TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based trip planning and guidebook service Virtual GDBK.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Virtual GDBK founder and editor-in-chief Valerie Stivers-Isakova is a travel writer and former travel editor and cityguide editor (for Time Out New York), who currently writes for Travel + Leisure, The New York Times, Gridskipper.com and many other travel outlets.
The site was designed and produced by Rex Sorgatz, founder of Kinda Sorta Media, whose clients include Blackbook Magazine, the Week, M.A.C. cosmetics and MSNBC.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
The business is currently self-funded.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Travelers in this day and age rely heavily on new-media sources to plan their trips.
Everyone wants to know, Where should I go, eat, stay in Paris? What's showing at the museums? Are any bands I like playing? What's hot? There's no one source for this information.
Today's travelers are independent; they want to make their own decisions and hand-pick their own itinerary from multiple sources.
This means that anyone planning a trip does a lot of slogging around online, looking for local food blogs or listings guides, digging through badly-organized archives on their favorite travel web sites to see if there's been a recent story, etc.
Virtual GDBK does all that research for the user. Our city pages aggregate all the best online resources for the city. The user still plans their own trip—that's the fun part—but GDBK does the tedious legwork.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Virtual GDBK (that's a guidebook for the new media world) at the moment runs home-pages for ten cities, offering our personal recommendations on what's cool at the moment, plus archives of recommended recent travel-media stories and a media guide that provides information on all recommended local blogs, listings guides and more.
There's also original blog content and a "Gab" dashboard running daily tweets, news stories and more. Functionality under development includes a DIY-guidebook feature that will allow users to flag content they're interested in, and access it on the fly through location-based technology.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Anyone who researches restaurants, hotels, culture and nightlife when they travel.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
The business did not seek investors in the startup phase.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The short term strategy is to develop traffic. In the medium-term, GDBK plans to raise capital that will allow the site to develop a revenue-generating app, as well as seek sponsorships and partnerships from compatible brands.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
GDBK's primary strength is the experience, voice and content-generating skills of the site's founder. As a travel writer and world traveler with 15 years of magazine and internet editorial experience, Valerie Stivers-Isakova can identify quality resources that travelers will want to know about.
This type of aggregation is a free resource that GDBK can draw on and others can't. It can't be automated, and provides a valuable service to users.
Also, the site is unique among the competition and thus has a valuable opportunity to gain readers and loyalty.
A current weakness is a lack of opportunity for user feedback—in the future, GDBK would like to enable community building in a way that doesn't duplicate the work of already successful crowdsourced travel portals like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
There is still a great deal of uncertainty throughout the new media world about how to monetize Internet properties. GDBK felt that its scrappy, low-cost start-up strategy would put it in a good position to generate value through the accumulation of excellent content.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Six months from now, GDBK would like to be getting traffic commensurate with the traffic of other independent travel portals. Twelve months from now, we plan to be in discussions with investors.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.