendations and trip planning tools, all based on the ages of their kids.
Only MiniTime combines: 1) editorial curation, 2) algorithmic recommendations of places to stay and things to do based on kids’ ages, 3) an enthusiast community of parents helping parents, and 4) powerful user tools to help parents plan, book and share their family travel experience.
Why should traveling families use your startup?
We simplify the family travel planning process, which can be overwhelming, and time consuming for parents. According to the MiniTime Family Vacation Planning Survey 2013, the majority of parents spend more than nine hours planning a vacation, and 2 out of 3 will consult more than five online resources during the planning process.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We have implemented a robust marketing plan which has six core pillars: SEO, SEM, Paid Links, PR, Strategic Partnerships and Social Media.
Further, we have formalized content distribution deals with top portals such as Yahoo! , MSN, Fox News, Parade.com and more, to whom we routinely distribute our original editorial content on all things family travel.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
Our initial vision for MiniTime remains unchanged. However, we continue to innovate and have added more powerful user tools along the way.
In April 2013, MiniTime launched its Trip Planner tool, the first comprehensive itinerary builder for families. The tool includes a fully functional and exportable calendar, detailed maps and directions, dynamic, age-based recommendations of places to stay, see and eat, as well as a journal and photo uploader.
MiniTimers can create their own trip plans from scratch, or, if inspired by another MiniTimer’s Trip Plan, save it as their own, then modify it to create the perfect Trip Plan for their family.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
We would like to be leading online and mobile resource for family travel leisure.
Audience acquisition and engagement are the leading challenges for any consumer-facing website, especially in travel where consumers have been trained to book with the leading media sites and OTAs. We are thrilled with our audience growth over the first nine months since launch, and will remain focused on further growing and engaging that audience.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Family travel information is abundant, but scattered and unrefined, and the existing family travel sites are long on content, but short on functionality. As noted above, only MiniTime combines editorial curation, algorithmic recommendations, an enthusiast community of parents and powerful user tools to help parents plan, book and share their family travel experiences.
Family travel is a lucrative and loyal niche. There are great rewards for companies that do family right, and given that the targeted family travel space is not as competitive as the wider travel landscape, MiniTime has a good chance of capturing market share.
The relative unsophistication of the competition also creates a window of opportunity, as consumers expect a certain level of visual appeal and design aesthetic as they approach the trip planning process.
MiniTime also promises to make it easier for travelers to plan complicated vacations involving different age groups - and for time-starved family decision makers, this value proposition will likely be enormously appealing.