NewsTLabs Showcase - Travel Hacking CartelThis article was originally published onBy Kevin May | January 26, 2011 TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based frequent flyer online tip system, Travel Hacking Cartel.Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?I am Chris Guillebeau, a writer, traveler, and entrepreneur. I also publish The Art of Non-Conformity blog and am on a personal quest to visit every country in the world.What financial support did you have to launch the business?None. But fortunately, developing an online business doesn’t have to cost much.What problem are you trying to solve?I want to democratize free and low-cost travel. It’s very easy to take advantage of Frequent Flyer Miles and other travel hacking strategies if you know how, but it’s also very easy to get overwhelmed with all the information out there.I want to simplify and help people know exactly what they need to do to earn miles, and then how they can redeem those miles for high-value trips.Describe the business, core products and services?The Travel Hacking Cartel offers an advisory service to help people earn at least 100,000 extra miles a year without flying, or enough miles for four free plane tickets.We send our members a series of "Deal Alerts" whenever a good travel hacking opportunity comes up -- the ability to earn free miles for completing a survey, for example, or complimentary elite status whenever it's offered anywhere in the world.Who are your key customers and users at launch?People who want to travel more but don’t know how to do it.Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?I have no investors. But I do have a great reader base from my blog, and after working with them for three years, I was pretty sure I knew what they wanted.What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?A monthly subscription service (three price tiers of $15, $25, and $39). Our major costs are in development, design, ongoing maintenance, and the miles we purchase from the airlines to reward our members for referrals. We also pledge 10% of all revenue to our charity project in Ethiopia, although I don’t mention that in the marketing materials.SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?Honestly, I don’t ever think in terms of things like that. My business strategy is to ask people what they want, and then find a way to give it to them at a reasonable price.Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?In this case, no one. I try not to talk about upcoming projects with known naysayers.What is your success metric 12 months from now?The important business metric will be the net referral score -- how many people join the program through referral from our members.Just as importantly, I like to keep track of the stories we hear of successful travel hacking. Someone wrote me once who was from a rural part of the US.He was going to take his wife to Atlanta for their 10th anniversary, but because of the miles he earned from one of our guides, he was able to take her to Paris for the first time.The more stories I hear like that, the better. NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.