Tuesday, September 30, 2008

GoPlanIt - interview with COO Jimmy Ku on the day the Dow imploded

It is start up interview and profile week here at the BOOT. Earlier this week we talked with Yen Lee of UpTake about how he felt cashing a $10,000,000 cheque moments before the Dow went into (the first of many) freefall(s). Then I posted an exchange with Our Explorer CEO Dave Cunningham about his efforts to match tour guides with lost tourists.

Today I had a chance to speak with GoPlanit COO Jimmy Ku. You’ll recall that GoPlanit was the only travel company to be part o the high profile start-up competition TechCrunch50. My earlier profile of them is here.

Discussions around money

On any normal day our interview would have focused on GoPlanit's plans to move from beta to a full release, how they would generate traffic and thoughts on balancing editorial and user generated content. Unfortunately this is not a normal day. On this day Washington degenerated into a $700 billion game of “I like George Bush less than you do” driving the Dow down 778 points (check out this interactive graphic on nytimes.com tracking the decline of the Dow with the counting of the nae votes– registration required). Unsurprisingly it meant we spent time talking about GoPlanit’s plans for raising their first full round of funding. As the Crunchbase profile states and Ku confirmed GoPlanit have raised $500k in seed capital. This is enough to support current efforts and the team of 7 but Ku admits that they will need more.

Thankfully for GoPlanit the profile boost of Techcrunch50 participation has opened a huge number of doors as they look for funding. As Ku put it Techcrunc50 guaranteed me “days of back to back meetings”. But even Ku admits that the horror on the Dow going to make it tougher. “Anyone not scared [about the Dow decline] is probably lying” said Ku “but good products will still make money and VCs will still invest in those that can succeed”

Discussions around traffic

It is too early for Ku to share any traffic numbers with us but we did discuss GoPlanit’s marketing tactics. As expected the focus will be on SEO through user and editorial content. GoPlanit needs to take time to develop each destination it is planning to launch through connecting tot a “respectable source” of content and information, building out the links to providers and setting up the framework for attracting user generated content.

Sidebar - While discussing this I noticed that both TripIt and TripAdvisor are bidding on the keyword phrase “planning a trip” (as you can see in this poorly cropped photo image).

This seemed odd to Ku. He said (and I agree) that you want to attract the people looking for a destination not someone generically searching for a trip planning tool.

Discussions around the founders

The idea behind GoPlanit is best drawn directly from CEO Steve Chen’s presentation at Techcrunch50. In short the founders separately experienced the pain of trying to organise large holidays. In Ku’s case he found himself as the designated organiser for group holidays with friends. In CEO Chen's case it was in organising his honeymoon and his general experiences post a career with Accenture as an event organiser in the Bay Area. Chen and Ku are also joined in the founder club by CTO James Chen, most recently of CNET, Rotten Tomatoes and HotorNot.

My take

I like the idea and as with many start up interviews with travel content/tool companies, if they can generate the traffic, then the ad revenue will follow. The CPM rates and advertising desire for good consumer travel eyeballs is strong enough to survive this economic Bush-wacking. The challenge is raising the money to support the product to attract the eyeballs on a day no one can get $700 billion from the US government.

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Jimmy Ku said...

Thanks for the great interview Tim!

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