About the "Baked In" series: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that social dynamics are going to work their way into every industry, and the companies of the future will be the ones that bake them in from the beginning, rather than slapping them on as an afterthought. This series takes a look at companies that are discovering new opportunities by using social components in the foundations of their businesses.
When it comes to making travel plans, J.R. Johnson wants you to skip those hours of crowdsourcing. Instead, he thinks you should try Trippy, the startup he launched last month for the express purpose of putting people in touch with recommendations they can trust: suggestions from their Facebook friends.
"When we were setting this up, we said let’s go back to the way it was before the Internet and algorithms," Johnson tells Fast Company. What planning looked like before Web 2.0 was natural conversation, he explains, the kind you generated with a plane ticket in one hand and a phone in the other, calling people to find interesting places to see and good food to eat.
But, says Johnson, after your friends told you everything they knew, you were still only half way there. "It put a lot of the burden on you to look up the places, find the numbers, etc."
Enter Trippy. With the advent of location-based software and Facebook’s social graph, your friends’ helpful recommendations can turn into a plotted, mapped itinerary with one click. Just select the destination with the auto-complete tool and wait for the recommendations to roll in.
The Facebook-style commenting generates a "friend-sourced" recommendations feed. This will be turned into an itinerary with plot points on the user’s travel map.
All that’s left to do is book the hotel or make a restaurant reservation, which users can do right from Trippy’s platform. Taking a page from TripAdvisor’s business model, Trippy makes money when you book by taking a cut of the revenues earned by hotels and third-party services, says Johnson.
Johnson says the timing for his latest venture is perfect. Since founding, bootstrapping, and selling the user-generated content website VirtualTourist.com, acquired by Expedia in 2008 for a reported $85M, he’s been eager to get back into the travel space. His experience establishing Lunch.com, to solve the decreasing trust and relevance of online reviews and recommendations, set the stage even further.
When Airbnb debuted, Johnson says it was the most innovative concept in the space and gives credit to Facebook for its rapid rise. "I don’t think they would have had the same success in a pre-Facebook world. I think they’ve done a great job of playing that you’re not staying in a complete stranger’s house if they have a real Facebook profile."
However, the emergence of a number of sites that aid discovery via virtual hat tips from friends such as Spotify for music, Oh That’s You for fashion advice, even Google + for news and information, created a perfect storm for Trippy’s launch, Johnson observes. "The social graph connects us in ways we were not connected before and Trippy is inherently social. It’s easy to understand and be part of the collaborative conversation."
Johnson is quick to note that friend-sourcing is what makes Trippy vastly different from other travel sites. Travel review juggernaut TripAdvisor amasses reviews from anyone, anywhere with a keyboard and a mind to squawk or celebrate. That creates a vast sea of very subjective data to wade through.
Even Goby, which uses "deep Web" technology to crawl selected databases and other sources of information pre-qualified for relevance is still basically aggregated content, he says. "They are algorithmic-driven and not focusing on personal," says Johnson though he does concede that some people don’t want to know what friends have to say.
Though Facebook has enabled Trippy to come into being, Johnson believes the biggest challenge for his new brand is getting people out of their pure Facebook mindset. So far, the way they are dealing with it is good old fashioned one by one conversion. Friends telling friends and the ability to import everything someone else has already done efficiently will "win the hearts and minds of people planning trips one trip at a time," says Johnson.
Not simply relying on a viral co-efficient may just be what gives Trippy legs. "Your trip planner won’t get any action until your friends come in to talk about it. You can’t just meander around and look at stuff," he says.
Likewise, Trippy’s photo application has a different motivation than broadcasting an album on Facebook. Uploading photos through the mobile app in particular (only available on iPhone right now) sends a notification to everyone who assisted in planning the trip in real time, thus creating "helper joy" says Johnson.
Doesn’t all that sharing make people squirrely? Johnson says that Trippy will have some privacy controls down the road but for right now, it’s an open platform. That doesn’t mean you have to expose every little detail. Rather, Trippy doesn’t even ask for the exact dates of a trip, just a season. This says Johnson, is another advantage for people who haven’t made any actual plans to travel —about 40% of U.S. consumers according to a recent AdGenesis survey. "Dreaming it on Trippy makes it all a reality. Friends help you build out all these aspirational trips, then all you need to do is book a flight."
[Images courtesy of Trippy]
Read more from our Baked In series here.