The (Almost) Eulogy of Oh Hey World

Over the past few years, I’ve worked on two travel apps – Oh Hey World (OHW) and, more recently, Horizon.

This post pertains to the earlier product, OHW. I shared a lot of learnings in my 12 months of learnings on Pando in late 2013. That post was written while still trying to figure out a viable strategy around “community” pages — and before ever deciding take another shot at making community accessible everywhere, for everyone with a complete re-brand to Horizon.

Specifically, I want to fill in the blanks in the story and address:

When is enough, enough?

Filling in the Gap

By the time I wrote the Pando recap, we were already out of money. The rest of the team was doing consulting work while I was trying to find a product/strategy that could scale. I’d say late fall 2013 was the low point of my professional life.

We finished “community” pages (see here) and showed them to individual travelers as well as organizations such as Kiva and Peace Corps. What we ultimately ended up hearing from individuals was “What do I get out of connecting? Why should I connect?” From organizations, we heard “how do you get enough people using this to enable people to actually find other community members nearby?” Turns out, outside of entrepreneurs and sales/biz dev professionals, few people have an any desire to connect for no reason. People generally need a very specific reason to ever go out of their way in the real physical world to meet someone.

Oh Hey World was a powerful offering but it lacked a “why use it” people cared about. Connect.com has raised $16M+ and thus have created a better product, but if you compare feature by feature, you’ll find they are virtually identical product offerings.

My next idea was to solve the why use it with “to consume email newsletters and de-clutter your inbox”. I spent several months validating a mobile, social email newsletter reader. The conceptual feedback was amazing from publishers (the thought of analytics on email newsletter consumption is extremely enticing), but I couldn’t identify a large enough “problem” on the consumer side. Cleaning out your inbox is a pain, sure… but there were already existing solutions (that the tech industry knew about and used). There’s also the whole “most email newsletters are spam that get deleted within seconds” reality to fight, and thus I wasn’t sure a better way to consume email newsletters would be of interest to a large crowd. If there’s one thing I learned from building OHW, it was I wasn’t going to build another product that didn’t address a very clear pain point experienced by a lot of people — so I canned the concept prior to ever developing anything.

The breakthrough that ended up leading to Horizon came when a high school friend of mine, Annie Cheng, clued me into a large (19,000) high trust community she belonged to that was interested in a “private couchsurfing” for their members. A strategic deal never ended up coming to fruition, but those conversations provided proof there were very large networks in which private hospitality exchanges would work. I then started to investigate fraternities, colleges, non profit volunteer networks, and religion organizations. From several months of customer discussions and research, I finally got enough validation that enabling private hospitality exchanges inside existing communities was a product strategy with strong potential, and enough of an incentive (free or cheap place to stay, friends, community) on the consumer side to scale.

We were originally going to morph Oh Hey World into this new hospitality exchange product, but thought better of it and realized we should cut our technical debt and start over from scratch — both from a tech and a brand perspective.

With Horizon, we solved the “why use it?” question with “to find a place to stay” — which is something every single traveler has to solve, otherwise they will never go anywhere.

Money

I’ve heard from several people they really want to know the nitty gritty of startups; how much money does it cost?

There is close to $70,000 invested into OHW — pretty much all of it my personal money (some of it was consulting money Eric, Will and I made working on various projects). That’s in addition to the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of research, customer validation, product work, writing, pitching, etc.

Building an equivalent product at market rate (aka a development shop or with developers making a regular salary rather than extremely equity heavy deal) probably would have cost three times as much — or more, depending on the development shop or how senior the engineers were.

Every month, it costs about $200 just to let OHW run. That includes the server (which is on Engine Yard), and core services such as SendGrid and Twilio. Multiple $175 or $200 x 45 (we’ve been paying for Engine Yard since October of 2012) — and you get another $9,000.

Call it a very, very expensive personal learning experience.

Current Status

Why haven’t I just shut down OHW?

The site still gets users on a daily basis. The domain has 6+ years of domain history, links, and a lot of great content (aka SEO). Every person using OHW is someone that could be using Horizon.

Lastly, I still believe there is a really compelling product sitting inside OHW. Maybe not for the masses, but certainly for heavy travelers or for the enterprise.

For instance, what if, as an American citizen, it automatically notified the State Department of your whereabouts? The State Department’s “STEP” program doesn’t exactly look like a consumer friendly offering.

What if Microsoft could communicate with their global work force based on current location? What if the Red Cross could rally both their donors and volunteers with location context?

The Opportunity

travatarWhat’s the big opportunity still looking out there that Oh Hey World can capitalize on?

Travatar.

Think Gravatar (a “globally recognized avatar” which I’ll wager 80% of people reading this blog have) — but for location.

The question is how to monetize, short of selling it to the likes of Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor, or Hipmunk. Which, inevitably, is a big risk.

Read more about that opportunity here.

Another post to get you thinking: The Starting Point to Real Time Travel Advice: A Location Based Content Delivery Platform.

Go Forward Strategy

The near term goal is to get OHW generating $1,500 per month.

How?

First, strip down the product to the core “check-in”, and then add external partners for related services.

If you go to www.ohheyworld.com, sign in, and then check-in to a city – you’ll end up what I call the “post check-in screen”. Compare what you see there today, to the following wireframe:

PostCheck-in-ownview

Second, add a home page sponsorship.

Third, offer a sponsorship of the Oh Hey World WordPress plugin. This would come with the possibility of many, many links from a wide variety of domains (the holy grail of SEO). Below is what it looks like now:

ohw-wordpress-widget

Fourth, promote the partners on the Oh Hey World blog.

Partnership / Development

OHW can’t continue without development to get it to revenue. That could come in the form of an individual who wants to take on an open source project on the side of their consulting work, or it could be an organization with a development community with an interest in maintaining/growing an open source project.

What an individual developer would get out of taking over OHW:

  • A user base of several thousand to start with
  • Existing brand & design assets
  • Working product
  • Financial upside, without needing to take significant financial risk to build something from scratch
  • Strong SEO

What a college program, coding academy, or accelerator would get:

  • Everything listed above
  • An open source project for their students/entrepreneurs to work on
  • Branding/marketing. Everytime the open source project is talked about, covered by the press, forked, etc – the brand of the organization would be part of that story
  • Ecosystem of jobs with the companies using the open source code base over time

Example organizations that would make sense: Code Fellows, UW Science and Engineering, Start-Up Chile, or TravelStartups.co.

Another option would be a development firm that sees the opportunity to build brand/community as well as a robust location based platform available to be utilized on numerous client projects in the future.

The other option is to find a partner who wants to sponsor the entire site to the tune of $1,500 per month for at least 6 months – and allocate some of that to a developer to spend some of their time growing the product.

Context as to what I/Horizon wants out of a partnership:

  • Recoup the money I’ve put into the product (not necessarily looking to maximize revenue)
  • Help covering server costs of OHW/Horizon in the near term
  • Enable OHW users to find Horizon from the app
  • Long term SEO for Horizon

I’d be willing to do a profit split for ohheyworld.com — likely about 75% – after all monthly services for OHW/Horizon (servers, email, accounting software, etc) are covered (currently about $700 per month).

In the event of a sale of the ohheyworld.com brand and assets to someone like Amadeus, Travelport, Concur, TripAdvisor, etc – there would be a sliding basis of the split. 10% of sale price up to $50,000, 30% of the incremental between $50,001 and $70,000, and 70% of incremental above $70,000.

If you’re a developer or organization interested in an agreement in the realm of what’s outlined above, shoot me an email at drew at horizonapp co.

To Pull the Plug, or not Pull the Plug?

Anyone that has slaved away on a startup knows how hard they are. Hundreds of hours. The stressful nights (& resulting grey hairs). The weekends spent in front of your computer while friends are out having fun. It really is like nurturing a baby (from what I’ve heard from those who have done both).

There comes a point where you’ve got to just move on. Shutting down your first “startup” is a tough decision. There’s so many hours, and so much money, that were thrown into it that you want to see it live on to see another day.

Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.

Ultimately, unless that will is shared by someone with development chops to own and grow the product, OHW will need to see it’s last day soon.

JetBlue weekend getaways from Long Beach

Sometimes, you just want to get out of town for a couple of days.  And with JetBlue’s affordable, nonstop flights from Long Beach, you can jump on a plane after work on Friday and be sipping a cold drink in another state by the time the summer sun sets.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

SONY DSC

Airplane by Tracy Hunter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Long Beach to Seattle: 2h 38m

Escape the heat and jet off to the beautiful Emerald City, surrounded by mountains and resting on the shores of Puget Sound.  Summers here are known to be sunny and pleasantly warm, usually in the 70s and 80s during the day.  Start by exploring Seattle’s fun and unique neighborhoods, each one with a different feel.  Wander through the Fremont market, roast marshmallows over a sunset campfire on the beach at Golden Gardens Park, or sip a cold beer at one of the dozens of craft breweries.

Long Beach to Vegas: 1h 8m

Skip the long desert drive and jump on a short flight to Sin City for a weekend away. Though the nightclub and live music scene is world-famous, you might not know that Las Vegas is also an extremely popular destination for sports competitions and conferences.  For those who can manage a weekday getaway, many hotels are half price, and you can find nonstop JetBlue flights for as low as $49.   

Long Beach to Portland: 2h 11m

If you’re looking for some great outdoor concert series, but would rather not spend hours sweating under the blazing sun, try Portland.  The cooler climate is the perfect host for dozens of concerts and festivals in and around the city.  As a bonus, most have an abundance of craft brews available, which the city is famous for.  If that’s not your scene, take a stroll around the famous Pearl District, or rent a bike to explore the Rose City’s beautiful neighborhoods.   

Long Beach to Austin: 2h 52m

If you’re a museum or music buff, Austin is a fun weekend destination.  People flock from all over the world for the famous Austin City Limits and SXSW music festivals here, as well as the nightly live music scene up and down 6th avenue.  History lovers will want to spend hours exploring Austin’s museums, including the Mexican American Cultural Center, the Mexic-Arte Museum, and the Bullock Texas State History Museum, among others.  Not sure where to start?  See what the locals recommend in Austin.

worldcraze-logo

Travel Founder Interview with Frederic Simons From WorldCraze

worldcraze-logo

Today we’re speaking with Frederic Simons, founder of WorldCraze. A little bit more about him and his startup from his own mouth…

1) What do you do?

frederic-simonsI am Frederic, and I created WorldCraze with my co-founder Guillaume in December of 2012. WorldCraze is a french start-up that connects travelers and consumer worldwide! We believe in the fact that WorldCraze can change the world consumption to make it more accessible and collaborative. I worked hard and today we are a team of 6 people, working on our concept, on our app, and on our website to make it better everyday for our users.

The concept of WorldCraze is simple and useful. It allows everyone to buy products that only exist in another country or is cheaper there, thanks to the help of travelers, that can bring it back to earn a bonus. For exemple, a brazilian can ask to a traveler coming back from USA to bring him back a new iPhone for cheaper, and the traveler will earn a bonus for this service.

2) Why do you do what you do?

Coming back from holidays in USA, I noticed a huge difference of price in many products, such as a pair of jeans Levi’s. I was sure there were something to do about it, because this is an unfair difference that is not justified for a same product. Besides, I also found out that many products existed only in other countries and that it was very complicated for people to offer some in another country without huge shipping costs. Also, thousands and thousands of travelers are traveling worldwide everyday in all destinations.

I had the idea to connect those travelers with consumers, through a secure and safe website. I talked about it to my partner and we launched this concept in December 2012. We already had experience in start-up that helped very much to build WorldCraze. So we began the adventure with Guillaume and we are now growing up worldwide!

The concept appealed many people that are now using it, and thanks to the low competition in this domain we can lead the european market, and are now hoping to go further.

3) What are you most excited about right now?

We saw that our concept interested many people in France and Europe, so we are now opening worldwide. We are opening in the USA and in Brazil. One member of our team is currently in Brazil because this country represents a huge opportunity since all imported products are expensive there and because they are more than 200 millions. I am very excited to expend this concept worldwide and to get many new crazers to increase our community. It is exciting to see each day new travelers with new destinations and a demand of product from all over the world increasing. It is also exciting to see that people are very satisfied with WorldCraze and to communicate with them truly, considering their advice and comments. We want to create a real connection with them, to guide them as well as they can guide us to better suit their needs.

4) What’s next for you?

I find my inspiration in successful start-up such as AirBnB or Blablacar, that had a great success worldwide and transformed the economy for a more collaborative one. I believe that WorldCraze has the possibility to transform the e-shooping into crowdshopping and to create a huge community that will help consumers, but also travelers that can earn money by bringing back products. This is a win-win concept that solves a problem many people are facing. It can change habits of consumption and help travelers as well to earn money using their empty suitcases. We have big ambition for WorldCraze so we are now working hard on it to improve it and communicate about it worldwide.

5) What cause you’re passionate about and why?

I want to make our world more fair and products more accessible to each individual in the world. With more and more travelers that have very diverse destinations, products from everywhere can reach any destination at the better price, which represents a real transformation for the world.

I am also passionate about traveling, and that is why helping travelers to earn money and to meet people thanks to WorldCraze is really important for me. WorldCraze represents an opportunity for travelers and I am working with the team now to build a blog with many destination and tips for them in different countries, to encourage them to travel more and to discover the world.

Temporary Story

The story of a 6 month journey, over 3 continents, in 13 countries — stretching across the United States, Canada, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

Epic!

southwest collective house

Southwest Collective: a Coworking Retreat in Portugal

I came across Southwest Collective, a one week coworking retreat later this year, and since readers here are generally the digital nomad type, I thought I’d share.

Where: Guia, Portugal
When: 11-18 September 2016

The house attendees will stay at:

southwest collective house

More info and application, head over to their website: http://southwestcollective.co/

Having spent 2 weeks at StartUp Abroad in Bali in 2012, I can confidently say a co-working retreat is good for the soul.

PS: Coliving is one of the public groups we’ve added to Horizon’s web version (http://api.horizonapp.co/groups/). For those interested in coworking/coliving, I recommend you join.

Apps

Best Apps for Travelers

As seasoned of a traveler as you may be, it’s hard to get through a trip without needing a little help. Sometimes plans go awry and you suddenly need to communicate in a foreign language, or book a hotel last minute. Download these free apps before your next trip to make sure you’re prepared!

Google Translate

One of the hardest parts of traveling abroad can be the language barrier. If you’ll be traveling through multiple countries on one trip, it can be hard to memorize all the different languages. Google Translate is a cure-all for this. You can translate text in up to 90 different languages, and can even take a picture from your phone to translate words in up to 26 languages.

OANDA Currency Convertor

Trying to figure out if that beautiful dress in Morocco is a bargain or will break the  bank can be a headache. OANDA solves this problem by giving you daily rates for over 190 currencies and even four different metals. You also have the option to add a percentage based on your bank’s fees to figure out what your total cost will be.

Hotel Tonight

Have you ever made a reservation, only to get to your destination to find out it didn’t go through? Maybe you like to pick up and head to a new place spontaneously, and figure out where you’ll stay once you get there. With Hotel Tonight, you’ll never be without a place to stay again. Just pull the app up to find the closest hotels near you with the best prices.

Gas Buddy

Maybe you prefer to travel slowly and see each country at your own pace in a car. Whether you’re abroad or doing a road trip in your home country, Gas Buddy shows you the best place to stop for cheap gas. You can also put in your route and calculate how much your trip will cost you.

Free WiFi Finder

One of the worst parts about traveling to a new area is not knowing when and where you’ll have wi-fi to upload those amazing pictures you just took to Instagram. With Free Wi-Fi  Finder, you can find where the nearest wi-fi locations are in over 50 countries.

Latin America

Should You Cancel Your Travel Due to Zika?

If you’ve been paying attention to the recent headlines, you most likely know that the Zika virus has become a problem. If you’re traveling to a country affected by it, this may be more than a little worrisome. What is it exactly, and do you need to cancel your future travel plans?

What is it?
The Zika virus was first documented in 1947 in a monkey from the forests of Uganda. It’s transmittable by Aedes mosquitoes, which can infect humans. A documented case didn’t appear again until the spring of 2015 in Brazil.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are generally mild and not noticeable by many people who are infected. This includes fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms only last as long as the virus is in the blood, which can be anywhere from several days to one week.

Should you be concerned?
The primary concern is for pregnant women. Zika can cause neurological problems and birth defects. Microcephaly was present in babies who’s mothers had the virus when they were pregnant. While the link has yet to be officially confirmed, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency due to the increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly.

How can you protect yourself?
Protecting yourself against mosquitos is your best bet for not becoming infected. This includes being vigilant about applying mosquito repellent, avoiding mosquito breeding grounds such as still water, and sleeping indoors with mosquito nets. Wearing dark clothing can also attract mosquitos more than light clothing.

If you’re traveling to Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, or the Pacific Islands, it’s important to be aware of the virus. It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to cancel your plans, but take extra precautions to protect yourself against mosquitos. If you’re pregnant and planned on going on a trip where you’ll spend a good amount of time outside, you might consider delaying your trip or changing locations for the time being. There’s currently no vaccine, so protection is the most important step you can take in the fight against the Zika virus.

cheap airline

The Truth About Budget Airlines

The United States hasn’t jumped on the budget airline trend yet, but countries like Europe and Asia have embraced it. If you’re flexible to what day and time your flight is, you can get a flight for much less than a train would be. Booking a flight through a discount company can save lots of time and money, but it’s important to be aware of how a budget flight can add up.

Be Flexible With Locations

Say you want to go to Zurich, Switzerland, but the flight is a little pricey. Consider flying into the cheaper option of Frankfurt, Germany instead and then taking the train down. It’s often much cheaper to fly into certain airports depending on the location. On that note, be careful you know which airport you’re flying into. There can be several within a large city, and you don’t want to spend the money you just saved on a taxi trying to get to your hotel all the way across town. Spend a decent amount of time researching your options.

Use Different Search Engines

There are many different ones to use, and all will come back with a different price. Use a variety to compare which one has the best price. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book directly through the airline’s website, so take a look at that as well when comparing.

Don’t Make Tight Connections

Budget airlines are not known for being on time. They can often be delayed by hours, or just flat out cancelled. If you have booked several budget airlines together in order to get to a farther destination, the airlines most likely won’t refund your ticket on your later flights because your original one was delayed. Space them out several hours apart, or consider exploring the city for a day before taking another flight to your next destination.

Beware of Hidden Costs

One downside of budget airlines is they charge you for almost anything extra. If you want to choose your seat in advance, there’s a fee for that. If you have an additional bag besides your one small carry-on, there’s a fee for that. It’s best to pack as lightly as possible for flights like these to maximize your savings.

Thailand

Expat Location Spotlight: Chiang Mai

As the amount of travelers working in foreign countries increase each year, so do the number of locations for them to settle in. Chiang Mai, one of these locations, is in a mountainous region of northern Thailand. It’s often rated one of the top 10 most livable cities in Asia. It has started attracting a large amount of travelers who come to visit, and end up settling there for months. There are several reasons for this.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is much lower than in other countries around the world. Even compared to Thailand’s popular cities Bangkok or Phuket, it’s cheaper to live in Chiang Mai. For a studio apartment on the outskirts of the city, you can expect to spend about 5400 Thai Baht (equivalent to $150 USD). Factor in basic utilities and the cost of food, and you’re only at $500-$600 USD per month, not including entertainment or any extras.

Increase of English Speakers

Due to a large amount of English-speaking workers coming in the past 10 years, there are now many businesses catered to those that don’t speak Thai. Although it’s recommended to attempt to learn some Thai, you can go to stores or even doctors’ offices that speak fluent English. Expat meet-up groups have also popped up all around the city, making it easy to meet fellow travelers. It provides a social outlet, and lets you connect with others in the same situation to meet up with in the future.

Jobs

In case you don’t have a job where you can work remotely, teaching English is a very common choice for foreigners.  You need to apply for a non-immigrant visa, good for up to one year. You can then apply for a work visa, and an extension of stay if needed.

There are a few items to factor in before considering an extended stay in Chiang Mai. A tourist visa is required, which can be used for up to 6 months depending on how many times you leave the country. You need to exit the country every 60 days though, which will run you around $30 USD each time you enter the country. Visa fees and transportation costs aside, it’s easy to see why Chiang Mai is an affordable, livable city for expats.

Exploring the Wild Blue Yonder