TLabs Showcase focus on startups featuring London, UK-based travel listing site Ooh.com.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Ooh.com is a free platform for listing and booking trips, courses, classes, accommodation and events.
Ooh.com’s founders are Pat Reeves and Rohan Blacker, who after founding Deliverance (amongst other things) and selling to Active Private Equity for £5.5 million in 2004, founded Sofa.com, which turns over £10 million a year.
The Ooh.com team come from a wide range of backgrounds, from PR, editorial, and tech start-ups.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
The site was founded and has been run from working capital from Ooh.com’s sister site Sofa.com (no great surprise what Sofa.com does).
As we mature, we’re actively looking to bring on outside investors with backgrounds in travel and listings.
What problem are you trying to solve?
There are thousands of independent operators/providers in the travel/events/educational/rental space that don’t or can’t have sites advertising and offering a direct point of sale for time-bookable products.
There are plenty of resellers, but not one site that has established itself as a one stop shop.
We see our role as similar to that of eBay in the late nineties, where cottage industries, hobbyists or individuals who at the time had neither the technical know-how, money, or inclination to make and run their own online store, were given access to a trusted, standardised purchase and payment system, and a wealth of potential buyers.
Ebay has never cracked time-bookable intangibles, and we feel we can.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Our core product is a listing function and booking mechanism. Both of these are nothing new, but combined with a more passionate, dare-we-say “artisanal” flavour, hopefully this creates a much richer ecosystem for buyers and sellers than you’d find with run-of-the-mill listings sites (that can be a little dry in our humble opinion) with some amazing things offered.
We’ve got good Flickr, Youtube and social integration in listings as well as multiple photo uploads, so the listings can look pretty sexy compared to other sites (like craigslist).
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
As with listings sites in general, our customers should be a healthy balance of interested sellers and buyers.
Depending on how our revenue model is eventually implemented, the choice between freemium listings or commission on sales will dictate which party is the “bread-winning” user.
Our key target users on the seller-side are small-scale businesses, organisations or individuals who are passionate providers of an activity, event or course (or even rental), who don’t necessarily have the time, money, inclination or technical expertise to build and manage a site and/or booking system and a means of taking payment.
Some may have some elements, or just require more promotional muscle, but we hope to offer a complete solution.
On the buyer side, we look to attract curious and adventurous types who are looking for unique and quirky things to do from non-corporate sources around the world.
Ooh.com should feel as personal and un-corporate as possible, where when you message or book with a provider, you’ll be talking to the owner, rather than a customer service representative.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Whilst we didn’t have or seek investors, we certainly had plenty of eyes and ears engaged on the seller-side regarding the listing process, booking system, and payment processing.
We had a 6 month public beta as well, and went through at least three significant site revisions in both design and functionality, as well as constant incremental changes to the booking system and listing functions.
We’re still getting feedback, and are still redeveloping even now. I have a feeling these improvements will last until the end of time.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Being a listings and a bookings site, there are some obvious options for monetisation. The site was launched, and remains free to list and commission free.
We’ve hit maturity now, as well as having to fund a year without revenue so our options are now being more strongly considered.
The site will remain free to list, but the jury is still out on whether we opt for a freemium listing model with paid add-ons to maximise visibility or functionality of listings, or a flat rate 10% commission on sales over £50.
Supplementary advertising will likely be rolled out across the whole site in any event.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We have an amazing range of unique and interesting listings, the majority of which you won’t find anywhere else.
- These days it is incredibly cheap, even free with open source e-commerce software to build a site and take sales on it.
- We’re finding that during this recession, more amateurs with skills are making their time and skills available for sale, like teaching crafts or hosting an event or activity at their house. Just like on eBay, people might sell things to supplement income, we’re finding more and more hobbyists who are turning their passion into a business. We consider these people as our ultimate users.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Sites catering to meetups/tweetups/gatherings as well as one-off events like Meetup/Tweetup/Eventbrite etc are liked and trusted by more tech savvy people. There are platforms that certainly have superior booking elements, but perhaps not the “whole package”.
Rightly or wrongly we didn’t solicit any advice prior to or during our planning and launch. We didn’t approach any experts, but did consult our seller base and potential listers.
If we had done, I’m pretty sure our advisors would have expressed concern at the booking system and the effort of maintaining a booking and availability system that would be supplementary for many sellers.
We wouldn’t have listened, mainly out of stubbornness, but in the belief that Ooh.com’s approach to all aspects of user selling of time-bookable activities would appeal to a specific type of person; a hobbyist, an individual, or a technophobe, who would want everything under one roof.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
It’s always hard to pick one overall yardstick by which we’d measure success.
Consolidating a community around a platform can take serious time, and whilst our growth has been significant, it’s unlikely to be plain sailing, indeed nor has it been thus far.
On a traffic level, if we’re serving a million page views a month in 12 months, that’d be great.
Financial success will depend on our monetisation options, and I’m sure it’ll take a lot of very careful testing and refinement before we start seeing significant returns from that.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.