Bucket parses free form text from any source (online or from friends on, say, a Facebook page) and from any device to create a personalized trip plan.
In August Bucket, a startup in San Francisco, started in open beta to generate Northern California trip ideas.
Today is its first foray into international itineraries. It has released a limited version that works on four sites -- Tripadvisor, Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Airbnb.
Its full parser, which works on any text source, only makes trips for Northern California at the moment. But that will cover more locations soon, the company says.
A Q&A with Julia Lam, who has been named one of the 35 Rising Stars as part of the Young Leaders Summit for the Phocuswright Conference.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
John Sichi and I are both Facebook Alumni and we wanted to innovate in the travel space since we were both big travelers. We’ve been to over 45 countries combined and I lived abroad for two years.
We came up with the idea of Bucket when we started looking at social media and saw that people were asking their friends for travel recommendations.
We’d see Facebook posts like, “I’m going to Paris for a week. I like 4-star hotels, I want to eat good food, and I want to see a show. What should I do?” And below that, we would see a long list of responses with highly curated recommendations from their friends, people who personally knew the them and took into account their preferences.
The problem however, was that there was no efficient way of gathering and organizing this tailored information in order to help the person actually decide what they wanted to do, and go.
That’s where we got the idea for Bucket.
Bucket parses free form text from any text source (online or from friends) and any device to create your own, personalized trip plan. We scan for places, keep them in context, and add in all the additional information that you would need, to help you decide and go. That means we add in photos, ratings and reviews, and we also dynamically auto-map everything in your bucket for you.
When we started showing people an early prototype, there was an immediate jaw-dropping enthusiasm from travelers who would exclaim , “I would use this!” That’s when we knew we were onto something.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Our team is currently 7 in total. Julia Lam and John Sichi are the co-founders. We’re both Facebook alumni and met while working at Facebook on developer initiates – Julia on Platform and John on Open Source.
Here’s our team:
Julia Lam – Co-founder and CEO, Facebook alumnus
John Sichi – Co-founder and CTO, Facebook alumnus
Lizzie Li, designer
Rafael Alba, software engineer
Vasanthi Vuppuluri – software engineer, NLP specialist
Kimberly Le – marketing and operations
Cole Wippern – software engineer
Estimation of market size?
We’re focused on Millennial travelers. There’s 79 MM in the U.S. alone. This is a segment with a high demand of easy, mobile and social experiences. They tend to travel in groups for activities and are willing to pay more for a really personalized experience.
Millennials are estimated to be spending $214 Billion in the U.S. alone, and that’s growing. They’re slated to spend more and travel more in the next 12 months.
Our technology of transformation of text to visuals is exceptionally unique and as far as we can tell, no one else is working on it.
What we’re building can work in tandem with many of the services that exist. We provide the technology for people to gather their ideas seamlessly and visually, and in the future we can connect them with services that make sense for them.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Long term, we’re focused on bookings and mobile revenue.
We also think there could be some interesting partnerships as our technology is incredibly unique. Imagine a world where you have a bunch of photos of places – you can run Bucket on it and it adds in all the information you would need to decide and go in a snap.
What problem does the business solve?
Bucket solves the tedious and logistical side of trip planning.
When we started observing how people plan trips, what they did was open 20 different tabs on Google, and then proceed to copy and paste ideas that were personalized to them into a Word doc, one by one.
They’d visit Tripadvisor and copy and paste. Lonely Planet and copy and paste. Ask their friends over Facebook or email for recommendations... and copy and paste.
The ending result was usually 4-5 different pages of all the things they wanted to do, but with no good way to actually decide and go.
As mentioned, Bucket parses free form text from any text source (online or from friends) and on any device to create your own, personalized trip plan.
You can even take your plan with you on a mobile device, see where everything is around you, and navigate directly there.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
The concept is still very similar to where we initially started. In the original version, all you could do was copy and paste in text recommendations.
We still support that, but now, we also allow you to single-click our Chrome extension from any site (currently for any locations in Northern California), and we then parse that text to extract the places and add in all the info that makes it easy for you to decide and go.
Since we’re focused on Millennials, we also wanted to make sure that we were responsive so you can access us from any device. Most of trip planning still takes place on desktop, but it’s important to be able to take it with you on a mobile device.
Why should people or companies use the business?
If you collect trip ideas from multiple sources like a trip planner, or give recommendations like a travel concierge, this is the easiest, most visual and helpful way to do it.
Forget your Word docs, your Google docs, your emails to yourself – we provide a better way to travel with the same information , but all kept in context to make it easy for you to decide and go.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We want to work with the trip planners and collectors to provide them the best experience. If you think about a group trip of 20 people, 3 people end up doing all the planning.
We’re really focused on the 3 people who plan and try to provide them the best collection experience and information for them to actually move forward and plan the trip. We figure if we can provide the trip planner a lot of value, they’ll also share it with everyone else on their trip and others that are looking for recommendations.
Our product is interesting for not only those that plan trips, but also to those that give recommendations, such as Airbnb hosts, hotel concierges, relocation, orientation, and destination weddings.
Guests can add ideas they like from the original bucket shared with them, and then also add their own personalized ideas from any text source.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years, we’ll have created your automated trip assistant. If you share with us where you want to go, when you want to go, and who you’re going with, we should be able to optimize a plan for you, provide extremely personalized suggestions specifically for you, and let you book seamlessly on the go.
What we’re doing is not easy – we’re trying to take recommendations in any form and add in all the information around them to make them useful to a user so they can decide and go.
But imagine a world where your friend texts you a few restaurant recommendations and suddenly you have a visual idea of what the restaurants look like and what they serve, all the social context around what your friends like there, and the most optimized route there for you to decide in less than a minute and head that way. Maybe we even call a taxi for you. That’s where we want to be.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the travel space. The last companies that were really disruptive were Kayak and Airbnb. Because Millennials are becoming a majority of travellers and wanting a real-time, personalized, and mobile experience, there’s an opportunity to build a product specifically for them.
We are that product. Also, instead of trying to get users to change their behavior, we’re just mirroring the collection process they do right now since you can easily save from across the web with our Chrome extension or by copying and pasting in links or text.
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Pinterest. We both have a lot of Facebook Alumni so have a similar way of thinking – we both are creative and iterate quickly. We are also both a consumer-facing company focused on collection. Moreover, like Bucket, Pinterest is measured in the way it innovates, appreciates good clean design, and has fun along the way.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
We’re focused on building the best possible product we can for travellers. However, if we did discuss companies that were most aligned as far as product and mission, I think Airbnb and Pinterest would be at the top.
Airbnb because clearly they’re the leaders for innovation in the travel space. Bucket is also a tool that all Airbnb hosts could find useful as it allows them to easily share local recommendations in a visual and useful way.
Pinterest because they’re currently the leaders in collection but still focused on fashion. However, Bucket is much better for trip planning and does more than just save photos, we also aggregate all the information around an idea to make it easy for you to decide and go. So we add a lot more useful context.
Describe your startup in three words?
Innovative Trip Technology.
Bucket has created a Vine to illustrate its premise:
In six years, Tnooz has profiled more than 500 startups and run dozens of travel hackathons. By far the most popular idea developers have is trip-inspiration, especially itinerary builders.
That suggests to us a few things: There's a real pain point here. But no one has quite solved it yet in a way that has a sustainable business model.
But just because a problem hasn't yet been solved doesn't mean it isn't solvable. TripAdvisor's CEO has hinted that itinerary-building is something his company is interested in. Pinterest has shown the power of visual pinning. And HotelTonight, Uber, and other apps have proven that on-demand, visually-based mobile-friendly tools can become popular (and profitable to run).
Many startups are strong either on the developer side or on the business side. But Bucket seems to have both engines firing. It has assembled an engineering team with impressive credentials. It is being savvy in how it markets its product as well. (It has lured Internet stars, like travel adventure writer, Daniela Zavela, who writes Diaries of a Backpacker, to participate.)
We look forward to seeing what Bucket does next.