Today's travel startup pitch comes from Wanderant, a travel planning startup that promises to help plan/book/go on trips.
The team calls the product a "workflow tool for uber-planners," specifically targeted to the power user rather than the casual planner. The team hopes to deliver more organized trips by providing robust tools for trip planning and management.
The team sells it as such:
Wanderant saves them time and effort by bringing the separate pieces of planning together. It ties together relevant information – attractions, maps, transportation, hotels, etc – into one workflow where pieces relate to each other, and the traveler can use them to build a full plan. When the plan is done everything is available offline through our app during the trip.
The startup was created by Vanya Pasheva, who is COO in charge of business development and content, and Itai Leibowitz, who is managing product and strategy as CEO/CTO.
The startup is currently bootstrapped and seeking an angel round. Read on for the Vine and startup interview.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
We share a love for travel and a frustration with planning trips - but from different angles. Itai is a big planner, and hates how much work it takes to plan. Vanya is more of an improviser, and wishes there were an easy tool that would make her better prepared on trips.
We realized everyone knows planning trips is hard, but the reasons vary between travelers. After surveys and interviews with hundreds of travelers to understand how they plan, we discovered common sources of frustration. For example, people are frustrated with information being spread in many places, how hard it is to find what locals know, or figuring out local transportation.
There are other information industries (e.g., information for professionals in law, medicine), that developed solutions to similar information challenges, but no-one has brought such tools to travel. We decided to do that – focus on power users of travel information (or “uber-planners”), and build a process that combines all the information they need into one place and workflow.
What is the size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Our team consists of three full time members and we have collaborated with DMOs and other content partners to build Wanderant to its current stage.
What problem does the business solve?
Wanderant is focused on the uber-planner segment. These are travelers who plan many details of their trips in advance, building spreadsheets, maps, and documents full of notes. They spend hours building trip plans, running into common frustrations, such as:
- Information is fragmented and spread across many sources.
- It’s hard to organize information once you find it – typically takes manual work.
- Tools are not connected so even their final plan is split across multiple tools (map, calendar, notes, spreadsheets…).
Wanderant gives uber-planners all the tools they need in one place, so they can cut down the time spent on the frustrating parts of planning, and focus on the fun and exciting parts.
Why should people or companies use the business?
We make it easier to be an uber-planner – we give users all the tools for the planning process in one place (maps, calendar, transportation…), and let them access it from anywhere. We make it easier to find information and organize it automatically, letting users spend more time on the more enjoyable parts of discovery and exploration.
DMOs and content providers we work with benefit from connecting their content to our tools. It lets users more easily find their information and build it directly into their travel plans. For example, we have the planning widget on Austria.info which lets users add items to their trip directly from the Austria.info page.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
The explosion in online information has actually made it harder to plan trips. In the past, you would buy one guidebook with everything you need. Instead, today, information is everywhere – but travelers have to do too much work – search, read, remember, write down, visit another website, search again, book somewhere else…
Users need a simpler process. That involves connecting different pieces together, and making information actionable - which is what Wanderant does. When you choose places to visit, we start building your itinerary. We use location info, opening hours, train schedules, etc. to organize logistics. We bring up transportation or hotel options with a click. We show recommendations for additional places you might like. We keep it all in one place so you don’t have to remember or write down anything. You can take notes, share with others, and more – to help make decisions easier.
In other industries, information companies succeeded online when they built tools that integrated into users’ workflows. When lawyers research cases today, their tools bring up relevant sources, tell them how often they are cited and with what success rate, let them annotate, organize, and cite these sources with ease. We want to do the same in Travel - make information actionable so it’s easier to turn a paragraph or photo into an actual trip.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We have increasingly focused on uber-planners. They’re our ideal early users because they spend the most time planning trips, feel the pain the most, and have often developed their own home-brew solutions. We’ve discovered they share common needs, which makes it easier to address those, and develop a process tool that feels natural to use.
Who do you see as your competition?
We see 2 types of competitors: established players and startups.
Established players are most important because they are the default. As we fix today’s broken process, they are the bar we must beat. Most big players focus on one stage in the process (e.g., Lonely planet - inspiration, Expedia/Priceline - booking, Triposo – mobile guides). In addition, two major players – Tripadvisor and Google – address multiple stages of the process. However, none of these players connect across stages. As a user, they only help you achieve discrete tasks (find a hotel, how to get from A to B).
Wanderant has a different approach – we address the overall process. We connect information from one step to the next– so it’s easy to move forward. For instance, a sample workflow we simplify: Look for things to do in France > highlight ones you like > discuss with trip mates and decide what to keep > arrange into a route > find where to stay and train schedule to get around. No other player today allows this flow across planning stages.
Regarding other startups, there are several that built an overall planner with some angle – whether it’s an ‘auto-planner’ (Plnnr, Utrip), or focus on one stage (Mygola’s itineraries for inspiration).
We believe the best approach is to focus on solving for one user segment. We chose uber-planners because they spend the most time and are most frustrated by the planning process, have high willingness to switch and are happy to engage with us.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We recognize it’s hard to do in a crowded field. We’ve been experimenting with various approaches, and have found that sometimes the less-traditional ones end up being more successful. For example:
What is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
- We are active on travel forums where uber-planners spend time.
- We’ve built partnerships with DMOs and other startups to cross-promote (e.g., Wanderant planning widget on Austria.info).
- We are building tools to let users involve friends in the planning - for example, they can collaborate with others on a joint plan, get advice from friends who’ve been there, or share collections of suggestions when friends ask for recommendations in their home town.
One driver of today’s fragmentation in travel information is the common monetization model of pay-per-click. Travelers used to pay for information by buying a guidebook – and had all the information in one place. However, that model declined, and many of today’s information providers (Google, Kayak, Tripadvisor…) give free information. They make money by getting users to click on as many links as possible. It’s therefore in their best interest that people spend more time planning across more websites – which is the biggest user frustration.
We believe information can still be free, but it should not come at the expense of users’ time. On the contrary, helping users find the right information faster, and making it easier for them to use that information to make booking decisions, is a win for both travelers and travel suppliers.
Wanderant’s revenue model relies on that – making it easier for users to get from information to booking decisions – earning affiliate fees. The affiliate model is challenging, but our focus on uber-planners gives us unique advantages:
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
- Uber-planners start planning longer in advance, meaning we know sooner what bookings they need
- Uber-planners book most of their trip in advance, meaning the number of advance bookings per trip is higher
- Wanderant’s end-to-end planning means we know what bookings the user needs across the entire trip – not just hotels in one city. Instead, we would know that a traveler needs a flight, 2 trains, hotels in 3 cities, and even a romantic dinner
- By knowing more about the user’s trip and preferences, we can make more personalized suggestions with higher conversions.
Our goal is to make Wanderant the go-to place for travelers who love a well-organized plan. That means a planning tool that guides users to the right information and through planning the end-to-end trip. We will then use the tools and insights we learn from the uber-planner community to develop Wanderant into a tool with broader appeal for more casual planners.
Of course, getting there will not be easy, but of all the challenges people assume, we’ve found these matter most:
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?
- Adding value: The planning process has many steps and simplifying it is hard. While we build our tool, it provides only a partial alternative to users’ existing processes. We therefore focus on biggest pain-points first (e.g., logistics), so we can get to net positive value faster.
- Ease of use: The multi-step planning process has never been solved, so users do not know what to expect (vs. familiar tools, like hotel search). Designing it to be easy is hard and often takes several attempts to get right. We address this by testing, learning and iterating.
- Reaching users: Travel is crowded with heavy spenders making it challenging to get discovered. We currently focus on lower-cost channels that reach uber-planners more directly
We admire companies that bring information easily into the hands of their users.
This has happened most successfully in professional fields like law, medicine, and tax. There, companies have advanced from publishing books to online information tools (Thomson Reuters’ LexisNexis), or have built workflow tools that simplify complicated processes (Intuit’s TurboTax). What these companies share is a user-centric approach to design, focused on solving users’ biggest needs, which Wanderant aims to replicate.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
There are two large companies that cover multiple aspects of the travel planning process: Tripadvisor and Google. Given our goal to create links between the various decision points that they control, they could be a good fit.
What is your estimation of market size?
Travel information is a $9B market growing at 15%. A handful of large firms - Google, Tripadvisor, and Kayak – make up 40% of the space with the rest split among a long tail of small advertisers. Our early target market – the uber-planners – make up 20-30% of travelers this market caters to.
Describe your startup in three words.
Travel planning for Uber-planners.
It's always incredibly difficult not to be skeptical when it comes to travel/trip planning startups. They are often a "me too" business replicating and aggregating features seen elsewhere to create a less-than-inspired product.
Wanderant clearly has some work to do as far as ensuring accurate content in whatever city is searched - for example, the resulting city page for New Orleans is a bit sloppy and not so useful in its current state.
However, comparing itself to LexisNexis and Turbotax is a refreshing twist on a comp set. Brands are defined in a major way by who they position themselves with. Thinking in that sort of way could really reveal an interesting approach to travel, especially as a planner moves down the funnel closer to the trip.
The workflow-focused trip planner concept is fairly fresh, and could find traction if the interface and process is superior - rather than just focusing on inspiration, the idea is to be a travel planning utility. That's promising.
The business model needs some tweaking, as its not likely that a pure-play affiliate model is going to provide sufficient returns for the resources invested. The likelihood of a planner still going off-site to complete the booking is high, meaning that the startup could spend all this time moving a user down the funnel only to have them jump ship at the last minute.
That's a glaring hole that must be addressed with a smart targeting platform that incentivizes the user to stay - something that could be accomplished not just through loyalty to the product but by delivering a killer mobile app that aggregates all booking information during a trip. So rather than needing to open multiple apps, Wanderant becomes the core companion throughout the trip - enough reason to complete all bookings within the Wanderant garden and thus ensure a healthy revenue stream for the startup to further fuel growth. The company has an app, and that's the place to analyze for success.
On the marketing side, the brand is strong and has an easy-to-share comfort to the name.
The startup still has a steep climb ahead. Travel planning has never had a big win, and is not an area that is advisable for startups to address given the complexities of content aggregation and booking conversions. By focusing on the workflow tool aspect, the startup has at least differentiated its positioning to offer a compelling vision for a functional trip planning utility.