TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based social recommendation engine LoveThis.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
My name is Alexis Dormandy and I’m CEO and founder of LoveThis.
LoveThis is the compilation of all your friends’ best things, best times and best places. An online little black book of recommendations from the people you trust most.
I originally trained as a doctor, but started my career as a business analyst for McKinsey & Company. I went on to work for Virgin Group and ran my first business for Sir Richard Branson aged 26, and went on to be a founding director of both Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active, along with being a Virgin Group board member.
Since then, I’ve been chief marketing officer at Orange, and been European chairman for U2 Bono’s charity (Red). I’ve also been chairman, investor and advisor to a variety of European businesses before founding LoveThis.
The rest of the team have worked in hotels, music, finance, consumer goods, beauty products, telecoms and photography, and have a variety of successful business launches between them. They include:
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Gareth Capon – sales and marketing director. Founded Vibemedia, a new media and technology business; and Bandwagon, a new music start-up.
- Stuart Dillon – chief technology officer. Technical director with Redington, a boutique investment consultant firm and mallowstreet, a social network for the pensions industry.
- James Kydd – marketing director. Spent 15 years as the marketing director for various Virgin companies including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Media. James was one of the founders of Virgin Mobile in the UK.
- Matt Needham – commercial director. Matt spent ten years at Accenture as a strategy consultant and business development.
LoveThis is privately funded by the founders.
What problem are you trying to solve?
LoveThis is trying to help people spend their money on the best value products and experiences. There’s such a barrage of anonymous noise over the internet, that it’s impossible to find the things that are right for you with any confidence.
LoveThis allows friends you trust to share the things they love with you - their needles in the haystack – and by collecting them together, you end up choosing amongst the needles and avoiding the haystack.
LoveThis solves two problems:
Describe the business, core products and services?
- We all want to find new things to do, or the best product to buy, or a service we can really trust, but there is just too much noise to be able to work out which one to try, and we don’t know who to trust.
- We know friends give the best advice, but we don’t know who has which bit of advice and we forget the advice we do get.
LoveThis is about giving a lot more than a passing thumbs up. It about the best things you’ve found in life, that you recommend to friends confident that you won’t let them down. It’s about making word-of-mouth efficient.
We help you source advice from all your the friends, not just the people you think to ask. And we save that advice, so you don’t forget it. All your friends’ advice, all the time rather than a rare piece of advice for a very short period of time.
Suggestions are provided by your friends, not a random person you’ve never met and recommendations are private between friends.
Users are free to recommend anything and everything (as long as it’s legal) and can find friends and give recommendations on any platform: email, SMS, Twitter (by saving your username and included #LoveThis in a tweet) and on Facebook.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Anyone who trusts the advice of their friends rather than someone who they don’t know and who doesn’t know them.
During a closed beta of about six weeks we saw a 4:1 ratio of invites to new joiners. If you compare us to a review site, which probably has 1 reviewer for each 10,000 users, we’re getting 10 recommendations per user.
Our traction with media partners who want to make it possible for their readers to save their recommendations on our service, has been astounding. But it’s very early days.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes. We have tested the idea at each stage of development. We ran focus groups to help design the proposition. We tested our early designs with customers, and then ran a closed beta to test the website before launching to the public.
The feedback we got from customers was incredibly important in the development of the site.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The first phase is to focus on the platform and build an unrivalled user experience.
Once that has been achieved, we will be attracting customers through word-of mouth of our existing members (as you’d expect), via media partners who want our help in saving a sharing their readers recommendations and through small business partners who want their customers to recommend them.
After the first stage is complete we will also enable users to purchase, book or reserve the things their friends are recommending.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- The idea, the team, availability of funding.
- International/language accessibility, market awareness.
- A friend’s recommendation is worth multiple nameless reviews, genuinely having so many partnership opportunities that we are having to prioritise aggressively (nice problem to have).
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- The social commerce world is developing and changing so quickly that it’s impossible to plan for 12 months out.
A potential media partner who said "I don’t think Facebook and Twitter are relevant". It was a short but entertaining meeting.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Having built the acknowledged best friends recommendations site internationally.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.