Traverie, whose name is derived from "travel" and "reverie," is a online magazine built from your friends' personal travel experiences.
The California startup is one of 30 companies that have been selected to participate in PhoCusWright's 2012 Travel Innovation Summit to be held November 13th in Arizona.
The startup describes itself as...
"a visual discovery engine built on top of social network data that helps a traveler find new destinations through his or her friends' photos that are shared on Facebook and elsewhere."
Incorporated in May 2012, the company has three co-founders: Gaurav Agarwal, Jimming Cheng, and Tiffany Yang, who attended Berkeley, Harvard and MIT universities, respectively.
The founders tout their expertise in having helped to build discovery and advertising products at Microsoft, Yahoo!, and TiVo.
The self-funded startup has won funds at business plan competitions, such as Chapman University's 2012 California Dreamin' Business Plan Competition, and is raising a seed round. The company's advisor, Anjali Agarwal, is a VP at a Hospitality Private Equity, went to Cornell Hotel School, and worked at Marriott, Hyatt, and Orbitz.
Q&A with CEO Gaurav Agarwal:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We aim to differentiate by creating a customized experience for the user.
We are moving from providing a list of services or products to the user, to bringing to the front products and services that best fit the user’s travel style based on his previous travels and his friends’ travels.
Currently, editorial content and content from review sites drive travel decisions. But despite those sites, travellers often remain uncertain about their decisions, because the information comes from strangers or marketing material.
We are bringing a way for users to seamlessly discover and gather information from their friends. Unlike some other products on the market, the user of Traverie doesn't have to wait for his friends or other people to sign up with Traverie before his or her experience is complete.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Want to see the world through your friends' travel experiences? Want to get a real feel for a place before you plan a trip? Wouldn't you rather depend on your friends' advice than a guidebook? And how about a single place for you to collect all your information about your travel?
Traverie helps you find, collect and share travels in a fun, natural way. It's a visual, Interactive travel magazine experience with content from people you know and trust.
Our users are using our site for about 9 minutes on every return visit.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
From an industry perspective, companies have focused on creating price comparison tools, which encourages price-sensitive travel decisions, pushing down margins.
Consumers want to be exposed to the right set of limited options highly targeted to their tastes and styles that they can trust.
Creating experiences that are less transactional and more meaningful to the users from dreaming to going on your trip, help overcome these challenges and increase margins.
Additionally today advertisers go offline for their inspirational campaigns and then go to price comparison engines to convert users.
We are enabling a single online platform that allows advertisers to connect with the right audience from dreaming to booking by providing the right messaging at the right time.
For revenue, we are targeting the $2 billion worth of global travel advertising that is set to move online by 2015.
We are supported by Cindy Estis Green of Kalibri Labs who had this to say about us -
“Great visual displays! Tools that help travelers and hotels connect directly are ideal – for consumers to find the best fit for their trips – for the hospitality suppliers to find qualified customers.”
We've spoken to the leading hotel brands, editorial sites, and travel deal sites, and they all love what we are doing.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We have received validation by being shortlisted as a top travel innovation of 2012 by PhoCusWright.
The company is currently focused on growing its user base and building products. Once the business has scaled, the founders hope the site will become a melting pot of user-generated content, relevant advertising and editorial content.
However, the technology we have built transcends the travel vertical – its hard to find stuff on Facebook and we help with that!
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
In the past, we, the founders, have tried to revolutionize industries by changing how business is done – for example, by bringing targeted, measurable ads to Live TV.
Although we excelled on the product side, we learned that the complexity of the ecosystem and legacy sales model can create substantial hurdles.
With Traverie, we are working very closely with our future customers and partners to ensure that we are creating a new distribution channel for the travel industry.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We have built a product people love and we expect people to bring friends to our site.
We have enabled people to ask questions of their friends (who may not be on Traverie) on specific photos, and to friend-source information through simple, short questionnaires.
Our target users are Facebook users, and we'll also update users through email about the relevant travels of their Facebook friends.
Traverie's homepage is a map with blue circles showing where your friends have traveled. Users can put "pins" on the map for where they want to go in the future and where they've been before.
The site prompts users to log in with their Facebook account, and pulls photos from a users' Facebook friends into a magazine-style layout.
Having learned the lesson of Hipmunk, the founders have picked an icon/mascot that's a cute animal, namely, a penguin.
Their emphasis on photos follows on the success of image-driven sites like Pinterest.
But a quick look at their product suggests risks on three fronts.
Engineering: Rival site Jetpac, the Facebook-powered photo album with a travel emphasis, received $2.4 million in funding this summer. It's hard to see from an engineering perspective how Traverie can compete with the impressive architecture underlying Jetpac.
User base: Rival social travel site Gogobot has built up an impressive user base, claiming it has “grown 800% in the past 10 months” to “exceed 2 million users.” Given that there's a limited number of social travel apps that the typical person is going to want to learn, Gogobot has a head start in user acquisition.
Marketing: It's not clear how well the company understands how to use Facebook to market its site effectively, and marketing doesn't seem to be in the forefront of the skills of the founders.
As important as engineering can be, face-to-face promotion can count, too. Pinterest’s peer-to-peer marketing campaign is one example. Yelp's growth through meet-ups is another.
A lot rides on the outcome of the PhoCusWright competition, as a success there next week could generate crucial buzz for the company.
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz. Image courtesy of Chapman University's 2012 California Dreamin' Business Plan Competition.