Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Triporati - Jim Hornthal interview

A new theme for the BOOT has been working on classifying and and analysing the different travel content, planning, community and search sites. Last month I started off this work through a review of Triporati (and drawing a comparison to my favourite non-travel web product This month I was able to continue my investigation into the sector via an interview with Triporati Chairman Jim Hornthal. We cover areas such as the business model, UGC vs editorial, the company and more.

Business Model

Hornthal was clear that Triporati's main distribution and monetisation push will be around working with partners. I have been hearing this again and again with content/planning/community sites. Most recently in my review of TripIt and before that in an interview with TripSay Board Member Alfonso Castellano. The rationale behind this is clear and makes sense to me. The battle for traffic from Google (either paid or organic) is either too expensive for a travel planning/inspiration site (in the case of paid) or not the core competency (in the case of organic). Better to take a great travel planning/inspiration product and add it to other high trafficked travel sites that are focused purely on booking or content (or both).

One of Triporati's first major deals here is with the triple A (Automotive club) network of sites. There are multiple link offs from the base site and Triporati hosts the final landing page (here is the AAA Carolinas Example). There is lots of bespoke work for each deployment as it needs the media spaces from AAA, the booking widgets from AAA and trip options from Triporati are redefined for the partner. In effect AAA is the media partner and Triporati plays the content and technology role. Hornthal is particularly happy with AAA as a partner as AAA brings a offline presence as well as online. At the start 250 AAA travel agents are using Triporati to provide the expertise that is taken away from offline agents as the fam trip continues to disappear into the travel industry history books.

On the revenue side, because of the bespoke set up work Triporati is charging a set up fee, monthly fee tied to traffic as well as the obligatory ad share. I am impressed that Triporati is generating upfront payments from partners as this is not a normal practice in online travel where affiliates are used to a rev share only way of life.

[there is also a test version with TripAdvisor from a a email engagement plan]

On Editorial versus UGC

I have blogged before about how content companies need to find a balance between editorial content and UGC. Too much editorial and you risk not being up to date because editors cannot be in as many places as often as the masses out there. Too much UGC and you end up with the masses going off topic and insulting each other.

Hornthal's view on this balance is to have Triporati's technology and their editors as the discovery engine and then the crowd as a validation engine. Is clear to Triporati that you need to link the two parts but also need to keep them separate. I agree with this approach. Hornthal also put it like this "know where the right answer is not what the right answer is".

On the Triporati Company Background

I alluded in last month's post on Triporati to the pedigree behind Triporati - with Triporati founders Hornthal and Sharlene Wang being behind Preview Travel. The Triporati Board is also packed full of high profile names - Tim Draper (of Draper Fisher Jurvetson), Ted Leonsis (former Vice Chairman of AOL), David Patrick (Charles Schwab), Ron Conway (Google angle investor). Impressive.

My take

I get this space. I am very excited about this space. Triporati well placed to take the lead and own it. The product looks good, they have money and a Board stacked full of experience. The only but is that Triporati takes the Vacation Genome approach as the starting point (much like Pandora in music) rather than the user based recommendation editorial control (much like in music - see earlier post if you want this explained further). This does not mean I will bet against Triporati as all the pieces are there, the approach is right and I don't see the genome over crowd approach as a fatal flaw. Triporati is the site and business that competitors TourDust, Geckogo, Joobili, TripBase, TravelMuse are behind and have to chase. [have already written a post on Joobili - more on the others soon].

Seems like I am being too nice. Second positive review in a row (TripIt earlier this week). Am determined to find someone to be nasty about next week.


Anonymous said...

I dont think Triporati is the site to beat in this space. Actually they are far behind travelmuse and tripbase:

btw I am not affiliated with any of these sites

Markus said...

ah, the openID integration completely messed up my username :)