Since making the tough call to completely rebrand and rebuild their social travel app, last year, Ryan Hanly and Mark Cantoni have enjoyed global success. Now used in over 180 countries, Travello (previously known as Outbound) increased its valuation to $4m in August off the back of their second funding round.
Hanly, the company’s co-founder and CEO, also attributes this rapid success to strong word-of-mouth amongst travellers and a commitment to the lean start-up methodology.
Recently nominated for The CEO Magazine’s 2016 Executive of the Year Awards (Start-Up Executive of the Year), the Brisbanite spoke to Dynamic Business about the rebirth and rise of his company.
How did the idea for Travello come about?
Mark and I are avid travellers who’ve known each other for over 20 years – we’ve travelled extensively including tons of solo travel. We observed a shift in the way people were connecting across a whole range of verticals. While LinkedIn is for business people and Facebook is for friends, we saw a clear gap in the market: a social network for travellers. We dug a little deeper and did some market validation and, despite having no background in either technology or tourism, we decided to jump in and do it because we thought, ‘If we don’t, someone else will soon’. Outbound launched in early 2015 before relaunching as Travello in June, this year.
What problem is the app addressing?
Our USP lies in the fact that there’s a dearth of ways to meet new people in a new destination. Most social networks, including Facebook, rely on a user’s pre-existing networks – they keep you connected to people you already know. But the chances of a Facebook friend being nearby when you arrive in China, for instance, are very slim. Travello allows you to meet like-minded people in a new destination. We consider ourselves the step before Facebook. Many of our users meet on Travello and then continue their relationship on Facebook – and we’re fine with this because they will use Travello when they arrive at their next destination to meet new people.
We’ve created something travellers haven’t seen before, we are solving a pain point with a quality product and the market was large enough to produce a sustainable business. One of the most common comments we get is, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before!’ That’s a great compliment. Usually the best ideas are ones that are so obvious – in hindsight.
Can you quantify the company’s success?
We live and die by a few key KPIs. While we keep track of downloads, active users provide a better indication of our success. We have more than 1000 downloads per week and we’re seeing healthy double-digit growth month on month with our active user base. It helps that Travello has been featured as “Best New App” and “Apps We Love” in the App Store and sits alongside the likes of Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor in the travel section.
On top of this, our average session time is over 5 minutes. This is huge considering our target market is travellers with little access to WiFi and Internet. To benchmark this, LinkedIn’s average session time is around 6 minutes. So we are really happy with that metric. All of our analytics are heading in the right direction and that is great validation for what we’re doing as a company and with the product.
Mark and I have been able to achieve so much with so little. We bootstrapped Travello with an extremely small team and virtually no marketing budget – despite that, we are now being used in over 180 countries by tens of thousands of travellers and the company is valued at over 4M dollars. That’s not bad considering we were working from a kitchen table around 14 months ago.
What has fuelled the company’s growth?
Most of our early-stage growth has been organic, i.e. word-of-mouth, because we’ve tapped into the culture of travellers helping other travellers. Everyone who has travelled knows that you get the best tips from others on the road. Travellers are actively telling fellow journeyers about our app – and word has spread pretty quickly as a result! This is the best type of growth for a company because it means the product speaks for itself. Any company can achieve high-growth by throwing buckets of money at marketing – but this is really a false economy because it if consumers aren’t happy with the product, growth isn’t sustainable. Although we have relied on organic growth to this point, we recently closed a solid round of funding which will help to fuel growth. We were seeking 1.1M and were slightly oversubscribed with 1.26M coming in. This finally gives us the opportunity to accelerate growth through marketing channels that we previously did not have the budget allocation for. We finally get to put fuel on the fire! We intend to be the largest social network for travellers within 12 months.
Are you advocate the lean start-up method?
Yes, it’s integral to everything we do at Travello. The concept revolves around remaining agile, producing MVPs, experimenting, failing and repeating – until you find success. It’s about doing a lot with a little and doing as much as you can as with as little capital spend as possible. Most start-ups have no choice but to follow this methodology – because you simply don’t have the available funds – and we were no different. But we have continued this methodology post-funding and it will be part of our DNA well into the future.
What prompted the decision to rebrand the app?
Outbound was a great name – but it was so good that 100 other travel companies were also using the term in their name! It really gave us no differentiation in the market and put us amongst a big pool of other companies using the name. We couldn’t trademark the name because it was descriptive of services and so we really had no individual identity as a company. We decided we really wanted product differentiation and a brand we could own – so we made a very hard call and adopted Travello, which is a combination of “Travel” and “Hello”. The rebrand paid off – within 7 days of launch, we were already being used in over 80 countries.
As difficult as it was to leave the name that you founded the company with – it was clearly the best thing that we could’ve done. We now have ownership over the brand and that will hold us in very good stead going forward. We launched Travello with a fresh face as version 2.0 of the app. It was a far superior product – rebuilt from the ground-up. Our time as Outbound was probably one of the steepest learning curves I have ever been on. We basically had to learn everything! But we now have a team of 7 really exceptional people who are about to take everything we have learnt to the next level. For us, Outbound was almost like training, whereas Travello is game-time!