OutTrippin is brand new, fresh out of the box and kind of fun: if you’re familiar with Flightfox you’ll get the idea right away: you submit your vacation plans, pay a $29 fee and three experts pitch for your business. You get a tailored itinerary, developed by someone who really knows your destination, and has spent time thinking about who you are and the type of things you might enjoy. The experts are travel bloggers and writers, not travel agents; they don’t make any bookings, just suggestions. It’s an interesting concept, nicely realised, and something of a poke in the eye to the social travel sites that are still pitching the idea that your friends are the best source of advice on travel. I’m on record saying that “social travel” is dumb on a whole lot of levels, so I warmed to the OutTrippin concept pretty quickly.
It’s easy to find articles about the wonders of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and hard to disagree with the general gist of the proposition that companies growing up in that environment enjoy advantages over their remote and too-often lonely competitors. But Silicon Valley isn’t the only place that spawns startups; down here in Melbourne, Australia we have four online travel companies all operating from the Inspire9 shared workspace, located in the old Australian Knitting Mills factory building in Richmond, just a mile from the city centre. (And a few steps from the Corner Hotel, where Mick Jagger played a secret gig prior to a Stones tour in 1988. It’s likely there’s no relationship between online travel and Mick’s appearance, but it’s a great clip if you’re a rock and roll fan.)
The interesting thing about the i9 Startups, besides their ultra-proximity, is that each is at a very different stage of their development, each is focused on a different sector of the market, and yet all four of us find benefits in living on each other’s doorstep.
Travellerspoint only moved in recently, but they are the granddaddy of us all. From small beginnings in 2002 they have grown — and grown, and grown — to become one of the largest communities of travel bloggers on the web: 30,000 individual travel blogs with 175,000 stories in total. That’s a lot of information and a lot of experience running a high traffic web site.
A gorgeous UI and natural language search are features of Adioso.com
Adioso is the closest among us to the Silicon Valley startup model; they’re a graduate of Y Combinator and have some luminary investors on board. Founders Tom Howard and Fenn Bailey are classic 2000’s entrepreneurs: innovative (their site is beautiful and very, very different to the traditional OTA), introspective (they blog constantly and in detail about their progress, failings, successes and concerns), and courageous (personally, I wouldn’t have the courage to do what they’re doing, tackling the entrenched and powerful OTA players).
OutTrippin’s customised itineraries are created by bloggers and travel writers, not agents.
Rome2rio has enjoyed plenty of attention over the last twelve months, thanks in part to our win at the 2012 PhoCusWright Innovation Summit. We’re focused on organising the world’s transport information, and delivering our multi-modal journey planner to industry partners via API and White Label solutions. With five employees and enough funding and income that we don’t need to check our bank balance every ten minutes, we are beavering away at our goals relentlessly, prodding the industry to take note and having fun as we go along. The industry seems to be taking notice, and at the same time traffic to our consumer site continues to grow like topsy, with just on a million unique visitors in the last month.
On a day to day basis we don’t really have much interaction with each other, besides occasional games of ping-pong and shared lunches. But informally the bonds are pretty constant, and useful. Bernie and Michael (Rome2rio) and Fenn (Adioso) consult regularly on software issues, often related to the minefield that is airfares; while Tom (Adioso), Peter (Travellerspoint) and I chat about strategy, connections, conferences and industry issues every now and again. The OutTrippin guys are very new but we’ve already had some good conversations and expect they’ll soon become part of the lunchtime travel meetup.
Startup management is full of tricky little decisions that end up being crucial down the track: Which lawyer? Which accountant? What type of share structure? Which conference? How do we price this service? Should we hire a designer? Do we need more engineers? How much should we pay this person? Taken in isolation, you can afford to get any one of these decisions wrong and still go on to success; but it helps a lot to lower the number of mistakes you make. Having someone who understands your industry and may have confronted the same choices just a few steps away is a definite plus.
There must be some reasons why all this activity is happening in Melbourne, Australia, and not a thousand other places around the globe. One factor is that Australians travel so much, with some 50% of the population holding a passport, and a similar number taking an overseas holiday each year. When you overlay that sort of travel experience onto the sizeable pool of home-grown software developers and tech-savvy young marketers who would rather do something for themselves than going down the corporate career route, you have the perfect conditions for the growth of travel startups. Still, it’s not perfectly clear why Melbourne should host so much online travel activity: it’s certainly a leading destination, and besides football and food, travel is possibly the #1 conversation topic for Melburnians. Whatever it is, it works, and I expect to see more travel startups popping up soon. Maybe even at the desk next to mine.