Travel

Gogobot CEO on the Secret to Travel Startup Survival

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Travis Katz, founder and CEO of trip-planning and local discovery site Gogobot, knows something about platforms as he did a stint as general manager, international, of MySpace in Europe in 2006.

You remember MySpace (RIP), right? It was the social networking rage before Facebook, until it wasn’t.

But Katz took a lot from his MySpace experience, which found him traveling around Europe for work and fun at a frenetic pace.

That helped Katz come up with the idea for Gogobot, which was founded in 2010 and has raised nearly $40 million in funding.

“So most people will go and travel once or twice a year and I was traveling like 30 times a year, and so I started to have this interesting insight on travel, which was that booking travel, I found, was pretty efficient and pretty easy,” Katz says. “I didn’t have any problems booking a flight or a hotel, but trying to figure out where I wanted to go, where I wanted to stay was actually really, really, really time-consuming.”

From his MySpace and Gogobot experiences, Katz has formulated plenty of startup lessons about platform reliance, community-building, mobile, fundraising and more.

Skift discussed these issues with Katz and the following are some of the highlights:

Don’t Become Reliant on Third-Party Platforms

“We started from day one at Gogobot looking to leverage the strength of Facebook while not becoming wholly reliant upon it,” Katz says. “Our goal was always to help you get better recommendations about where to stay or what to do in a destination, and we started by leveraging social signals. We started off letting you post questions to your friends on Facebook with the idea that your friends could answer on Gogobot and we could capture their answers as structured data that could also help other travelers.”

“We figured out pretty quickly that this wouldn’t work: It was too much friction for the average user and they tended to just answer in comments on Facebook rather than click through. We did, however, leverage data from the open graph such as friends’ check-ins to help surface places that were popular in your network, which worked much better. Fortunately, we had the foresight to know there were risks in becoming overly dependent on a single platform, and took a few steps early on to insulate ourselves.”

Others in the travel industry, such as TripAdvisor, certainly leverage Facebook but aren’t dependent on the platform. On the other hand, in the gaming sector Zynga became overly reliant on Facebook and is still facing big problems as its user base declines.

Building A Community is Easier Said Than Done

Katz says he and another Gogobot team member learned the “tricks of the trade” when it comes to community-building at MySpace.

After launching MySpace in various European countries, Katz recalls he’d inevitably get a call from a representative of the largest media company in that country demanding a 50 percent joint venture with MySpace with the threat that MySpace would be destroyed unless it agreed.

Katz said he’d tell the would-be partner that building a community wasn’t as easy as it appeared.

He thinks MySpace was a great laboratory for building community engagement, and Katz took some of those lessons over to Gogobot.

“So a lot of it’s about understanding the psychology and knowing what resonates with people and then just being able to measure every single thing that you do and say, “OK, let’s try this’ and then we’ll measure and determine whether it moved the needle or not,” Katz says. “You have to sort of look at each feature as an experiment that you can use to better the experience and overall better your growth metrics.”

“A lot of it comes down to how do you create the right feedback loops for people so they can feel like what they’re doing was helpful and useful. We added a lot of gamification to the process with reviews, leader boards, badges and different things and really thought about how can we make this more fun, how do we make it more engaging and how do we make it more personally meaningful. We really focused a lot on that community of creators as the engine of what grows Gogobot.”