Every conference nowadays seems to have some kind of pitching opportunity for travel startups.
Some consider these timeslots the ideal time to go to the bar and begin their networking early but in my mind these slots highlight what is coming next and are not to be missed.
The insight to be gained is gold dust.
This year I have pitched a few times at conferences (London, San Francisco, Glasgow, Kristiansand), watched a few and also organised a few (this week during World Travel Market in London, we have ten tours and activities startups pitching at my own Monday evening event while on Thursday I am moderating a mobile innovator pitch on the main travel tech stage (10am, for those in London).
Hence I think I can talk with some authority on how these things work, and come up with the five rules to listening to a travel startup pitch at a conference!
1. Forget the solution - focus on the problem
I am not that interested in the solution that people present. If they are a fresh startup, the solution will probably be three to six months work from one or two people.
It won't be that developed. Instead listen to the problem they have spotted.
For example, does the startup think that there is a business opportunity helping people buy food at airport retail units when they don't hold local currency? To me, that insight is more interesting than a user interface demonstration of how a particular mobile app may work.
2. This is not a confidential VC pitch
These pitches are public and often in front of competition. Hence watch for misdirection.
This can be as simple as saying something is not a focus (when it is), or it could be around market sizing (if going into a sector that doesn't have too many players right now).
Making a sector look attractive will just attract competitors like flies to a lightbulb, hence once a startup has committed to a sector, they probably want to make it sound less attractive than they consider it actually is.
3. Note the price
Estimation of market size can often be way off if the startup is pushing a new area.
However they price a service is often more of a realistic measure as to what the company is thinking at the time about the opportunity.
Write down (not literally) anything people say about price.
Business models can be interesting too - however if you are in the audience, you are not probably looking to invest in the startup on the stage - so price (and who is paying the price) is a more simplistic aspect to note for future reference.
4. Execution issues they have solved
Often when you get an entrpreneur on a stage and he or she will drop a few insights as to the problems they have had to fix and how they did it.
Definitely one for the notebook.
5. Why does a startup need to fix this?
I want to know why a startup should be doing this project rather than a larger incumbent.
What advantage do they think they have?
The audience will probably be mainly people from larger companies - and once the idea is out (and the startup has squandered their six month innovation lead), why won't someone else play catchup with more resources?
The startup's answer is often to go to a zone that would be difficult for an incumbent to approach - for example, how about staying a night in a person's house who you have never met?
The rules applied
These startups pitched at eTourism summit in San Francisco a few weeks back. Primarily an in-destination conference and one of my favourites.
Travel By Drone
Show a drone video at consumer destination choice point. Founded six months ago. Currently 7,000 crowd-sourced videos (hosted by Vimeo/Youtube). "A better version of Google street view", says the Huffington Post; a brand name that needs no explanation, says Tnooz.
Want a video of your destination? Use the "find drone pilots in your area" function.
Legal hack: commercially you can't hire a drone pilot (in the US) but you can suggest they film in an area, and then subsequently offer to pay for an edit that meets your needs.
Fairly non-commercial at this point.
Agents of Nature
Mobile app for game based missions within parks / nature reserves in US / Canada. From 11 now to 50 sites by end of year.
Use technology to get kids outside.
GPS or QR code based. However the QR codes have suffered from vandalism so the GPS works just as well.
20,000 USD per destination to be mapped. IP stays with the destination.
Future will enable class teachers to see where everyone is or family to see where their children are.
Eat with a local in their own home (TLabs here). The concept already exists, Eat With are just organising it.
Currently 160 cities. Just taken $8 million funding.
50% of bookings are from tourists, 50% from locals.
Food is an equalising experience. You can mutually enjoy something together. Moved on from "live like a local" to "meet a local"
Host sets the price. Eat With take 15% commission.
Comment from CVB was that they are a membership organisation and they work to the benefit of their members hence wouldn't be something they could support (although they thought the idea would be a success, regardless if they supported it or not).
White label trip planning service for destinations (TLabs here).
Example on the VisitDallas website.
Customers add dates and create a day by day itinerary for a proposed trip. This is then available via PDF and mobile app.
One core outcome from this planning is actually the data that is available to the DMO. E.g. age / city pairs (who travels from City A to Dallas, City B to Dallas, and their ages)
Includes an expert network of "city ambassadors".
Stats: Almost 100% of users get to a day view. Takes 3-4 visits to plan a trip. The last visit tends to be the longer one with people taking 45 minutes to do their planning.
Interactive travel discovery platform via virtual experiences
A guide (in a destination) wears tech such as Google Glass. Remote people request the guide to show certain aspects of the destination in live time.
Hardware & software solution
Travel inspirationTraining travel agents - experience the itineraryDMO/CVB - personalised site visits - i.e. include remote decision makers
$5,000-$10,000 set-up fee. Then monthly fee based on broadcast costs.
Some example virtual trips have lasted three hours and achieved 4,500 live viewers.
Need a great person to be a tour guide - e.g. a comedian or personality.
Georama will provide a virtual moderator who will take the feedback from the live viewers and feed to the tour guide guidance on what people want to see.
Key point from all of this is that if you work for a larger travel company these startup pitches should be must attend sessions, not a time to leave the room and work on your email!
NB:Business pitch image via Shutterstock.