With TRILL, users can turn their Instagram content into bookable experiences. By using the platform, TRILL tastemakers earn cash when people book off their content.
TRILL has access to more than 500,000 hotels and 40,000 activities globally to book directly through the platform.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
TRILL is a platform that creates bookable experiences from social travel content. TRILL rewards its tastemakers with cash when users book off their content. Its dual‐sided marketplace acts as a tool for influencers and travel partners as well as a planning/booking platform powered by user-generated content.
TRILL’s artificial intelligence and image recognition technology reviews each piece of content and categorizes it by hotel, activity and restaurant. TRILL’s ability to track each tastemakers content throughout the entire booking life cycle adds tremendous value for its content creators for future brand partnerships. Tastemakers can now prove their worth without showing their number of followers and engagement, but by actual ROI on each piece of content.
TRILL’s unique front end gives users the ability to plan and book through a different lens vs. a traditional search from point A to point B. TRILL’s search technology lets users search by hashtags, trending destinations and tastemakers.
What inspired you to create this company?
Both co‐founders of TRILL have either worked for or with hospitality companies their entire careers and have combined over 25 years experience. They have seen the travel industry continuously grow and have struggled planning and booking travel for many years with the current landscape.
They noticed a shift in consumer behavior with the emergence of socially driven commerce. Millennials aren’t spending time writing reviews anymore; instead, they are posting a picture on Instagram promoting the amazing hotel they stayed at in Tulum.
That is the future; digital is the new word of mouth. Social media companies are not structuring user‐generated travel content and making it actionable. They are solely focused on the major brands spending ad revenue with them, not on the organic content from micro-influencers and everyday tastemakers. TRILL sees an opportunity in structuring that content properly and making it actionable.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- Strengths: TRILL’s strength is our vast knowledge of the travel space. We want to be friends with the hotels and eventually drive direct bookings. We don’t want to be enemies like OTAs are. A unique interface with a focus on actionable user-generated content from trusted tastemakers gives a fresh look to the travel landscape.
- Weaknesses: Our biggest weakness is the travel industry as a whole. It is extremely fragmented, very competitive and dominated by heavy advertising spend from key OTA players.
- Opportunities: Socially driven commerce is proven in fashion and consumer products. Travel is the biggest category of content on social media. Online travel is an enormous sector, an over 600-billion-dollar industry. There is plenty of opportunity to make even a small dent in the large pie.
- Threats: At the beginning stages, being too reliant on Instagram to power our content and new privacy laws affecting public data.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
Travelers are spending five times more on Instagram than any other trip -planning site. User-generated content is not structured or monetized properly in the travel booking and planning stage.
From a content creators view, tracking ROI is one of the biggest concerns in the industry. In addition, every other company is focused on connecting brands and influencers. None of them are focused on their existing content and monetizing that further. The life cycle of profiting from their content dies after they post it on social media.
From an industry perspective, the two areas where we see problems and are attacking are search and content. Users want to search by experiences, from rich content from people they trust. The search process has not evolved enough and limits users to search the exact destination vs. an experience. The existing content of the properties and activities are the same generic photos across all online travel platforms.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
We have a very appealing value proposition for our consumers: “Get paid off your existing travel content.” Ninety-seven percent of millennials post on social media when they are traveling.
We don’t want to be enemies like OTAs are.
Once we raise capital, we plan on having a brand ambassador program, influencer marketing campaigns, dinner series and original content partnerships to acquire more tastemakers.
On the consumer side, our tastemakers will be posting their links on social channels driving free traffic to help lower customer acquisition costs. We will also spend our marketing budget on paid social, PR, SEO, brand activations, influencer marketing and a travel credit program.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We have spoken to hundreds of content creators that tell us there is a need for our product every day. We also spoke to many consumers to hear their pain points throughout the planning and booking process. Hotels and travel partners are constantly looking for new ways to drive traffic directly to their sites, and we plan to help them achieve those goals.
In terms of our market size, online travel sales is a 600-billion-dollar business and is estimated to increase over 13% year-over-year. We consider TRILL as a specialty travel platform. The segmented addressable market in that space is $4 billion, and we see our obtainable market as 5% of that, which is $200 million.
How and when will you make money?
TRILL has multiple revenue streams. First, hotel and activity bookings, for which we receive 5 to 10% commission. Second, lead generation fees from travel agents and other travel partners. Third, once TRILL starts generating traffic, it will focus on sponsored content as well as selling data to advertisers.
We have generated $15,000 in bookings so far in our closed beta with no marketing dollars and barely any traffic. Our projections once we raise capital say we will become profitable in year three.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?
Our team is comprised of two full-time and one part-time employee in addition to many consultants, advisors and interns pushing TRILL forward.
Eric Shepard, co-founder and CEO, has worked in the hospitality industry for 10 years within music and technology. He played an integral role in growing El Media Group to acquisition. Eric was named Phocuswright 2017 35 under 35 Young Leader for most influential people in travel technology.
Michael Shepard, co-founder and CRO, has worked for hotels in New York for more than 15 years at Soho House, Thompson Hotel Group and Starwood/Marriott in sales and operations. He graduated from the Cornell Hotel School.
Matt Kleppin is TRILL’s lead engineer with 10 years of tech experience.
TRILL’s team understands the ins and outs of the travel industry. They are hungry and won’t quit until they prove their mission. Eric Shepard has become a thought leader in the space of socially driven commerce for travel, speaking at a number of panels and winning multiple awards throughout the past year.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
Raising capital has been the most difficult part of growing the business. The fundraising landscape has changed as early stage startup investments have decreased drastically over the past two years.
Angel investors have moved into the seed investment stage and seed investors focus more on Series A investments. Investors are intrigued with our company and believe in the vision, however, it’s almost impossible to fuel the fire and show more traction without funding.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact ‐ so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
TRILL’s message resonates well with the millennial generation. They are constantly posting meaningful travel content on social media that tells personalized stories. TRILL makes it very easy to reward its users for doing what they already love to do. Content is key, and TRILL is focusing on rich content driving bookings.
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