Travel startups: the barriers to entry are very low, but the barriers to disruption are highNewsBy Kevin May | May 29, 2015Share This article was originally published on Travel startups are not as easy as a high proportion of the wider startup world seem to think they are - and that's a bit of a problem.And it's also time for a reality check.The wonderfully optimistic world of Silicon Valley (and its city clones dotted around the world) has triggered a wave of businesses that have seen travel as being ripe for "disruption".This is great, of course - so-called disruption keeps an industry on its toes and (hopefully) ensures those maintaining the status quo evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities for their users and partners.But the problem with the travel industry is that it isn't particularly easy to gain any kind foothold to the extent that it makes people elsewhere sit up and listen.This issue is not talked about by those who push the idea of startups as some kind of great life opportunity.Paul Graham's (in)famous essay talks about the life cycle of establishing and maintaining a startup, and is seen by many as the blueprint for any new, tech-based business.It has been interpreted in many ways, including via the following infographic and explanation by Anne Vital (click on the image for a larger version):Much of it makes perfect sense, and shouldn't be ignored.But where it falls down in relation to the issues facing startups in the travel sector is in the first row.Where many travel startups fail is when they consider "what is missing in the world", often basing an entire business on a personal experience they had when travelling (hey, we ALL have problems with our OWN experiences).But this does not necessarily mean there is a problem that requires "fixing" that can achieve some semblance of scale."Show the prototype to 100 people" is another component that requires a lot more thought and action.The opinions of 100 people will not be able to validate an idea - in fact, more often than not, especially if those people are in a startup's existing social circle, they will never be a representative sample to allow a business to gauge if an idea has a genuine opportunity to grow.This is a real problem for travel startups, not least for those hoping to make some headway in the consumer-facing arena.B2C travel startups need volume to make money, there's no doubt at all about that, but it is tremendously difficult to evaluate if an idea is going to have legs unless a hefty dose of "customer discovery" is carried out amongst a large audience (those targeting a niche in the industry can possibly get away with a smaller, but more defined, sample).What about B2B ideas?Our analysis of the 650+ startups covered on Tnooz has shown that industry "solutions" have a better chance of avoiding the dreaded deadpool - but the dilemma here is that doing the "customer-need" research means a requirement to talk to many other industry people, a logistical problem in itself but perhaps an even worse scenario when essentially giving away the idea to a potential competitor and being warned off.The rather depressing/amusing analysis to this is that many travel startups would claim to understand it all.Despite all evidence to the contrary, many startups - with only a scintilla of customer discovery - will still state that their primary goal is to "disrupt" or "fix" the travel industry.Paraphrasing: "Yeah, we know there's a need for our product. We think we can be the X (usually Airbnb, Uber or Kayak/Skyscanner) for Y!"Share this quote Getting a business off the ground is arguably rather easy (especially those relying solely on web-based functionality), but the reality is that it is incredibly hard to to do something that truly upsets the status quo.At a startup pitch event in London last week, hosted by 33Entrepreneurs, the France-based startup accelerator which focuses on travel, wine and food businesses, there was even a round of applause when the author stated: "The barriers to entry are very low, but the barriers to disruption are high."Share this quote Great, everyone gets it! But, sadly, it appears not.A depressing number of startups often seem to have no grasp at all of the problems they inevitably will face, or have descended into the usual practice of just quietly sweeping it under the carpet.Neither scenario does a startup any favours at all in the long term, not least when many of those reading or hearing about a new business can instantly come up with a handful of problems that do not appear to have been addressed.This is where those encouraging people to throw their lot in with a new business (incubators, accelerators, investors) must share some responsibility to ensure a hard slap of realism is entered into the narrative.There is nothing wrong with ambition - in fact, the industry and those in startup bubbles outside of the sector should encourage it. But equally there should be a process to keep a startup's feet on the ground.It would appear that at the moment the former vastly outweighs the latter. Thus the stunningly high failure rate of new businesses in travel.NB:Disruption image via Shutterstock.NB2: Further reading: What if travel startup success was judged like art or music (rather than big bucks)Travel startups: Don’t bring a knife to a gunfightAre consumer-facing travel startups on a road to nowhere?