Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Travelpod CEO interview

Had and took the chance to follow up my post on TripAdvisor's recent acquisitions to have an interview with Luc Levesque the co-founder and CEO of the now TripAdvisor owned Travelpod.

Travelpod are a travel blogging platform and social network. The site - though it looks like a start-up- has been around since 1997. Luc and the 6 other members of his team have been building the site virally and with a little bit of banner and search advertising, mostly in their spare time. He admits to only going full time in the last six months.

The site has reached scale, according to Luc. He was keeping his performance metrics (traffic, revenue, member numbers) very secret but did share that they have "well over a million posted photos". The sites growth in the early days was slow and we had an interesting discussion about what were the external factors that created a growth environment. Luc pointed to three things that set up the growth for Travelpod:
  1. The proliferation of Internet cafes - giving travellers easy access to Internet connections while on the road;
  2. The dramatic drop in digital camera prices - while the site is a blog site, more photographs means more bloggers; and
  3. The most important driver was when Google bought Blogger. Not because this deal involved Travelpod but because it was the sign that blogging had gone mainstream. No longer did have to Travelpod need to explain to potential members what "a travel blog" was.
The business model (as you would expect) is all about advertising. Similarly the business drivers are more members, more posts and increased distribution.

On the world post the TripAdvisor acquisition Luc was firm that it was all about business as usual with advertising sales, infrastructure and marketing support. No plans to change the brand or feed the Travelpod content into TripAdvisor or Expedia (so far anyway). This is the right approach. I support TripAdvisor's plans to buy more niche and targeted content sites and not change the brands. They should focus on the opportunity to cut costs and increase monetisation opportunities but leave the traffic generation to the in-house product and content teams.

The final area we discussed was my loyalty theory on Travel 2.0 companies. As you will recall from here and here - my view is that content/network companies need to innovate more than retailers to maintain loyalty to avoid the nightclub phenomenon where online users jump from one content/network site to another and then another (ie like Friendster to Myspace to Facebook to Bebo). Luc is confident that Travelpod readers are so passionate, loyal and emotionally connected that he hoes not have the same fear of customer shifting. They still need to innovate and launch new products and features and they have put in place customer retention programs to bring back members that stopped blogging or using the service.

Congrats to Luc and team on the acquisition.

1 comment:

Sam I Am said...

Congrats to Luc and the team!

I think Travelpod, like other travel sites out there that were into the 'blogging' game early on (fyi, Travelpod, just like quite a few other early players, didn't call journaling features blogs until after google bought blogger, but you can't blame us for doing it then :) ), haven't gone about getting new members in the same way that many of todays players do so. That leads me to believe that the members that these sites have, travelpod included, are not the type of member you generally (correctly imo) see in todays' 2.0 startups.

It's not hard to get a whole legion of members if you ask every member to import their address book and then send them emails inviting them to join, sometimes even without the members knowing you've done it. What is hard is to get members to join who actually come back and actively use your services and if Luc and the team have gathered 1 million pics, they must have succeeded at least a little in that department ;)

Thanks for the interesting read!