TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Sweden-based social travel platform Vacation Relation.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
My name is Peter Sullivan and I am the co-founder of Vacation Relation. I moved to Stockholm, Sweden 16 months ago in the pursuit of furthering my education and receiving a masters degree from Stockholm University.
Prior to my move I was working in San Francisco within the financial bond market. I caught the travel bug in 2005 when I first studied abroad in Brisbane, Australia.
After living with multiple Europeans I decided to back pack Europe which broadened my experiences.
I have several years experience working with start up companies both domestically and internationally. I have also worked within the hotel industry both domestically and internationally as well.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
We received angel investment from a professional poker player which got our development off the ground.
We also received additional financial support through a Swedish Government organization which acts like a small business association to help new businesses get off the ground.
We were awarded the Innovation Grant which is usually only awarded to more tangible products so it was an accomplishment getting it for a web service.
The so called “social government” really has strong capitalistic values.
What problem are you trying to solve?
So when I look back at the pictures of my travels, adventures, and vacations the people I have met become some of the strongest memories.
As the social web began to grow I found myself adding these new friends to my Facebook account after meeting them. What bothered me was the time I had lost in the beginning of the trip that could been spent with these wonderful people.
I knew that travel and “social” had a real relevance together. I wanted to produce a social platform that answers the question WHO will be at your vacation, and by utilizing your existing social network.
I traveled six weeks this summer with friends, my girlfriend and by myself. There were numerous times throughout the trip when I really could of used the ability to contact someone else who was traveling within same city as me; it actually became an ongoing joke, “If there was only a website where...”
Describe the business, core products and services?
We are the first site that lets users find out WHO will be at their upcoming vacation.
We utilize Facebook to find connections outside your normal social graph but going to the same destination and time frame as a common grounds for socializing.
Unlike many of our “social travel” competitors like Gogobot, Kukunu or Gtrot, we try to use your existing social network platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, to introduce new and exciting people that will also be at your vacation.
We take a stance: Your Facebook friends don’t care about your upcoming vacation. The people who actually care about your trip are the others that will be there, the ones that are excited, the ones that are in the information seeking mode that you are.
Rather then try and create a new travel community where you need to create a new profile and keep up with a whole new channel of communication, we leverage users Facebook accounts.
We provide users the ability to create connections based on common interests and demographics. All communication is done through your existing social network so you never have to leave your Facebook account to respond to messages or give recommendations.
In the back end of our application, we automatically create a Facebook Event while inviting and RSVPing all the vacationers going. This means that users who feel awkward directly messaging someone have the ability to discuss things generally on the Event wall.
What's cool is the event wall is synced directly with our site so any comment that is made via Facebook is retrieved on our “Socialize” page.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Are key users in the beginning will between the age of 18-35. Like many other social online products, early adapters are usually young.
We know these people are heavy Facebook users, open to meet new people, and tend to travel sporadically.
We are targeting cities that embrace youth culture as well as events like spring break to build up a strong user base.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Of course. The best validation is from your target audience as described above. The peers at our university made up the perfect sample population to validate the need for a product like this. The verdict is in. They love it.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Thus far the results have been great. Cities seem to take us in with open arms as the next trend in the travel industry.
In terms of revenue models, we have a great handle on user demographics. We pledge never to transfer individual data but the demographics attached to the individuals make for a very useful selling analysis.
We are incorporating this social layer on top of an existing booking platform. Imagine being able to find which hotel is most popular for couples looking for nightlife from Sweden aged 20-30. Well you will be able to do that with our site.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We are young, bold and ahead of the curve.
- We are young, bold and ahead of the curve.
- Someone in the “social travel” scene will win
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- The big established players are always a threat, aren’t they!
We knew when we performed at the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit our product would be matched with mixed emotions. I should have started my speech with this:
“I am here to tell you two reasons why we will not win. The first reason is because you guys are too old. The second reason is... well because you are too old. Its ok, you know if you would have said my Mom would be on Facebook more than I am two years ago, I would have laughed. Now look what's happened!”
We are young and know what young people want. The only problem is making sure they know we exist. That’s the hard part!
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Next year we want the first thing students do after they book their upcoming spring break trip is to add their trip to Vacation Relation (probably through our official partner StudentCity.com) to see who else will be there from all over the world.
We would love to also grab the backpacker market next summer.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.