Source: The Guardian
By Stuart Dredge
Social travel service Gogobot has opened a European office in London, in an effort to boost the popularity of its site and app beyond its US homeland.
Gogobot launched in November 2010 as a website, with an iPhone app following in October 2011. The company has raised $19m in funding so far, and its chief executive is Travis Katz, who used to run Myspace’s international business.
He says the idea for Gogobot came when travelling around Europe with his wife, and trying to research destinations online. “We’d get up on a Saturday morning, power up the computer, and eight hours later we’d still be sitting there, more confused than when we started,” he says.
“We’d end up trying to work out if we knew anybody who’d been there, and if not, I’d throw up my hands and go to buy a Lonely Planet guide. There was something really wrong about not being able to figure this out using the internet.”
Gogobot’s solution to that problem is to tap into Facebook’s social graph, and get people to share their travel experiences for the benefit of their friends.
The company’s app now covers more than 60,000 destinations, with its photo-postcard feature one of the ways it encourages users to contribute to its database. There’s also a feature to plan trips.
“When we started the company, we had a big debate over whether we should start as mobile then build a web component, or start as web and then go to mobile,” says Katz. “We knew mobile was going to be critical to the story: travel is the most natural use for mobile.”
When the company started, Katz admits he expected people to plan their holidays using Gogobot’s website, then simply access the details from their phones when away, as well as using the postcard feature to share photos.
“We thought that people would probably want to do the research and planning on a bigger PC, but we’ve actually found that they want to plan their trip on mobile as well,” he says.
“We hadn’t expected that at all. In fact, the number of trips being planned on mobile has already caught up to the number being planned on the web. Now we’re thinking about how to make that experience richer on the mobile.”
According to social metrics site AppData, Gogobot currently has 450,000 monthly active users for its Facebook-connected app. Key competition is likely to come from established online travel sites adding social features, though.
Katz is unsurprisingly bullish about the likely threat, suggesting that “it’s hard to do social as a bolt-on”, while claiming that the big travel websites have a laser focus on “optimising conversions from traffic coming in from search engines… they’re amazingly good at that, but it’s not really social at its core”.
For the future, Gogobot is looking to improve its recommendation engine, having just hired “one of the top recommendation experts in the US out of Stanford Research Institute”.
Katz says the company is also thinking about adding more offline features to its apps, to ensure they can be more useful for people who turn their smartphone’s data off when abroad for fear of roaming fees.
Keeping the pace of development up will be important, as more companies get into the social travel space.
“Travel is the most lucrative vertical on the internet, and social is the way everybody wants to interact on the web,” says Katz. “A lot of people are clamoring to get into this space, and we see a lot of the big guys copying us. Which at least is usually a sign that you’re doing something right…”