Starting lean: can you launch a travel business in 48 hours? Yes you can!

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Over the course of 48 hours three teams of people who had never met before were thrown together to establish if they could launch the next big travel industry disruptor using lean start methods. Pamela Whitby finds out what happened next

When starting a new business first you need to conceive an idea, then you need to validate it with potential customers and then you need to iterate – iterate, iterate, iterate. In the travel business, because of its global nature, that is pretty hard to do.

The theory by the Ideas Runway, launched by lastminute.com and EyeforTravel, was to use the Travel Distribution Summit, Europe, which attracted 600 people from all corners of the travel industry, as the venue to hothouse some great ideas, test these out on the industry and maybe even raise finance. 

“The lean start up movement has been changing the way people start businesses around the world,” says Tim Gunstone, EyeforTravel’s managing director, “and the Ideas Runway aimed to test the principles of the movement in the unique surroundings of TDS.”

In 48 hours, Gunstone believes “the results were phenomenal”.  Lastminute.com’s David Slocombe agrees: “This combination is a first for the travel sector. For lastminute.com being at the nexus of the startup community and sharing our expertise means we play a role in creating the next generation of travel disruptors.”

A mixed bag

People of all ages – from college graduates to 50-somethings – applied for a place on one of the three teams of six. Some people came for the experience, others came with an idea. In the end candidates were given 30 seconds to sell their idea and then these were put to the vote which was finalised within 30 minutes.

On site were mentors from across the travel and tech industry, lastminute.com – the original travel disruptor, thoughworks – a global agile consultancy, 400Holidays – a vacations startup, ThisisPaper – an experienced design consultancy. “They were there to place a rigorous focus on doing more and talking less, to keep the pace high and enabling the teams through all the stages of building a startup to get them ready for the pitch day,” explains Slocombe.

Two days later at 4.15pm on Friday afternoon it was time to pitch to the three judges: Bill Beckler, Head of Innovation lastminute.com; Andreas Schrader, Head of Internationalisation, Mobile, New ventures and Brands, Odigeo and Tim Gunstone, MD, EyeforTravel.com.

Three teams, one winner   

First on the stage was TripSpire, targeted at 20-35 year olds - an age group that tends to take a trip once a year, interacts regularly on social media and is open to new travel experiences. In essence the idea behind this app was that users could browse fabulous, inspiring travel photos from existing networks, build a base of interesting places, store these and then, once fully inspired “book at the speed of thought”. So a personalised, desirable selection of travel destinations that could be booked on a trusted booking engine like lastminute.com. Marketer Janet Butler, one of six in this group, said they took the research aspect very seriously, and the idea they started with at the outset of the competition was a very different to the final product. “We got feedback from the delegates and the event and also out on the street, and then we iterated and iterated,” she says.

According to Slocombe, Tripspire had some strong voices in the room, so to focus their discussion they ‘timeboxed’ each activity to five minutes with one of the team owning the stopwatch! “This simple tool unblocked their progress so they could spend more time with customers getting insights than talking about it,” he says. “Their pivot to follow an idea suggested during a customer interview. That leapfrogged them to a focused idea early on so they were able to iterate their prototype several times and produce a highly believable final pitch.”

Next up was Tripstarter, targeted at the 25-40 age group perhaps planning a gap year or career break.  Budding entrepreneur Afzaal Mauthoor led the presentation saying he had spotted a gap in the market while travelling in Ethiopia. He wanted an adventure experience but the travel company running the activity needed a minimum of four people. Distressed inventory is a common problem for the travel firms, which TripStarter could solve. Somebody using Tripstarter would share this problem with the rest of the world and inventory could be filled. In the course of research Thomas Cook, Reinvate and hotelplanner.com all bought into the idea. The inventory would come from suppliers and the users would share these with consumers. Tripstarter also managed to achieve a Twitter following of 12,000 people in 48 hours.

According to Slocombe, Tripstarter articulated the most complete startup with thought to their target customer and evidenced the customer love with real signups to their service, a clearly defined revenue model and an impressive high fidelity prototype.

The final group to present was Group In. The idea behind this travel start up was to make group booking - a market worth $331bn – much simpler by initiating a conversation on a social platform that members of the group could join. In 48 hours Group In had developed a prototype website which showed the audience how conversations could be streamlined, options for private messaging and subtle automated suggestions from the travel industry.

However, as Slocombe points out Groupin early on were facing a broad challenge in their idea – the challenging market of group bookings. However, based on customer interviews on the first day they quickly focused on one element of the customer journey ‘planning’ and looked to solve the pain points in that aspect alone. “This is something many startups fail to do in the real world leading to teams taking on too much and delivering too little,” he says.

All teams were successful and got really strong feedback, but there could only be one winner and that was TripStarter, followed closely by Tripspire and then Group In. 

At the beginning of the process, budding entrepreneur Ursula Petula Barzey, a marketing & PR consultant with Moxee Marketing, thought it was questionable that you could start a business in 48 hours. Now she definitely believes you can.

There was no obligation for any team to continue with the business post-event. But four of the six people on the winning team, TripStarter, are now preparing for another 48-hour sprint to take their idea to the next level.

 “It’s great for all the teams to learn what can really be achieved in 48hrs when using the right methods,” says Slocombe. Not the next question is this: what can they achieve in a month now they are a lean, mean, innovation machine?

Watch this space. 

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