"Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
And they're young and alive"
In a couple of days it will be 2 years since we decided to give this "startup thing" a serious go and set on a mission to help travellers find more interesting things to do during their trips.
The original version of what was then called "Wanderlust.cloud" was really only intended to help me automate the tedious task of looking for interesting things to do during my business trips.
I was frankly quite tired of having to spend hours on Google to find event listings in every city I visited, and then having to google some more to find out if artists or bands I had never heard of would be something I'd enjoy seeing live. I did, obviously, also try apps like Songkick or BandsInTown, but quickly realised that it was equally a pain to having to keep changing my location all the time. I often simply forgot, while other times I forgot to change it back (and kept getting notices about concerts in LA four months after I got back from that trip).
Talking with other frequent travellers, I realised that this was actually a widespread source of frustration and a potential opportunity to build something cool and useful that would unite my passion for travel with the one for music and culture. And so without any professional background in the entertainment (other than that of an eager concert-goer and culture lover) or in the travel industry (other than that of a frustrated frequent traveller), I said to myself: "how difficult can it possibly be?"
As these last 2 years have shown, it was not quite the "walk in the park" I had expected (shocking, I know). It has been a roller-coaster of emotions, hopes, delusions and lessons learned. It's with the baggage accumulated in these 2 years that we now set out on a new adventure as we prepare to launch our brand new web-app on Monday, August 19th.
And as it is often the case, the best way I could find to tell the story of these last 2 years is through the words of one of my favourite bands.
So here it goes:
1. PROLOGUE: "Hang the blessed DJ, because the music they constantly play, says nothing to me about my life"
This line pops up in my head every time a newsletter from a travel brand pops in my inbox.
Like the one Hotels.com has been sending me every day for the past 3 months with the same “50% off - ends today” offer.
Catching prospective customers at the right moment when they are about to buy is probably the single trickiest things to do for a marketer, so I understand the temptation of simply hammering your user base and hoping for the best. In the end, when you have millions of people subscribed to your newsletter, some are bound to click on that link and buy (incidentally, that's why we also still get plenty of emails about penis enlargement pills).
I wonder, however, whether anyone really books a trip or a holiday simply because they received an email with a discount? The few times I have personally taken advantage of one of these offers I was already planning a trip and was more than happy to save money. In the best case scenario, that email may have made me choose a different supplier than the one I originally intended to use, but in most cases it simply meant the supplier left money on the table and I got a cheaper price on the room I was going to book anyway.
The travel industry loves to talk about personalisation and creating moments that matter. Yet, bar very few exceptions, the bulk of the marketing that travel brands do is so incredibly uninspiring and unengaging. Discounts might work to catch some of the bookings that were going to happen anyway, but they do absolutely nothing to build brand loyalty and trust or inspire people to take more trips.
It was in this context and with the "frustrated travel newsletter recipient hat" on, that we saw the opportunity to build something that would help travel brands do a better job at engaging and inspiring their customers, build stronger relationships with them and ultimately give them better reasons to travel more (and better). And what better way to do that than to provide each user with personalised recommendations for great live events to attend during their trips?
2. "The World won't listen"
From the very beginning, we always referred to GigsGuide as a "service" and not as an "app".
The value we provide is in the combination of content (recommendations for the live events that are closer to each user's personal taste), delivered to the users at the time when it is actually needed (so that they don't have to spend time searching for it on their own), in the way that is most convenient to them.
As a busy traveller myself, the last thing I wanted was to have to keep track of yet another travel app. Going B2B seemed to make sense for a number of reasons. We could embed our recommendations in the existing booking flows of hotels and airlines, making them more personal and engaging (and thus improve their conversion rates and their customer satisfaction rates). Working with established players with an existing customer base would allow us to create more value and make a bigger difference for a larger number of travellers faster, without having to worry about the cut-throat reality of a crowded B2C travel market littered with the corpses of failed travel startups.
It made perfect sense to us, the travellers we talked to all loved the idea, shared their frustrations of badly targeted marketing efforts and confirmed that while most of them don't have time to look for live events when they travel, they would love for someone else to tell them (a mentality often referred to as GNOMO, "Get Notified or Miss Out").
I saw an opportunity to fix a disconnect between user expectations and the travel industry offering that is reminiscent of the short-term rental market before AirBNB. People have been renting out rooms to tourists before Chesky and friends came along: it was, however, such a painful experience to find available rooms, negotiating payment terms and knowing whether you could trust each other that most travellers were simply not even considering the option. Remove all those obstacles and a market nobody believed existed exploded into a multi-billion industry in just a few years.
So I went out to some of the top travel industry events looking to build a contact network from scratch in a new space and to find our first pilot customers. I ended up meeting a lot of great people and learning a lot about my new industry, but on the "customer" front I mostly found lukewarm interest and blank stares.
3. "You just haven't earned yet, son"
In hindsight, we were probably a bit naive about helping the travel industry keep its promise to its customers of personalisation and amazing experiences (and most importantly, about the travel industry's interest in our help).
While we have been blessed to meet a handful of people that have believed in us and encouraged us all the way, the large majority of possible partners, investors, accelerators we talked to quite simply did not see any potential in what we were trying to do.
Blaming the other party for "not getting it" is a popular strategy in this type of situations. It might help founders feel better about themselves, but the hard truth is that if they "don't get it", you are quite simply not explaining it well enough (or you're selling crap… But allow me to believe for a little while longer that this is not the case with us :)).
We had built a solid MVP that offered travel brands access to hundreds of thousands of live events around Europe and North America and all the tools to deliver the right information to the right customer with zero effort on their side. I had, however, failed completely at making our vision come to life so that our prospective partners could "see it" and believe in it like we did.
At this point, we should have probably realised it was a nice dream but it was not going to work. Instead, we said "fuck it!" and decided I should stop trying to be a smartass about how to build a successful travel business.
So we are doing the thing I said I never wanted to do: launch our own B2C travel site.
After a lot of work and testing, the new GigsGuide is finally going live on Monday, August 19th.
4. “There is a light that never goes out”
Some might call us crazy (or idiots) for launching a new consumer travel site: honestly, we are well aware of the challenges ahead of us and have very humble expectations in terms of revenue and traffic.
We do hope, however, that where I failed in the past to "tell our story", the new GigsGuide will instead have more success in "showing" the world how leveraging the vibrant cultural offering of our cities is one of the best way to connect with travellers and sell more trips.
The early signals are positive: having something to show has already helped me get a speaking engagement at one of the top events in the travel industry. Hopefully, it will also make it easier for travel brands that care about their customers to realise that we have something special and unique that can help them give a positive boost to their marketing.
So going "all in" and giving it our last best shot is definitely part of a plan and not simply a sign of stubborn stupidity*.
But reading Seth Godin's book "This is marketing" recently also reminded me of the real, deeper reason we are not quite ready to give up yet: travel, culture and music are our true passion, and we love the idea of helping more passionate people like us get more chances to experience the beauty of a live performance also when they travel. And while we know there is a high chance that, to borrow Morrissey's words one more time, "a double-decker bus crashes into us" (figuratively speaking :D), I feel incredibly privileged and proud to be doing this journey with Mikhail and Angelina by my side*.
EPILOGUE (?): Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want
Obviously, things might actually work out well for us .
I know many "cool" startups restrict access to their sites when they launch and force users to spam their friends in order to get an invite. It might be the smart thing to do, but quite frankly we don't care much for "growth hacking" tricks.
We like to think of GigsGuide as "the most exclusive club where everyone is welcome": it might not be the most advanced travel site out there, but if you share our love for travel and music we hope that when the new site goes live on Monday you'll enjoy using it as much as we are enjoying building it.
And we hope you'll tell all your friends about us not because we asked you, but simply because you care about them .
So for once in my life,
Let me get what I want... OK?
* Should that happen... If anyone knows of any openings for back-scrubbers, would you let us know? :)