Tag Archives: tech startup learnings

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 lurking 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.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Tech Startup Learnings: Finding a Co-Founder vs Outsourcing

Starting a tech startup as a business person, you’ll get all sorts of advice regarding getting the MVP for your vision built. Do you outsource? Or wait to build anything until you find the right technical partner for the long term? Everyone has an opinion, and I heard arguments from individuals firmly on both sides.

I am in the camp of finding the right long term partner. As a result, once I decided to do a tech startup in February of last year, I proceeded to spend the next 6 months scouring my entire personal and professional network for that perfect co-founder. I’m certainly glad I did, as it led me to Eric Roland.

What did that process look like for me?

A massive number of emails and phone calls (many on Skype since I was abroad much of the time) to friends, ex colleagues, and business connections. They generally followed the same pattern…

Me: “Hey, I’ve been starting down the path of building a travel startup and am in the market for a co-founder — know anyone I should be speaking with?”

Them: “Sounds like a cool project. Well, I’m not that person, but you might try talking to [insert engineer name] or [business person name who knows engineers]. I’m happy to introduce you.”

Me: “Thanks, an introduction would be amazing.”

Repeat that process, over and over and over and over. One phone call leads to another phone call leads to another phone call.

Which one of those conversations led me to Eric? One with John Rowles, whom I knew from his days blogging at BloodHound back in the heyday of the “RE.net”. He and I had met once or twice at conferences, and had some business development discussions while I worked at Zillow. He was a business guy, that knew technologists. I hadn’t spoken to him in 2-3 years, but timing worked out incredibly well as the startup Eric and he had been working on was winding down.

If you’re building a true technology company — then doing development in house is the only way to go in my mind. A technology company is not going to succeed with outsourced development, and in a perfect world, I’d rather have the right technical person at the helm from the beginning rather than trying to plug him or her in halfway through. If you’re doing a content/media business, or offline business that just needs a website, or if you need one specific product customized for your business but technology is not your core — then outsourcing is a viable option, and likely a cheaper one.

That’s just one person’s experience. Questions? Leave them in the comments…

PS – It goes without saying I owe a huge thank you to John for connecting me with Eric.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Tech Startup Learnings: Focus and Development Priorities

At any tech startup, product ideas are free flowing. The grand vision is always huge. Development & design resources are hard to come by. What are the next 3 features to build? In what order? Fix bugs or build new features and punt the bugs until enough users scream that you have to address it?

Development resources are a delicate balance, particularly early on. I thought product priorities was hard when I worked at Zillow and we had 10-15 engineers fairly early on. Now, we’re building an entire site with 1 engineer and 1 designer, so priorities and focusing on the right features is beyond critical.

My general advice?

Focus on the features needed to nail very specific user scenarios of your initial target audience. In some cases, prioritizing strategic features or custom work for specific potential influential users, clients, partners, or investors ahead of mass user features is the right decision. Don’t spend development resources on features that don’t add huge value but at hugely time consuming from a development perspective. Lastly, trust your gut.

How do you prioritize?

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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TravelAngel

Tech Startup Learnings: Summary of Startup Weekend Seattle – TravelAngel.co

Last weekend, we (Eric and I) participated in the Startup Weekend Seattle. It was my 3rd Startup Weekend (Amsterdam in July and San Francisco in September) and Eric’s 2nd (Louisville). Timing for the event (November 16th-18th) turned out great, as I already had a ticket into Seattle on the 13th for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Further, the event was hosted by my former employer, Zillow – so was a great chance to go see some old colleagues and work on a new travel idea for a weekend.

We worked on TravelAngel.co. “Connect with a local expert in 60 seconds.”

The concept was a peer-to-peer marketplace to connect travelers with extremely knowledgeable locals, expats, or long term travelers.

The premise of the idea is that many people don’t want to spend 10 or 15 hours researching their next trip. They’d rather talk to someone knowledgeable about the area (either a current resident or traveler who has spent a lot of time in a given destination) for 30 or 60 minutes and get their specific questions answered. Heck, many of those individuals would love to pay that person to plan the whole trip for them (I just spoke with a friend last night who wants to pay someone to plan the logistics of her upcoming honeymoon).

The traditional travel agent model is broken. If I’m planning a trip to Beijing, I’d rather get advice from someone living in Beijing rather than someone sitting in an office down the street, who has likely never even been to China or maybe only been there once 4 years ago.

Similar to a site such as AirBnB, the business model would be based around transaction fees. For instance, if someone booked at $75 consultation with a Beijing expert, we’d make 15% of that as a transaction fee.

We proved this business model and actually made revenue over the course of the weekend. We connected someone we found planning a trip to Beijing in three weeks with Will Moyer, who has lived in Beijing the past two years. Thus, we earned 15% of $25 ($3.75).

Of the 35 people we surveyed, 49% said they would pay for the service. I know enough long term travelers who would be way more qualified than travel agents to give advice, and all of whom would love the chance to make some money for sharing their advice. We know both the demand and supply is out there – it’s just a matter of connecting the two.

Our team:

  • Eric Roland – ruby/ios architect
  • Yann Riche – UX
  • Pascal Carole – ruby
  • Chip Dong Lim – design
  • Paul Buxton – program management
  • Chris Kelly – marketing
  • Amit Deshpande – finance
  • Drew Meyers – 3 years of travel, ex zillow

Even though we experienced a technology fail during the final pitch — our slide deck crapped out and I had to wing the pitch with no deck for the 1st 3 minutes of the 5 minutes allotted – we took home third place and a $250 gift certificate.

At the end of the event, someone came up to me and said he wanted to sign up to be the Libya expert — which further proves the supply side of this model is out there. If you’re interested in being a local expert for a given area, shoot me an email (drew at ohheyworld) or leave a comment.

We’ve taken the website down for now, but we plan on bringing the travel angel concept back under the Oh Hey World umbrella down the line. Overall, it was a fantastic experience working with some really amazing people.

Slide deck for those interested:

  • Version with no videos – https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwCtu5ygepbZMk1XN2RRVGFhcDQ
  • Version with videos (large file) – https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwCtu5ygepbZcEVYWktXZVlfbVU

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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