"With a heavy heart, today we announce that we'll be closing our doors on Bucket," says the email to users of the trip planning startup this week.
In short, CEO and co-founder Julia Lam has shut the company after just seven months following its launch into beta from its San Francisco base (the team had actually started development back in May 2013 and launched in closed beta in mid-2015).
The company (TLabs here) says its users can download the "buckets" they have created until March 23.
Lam and her seven-strong team created a platform so that users can "parse" free-form text from any source (online or from friends on, say, a Facebook page) and from any device to create a personalised trip plan.
The initial version worked on the aforementioned Facebook as well as TripAdvisor, FourSquare, Airbnb, other travel content providers and mainstream media.
Whilst there is no joy to be had around seeing a startup head to the dreaded deadpool, Bucket's obligatory Medium post to explain why it all went wrong shines a light on the gap between what founders of some travel startups expect for their "revolutionary" (according to Lam, in this case) service and the cold, hard wind of reality.
Despite getting funded (never disclosed how much), securing partnerships and the press attention, Lam admits that Bucket had a problem: "people were hardly using our parser".
Now to some, this shouldn't be a huge surprise. Trip planning startups are hard. Really hard.
"People said they wanted an easy way to collect information and plan trips, but our usage showed that what they really wanted was simply a place to discover unique trip ideas with filtering."
This is at the heart of the problem that is (and has been) faced by countless trip planning startups.
Despite the fancy technology or user experience, users are simply not finding the product in the first place, or can't find a genuine need for it.
A solution in desperate need of a problem.
Lam says in her Medium article that, in hindsight, she should've raised money far earlier in the process, although doesn't explain why that would've helped (maybe to buy traffic).
Still, she argues:
"If you don’t move as fast as you can, the landscape will change beneath you. Also, if you can’t raise in your first 3 months, you rapidly lose the opportunity to ever raise."
It appears that, with a few adjustments, Lam reckons Bucket could've survived and thrived (more senior team, develop faster, etc).
She also claims that "disruption" in the travel industry, at least in terms of what Bucket was trying to do, will "happen soon".
In particular, she cites the Millennial angle and mobility of users, adding "wifi, mobile and social are going to revolutionize travel" - although many would suggest that the "revolution" is already happening.
"Our long-term vision was to build your automated trip assistant — there’s still room for this.
"People still want a plan based on a set of constraints served to them, booking on the go, and personalized suggestions specifically for you.
"I still believe this will happen. It just won’t be built by us."
But, again, Bucket's post mortem over its failure (similar to that of many others) doesn't address some key areas:
- People just don't travel very often. Trip planners will inherently struggle to become a useful utility when they're rarely used.
- Getting people in the front door is ridiculously hard (hello, Booking.com and your $2.8 billion marketing spend).
- Travel search and planning doesn't need to be made complicated by the introduction of technology.
Again, not addressing and understanding these issues AT THE VERY BEGINNING of the startup's life is the number one reason why the number of genuinely successful trip planning companies can now perhaps be counted on one hand.
Lam, however, does use her post to raise some interesting issues around diversity and being a female startup CEO.
"Same idea. Same pitch. Different chances of funding.
"For the most part, this isn’t intentional gender bias. In my experience, investors are very willing to fund female founded startups if they have killer metrics.
"However, if investors have to take the leap of faith and make a judgement call, which you often have to do in seed funding, that’s where women get short changed.
"As a woman, this means you often end up with less money and less resources to do the same work, thus lessening your chances at success, completing the cycle."
NB:Beach bucket image via Shutterstock.