7 June 2010
A very interesting account from Zappos’ founder and CEO Tony Hsieh and yet another proof of why Amazon is a great company.
It was the summer of 2005, and Zappos, the start-up into which I’d poured the past five years of my life (and almost all of my money), finally seemed to be on the right track.
Zappos sells shoes and apparel online, but what distinguished us from our competitors was that we’d put our company culture above all else. We’d bet that by being good to our employees — for instance, by paying for 100 percent of health care premiums, spending heavily on personal development, and giving customer service reps more freedom than at a typical call center — we would be able to offer better service than our competitors. Better service would translate into lots of repeat customers, which would mean low marketing expenses, long-term profits, and fast growth. Amazingly, it all seemed to be working. By 2005, gross merchandise sales were $370 million, and we made the Inc. 500. We weren’t profitable yet, but we were close to breaking even, and our revenue was growing quickly.
7 June 2010
I wrote in the past about my friend Francesco and his startup. You can read about it here: A place in the shade.
The good news is that a couple of weeks ago we closed our first round of funding and we are marching full steam, and on schedule, to deliver the first solutions just in time for summer 2010. We are of course very excited and confident that this summer will be a blast.
We have 10 beach resorts for which we are implementing the full solution (SunbrellaWeb + SunbrellaMobile) and countless more for SunbrellaWeb only. If you want to know more about either solution click on the link above or get in touch with me: here.
So, what now? while we are working to deliver the first devices on time, we are starting a broad marketing campaign both to the beach resort owners and to the beach goers. We are also slightly revamping the site to make it fresher and easier to use.
We’ll also soon be integrating the Sunbrellaweb booking widget into CityandOut so you’ll be able to reserve your place in the shade from there as well, at the same time as booking your flights and hotels.
If you are in the summer holidays business, if you enjoy going to the beach or are interested in getting involved, just give us a shout.
14 April 2010
Some more great development news at CityandOut. We’ve partnered with Arrivalguides, one of the leading publishers of travel content in Europe and we are now making available, for free, hundreds of City Guides in pdf format.
Simply go to CityandOut, search for your chosen destination and download the guide. No need to login, boring surveys or other annoying stuff. Just find the guide you need and download it. And don’t forget to tell your friends of course.
There are 388 guides available in English and 88 in Italian. More languages will come soon.
Also, check our About section to discover how CityandOut can help you discover new places and plan your trips.
And, as usual, send us your feedback, tips and love. And we are feeling very much loved already:
Since we launched the alpha version of CityandOut on the 25th of January, people from 64 different countries and 613 cities visited the site, shared our content via Facebook and booked their trips. Thank you all, wherever you are.
Stay tuned for some more exciting stuff and ShhOut about it!
Be a local. Everywhere.
9 April 2010
Help us build the Travel portal of the future
We are looking for software developers to help us build a number of web apps for a new travel and destination ecosystem aimed at all travelers and travel professionals.
Our aim is to bring together the best tools and content from around the world to let people find inspiration, plan, book and enjoy their travel and local activities. We want to bring travel agents and experts to the table to help people travel by sharing their deep off-web knowledge.
We are a young start up and, partly out of necessity, partly because we believe this is the way forward, we are looking for people who want to develop CityandOut and make it become the travel portal of the future.
We offer a share of the revenues generated by the applications you build and, only for the best, some form of equity in the business. We will not be paying you for the apps, you’ll need to share the risk with us.
If you are interested, you can help us in 2 ways:
1 – Developing features and applications we have already identified and that we are unable to implement immediately based on our current resources;
2 – Come up with and develop your own application that can be bolted onto our system;
In both cases, the applications need to adhere to our standards and will be approved by our CTO before being released to the public.
In exchange for building the apps, we offer to share our revenues with you and if we particularly like each other and make some good money in the process, we may offer you equity in the business.
Needless to say that we are not Apple or Microsoft and we cannot guarantee you’ll be making lots of money overnight, in fact, we cannot guarantee you’ll be making any money at all. We can only promise that we will be working hard, as we’ve being doing for the past several months, to make of CityandOut a success. We’ll be trying every trick in the books and using all our experience to make it happen as we believe that online travel is long overdue for significant innovation.
Of course, we’d also expect you to help us and yourself by telling all your friends about CityandOut.
We also commit to give you all possible visibility as a developer through our site and in all other ways we can.
1 – If you develop something we’ve already identified as core to our offer and you do it according to our guidelines so to be integrated in our platform, we’ll give you 30% of all revenues derived directly by that application for the first 3 years from launch; you will get credit for developing the app but the code will be owned by us;
As a way of example, take a look at how we have integrated our Restaurant search and booking solution on CityandOut [http://cityandout.com/en-GB/Restaurant]; we are partnering with a large number of providers of travel solutions primarily via affiliate agreements (for restaurants our partner is Livebookings); i.e. we receive a small cut of revenues generated by bookings and referrals completed via our site; typically, the content of the database and the core technology is provided by the vendor, while we maintain and refresh a copy of the database and implement the user interface and all the live calls to their system.
2 – If you come up with an original idea for an application, we like it and decide it would be great to implement and integrate onto our platform, we’ll share all direct revenues generated by that app. 50/50 with you for the first 3 years; you will get full credit for developing the app and the code will be owned by you; however, we expect to be granted a perpetual license to use the code and an exclusive license for the first 12 months;
In both scenarios, we expect you to commit to a minimum number of hours for maintenance and bug fixing.
We are looking for applications, both complex and simple, that solve a user problem either when planning or booking their travels or when they are discovering and enjoying their destination; be it a stag weekend in Spain or a business trip in Russia. Everything that is travel related or (hyper) local is potentially interesting for us.
From a technology point of view, our system is based on .NET, however we’ll consider applications in other languages as long as they can be relatively easily integrated and maintained. We will discuss with you and decide case by case.
The technology framework is very much Microsoft focused.
We’re developing heavily based on the ASP.NET MVC framework with a SQL Server 2008 database.
For client side we’ve used the JQuery and ASP.NET Ajax Libraries.
Once again, we are a small startup just at the beginning and are looking for partners to help us build the travel portal of the future and not yet for employees.
We are of course looking at fund-raising with a view of increasing the team and further develop the project. So, there may be opportunities later on.
If you are potentially interested in working with us and want to take a look at the applications we already have in the pipeline, please get in touch with Andrea by emailing andrea@CityandOut.com. Please, include in the email your CV or list of relevant projects you have successfully completed.
24 March 2010
As many of you know I am now focusing most of my efforts on my new venture, CityandOut. So, finally, for the last few months, I have been considering myself an entrepreneur for real. I was of course aware of most challenges facing an entrepreneur, some for having been through before directly and some for reading a lot about all things venture, early stage and entrepreneurial.
I believe I am doing all by the books (if something like that were actually possible in startup land): I got a technical co-founder, we released early with lots of bugs and are fixing and adding stuff to the site as we go along, we have a few trusted and supprtive friends providing feedback and we are experimenting all the possible social web tools out there (we have a Facebook page, a blog, a tumblr, a twitter account, we are profiled on Tech Crunch, VentureBeat, YouNoodle, KillerStartups, BigStartups, RateitAll, etc. etc. etc.). We are actually getting some traction – our usage stats are ahead of my projections – and some positive feedback. We are doing the bootstrapping, I might say the ultra-bootstrapping. I am annoying people and getting lots of good stuff for free. We have experimeted and failed with outsourcing some of the development. I have self-taught myself html and CSS and even Photoshop and Illustrator (I wouldn’t want to be branded as the idea guy…. There’s no room for the idea guy). We are approaching softly some potential investors and other business contacts to slowly build interest until we have a decent website to showcase. I am obessing over the entire process everyday and every waking hour and I am loving it.
But, there are a couple of things that are bugging me a lot: speed of development and of virality or, better, the lack of both.
With regards to speed of development there is not much we can do about it. Mark, my partner is working all hours he can on it juggling another job; but it’s just him so there is not much more that can be done about it. My friend Nichol suggested we tried ‘crowd development’, basically offering a chunck of equity to all developers who can complete some features on the site for us. We are going to discuss this idea over the next few days and perhaps we’ll launch some sort of competition. In the meantime, any ideas, suggestions or tools that may be useful are all welcome.
With regards to the other problem I am getting really annoyed. I am experimenting with all possible tools and we are pushing SEO to the maximum we can given our current resources but we are not getting any viral effect or significant level of engagement. Nowhere near the level of traction some similar FB pages or websites are getting.
I have just had an email exchange and some conversations about it with some friends and the consensus seems to be that it’s not clear what CityandOut is about and that our message via Facebook or other tools is not focused enough. There are some easy and some less easy fixes to these issues and I agree that we lack some clarity in the message, in part by choice, in part by necessity, in part by mistake. I remain convinced though there is still something else missing I can’t quite figure out. Why would a FB page get 200,000 fans in 2 weeks (seemingly by chance) and another get less than 200 in a month? How do we get to the 200,000 mark? Does it matter?
There seems to be an issue of positioning as well – are we niche or are we cheap? these seem to be the obvious options. Ultimately, the objective is to be the cheapest and the best but that takes time and I don’t think it actually matters that much. I think it’s important to make sure you’re doing everything you can to be the cheapest and the best, and your users know about that (There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second – Jeff Bezos - Jeff, Amazon and I).
The beauty of this wonderings are that I am learning in the process and enjoying it and that I have some good people helping out with their feedback. In truth, I also think that most of these issues are easy to solve, it’s just a matter of fine tuning the message by listening to people and the market and adjusting as you go along. The challenge is staying sane while you push as hard as you can. Some days you get over the moon for something that is probably not particularly important, some days you feel like you’ve been beaten for hours by the Gods for no apparent reason. That is the beauty of being an entrepreneur which probably means that you are a self-involved, self-destructive, driven, compulsive and a bit crazy individual who likes to play (The man in the arena).
19 March 2010
Come fly with me. Let’s fly, let’s fly away…
So sang one of the best artists to ever walk on this planet, Frank Sinatra.
We cannot probably provoke in you the same emotions as listening to ‘The Voice’ but we are very excited to introduce flights booking onto the CityandOut website and invite you to ‘come fly with us’.
We’ve partnered with ebookers, one of the leading international travel companies, to give you access to over 200 airlines and find the best and cheapest flight options out there.
As you’ll notice the flights search and booking feature is not fully integrated into CityandOut as are Hotels or Restaurants but we thought that in the interim this was a good solution nonetheless. We’ll continue working to give you a smoother and more consistent experience throughout the site but we’d love for you to start booking your travels with us now.
Get inspired by our videos and travel tips, and if we can help you in anyway just give us a ShhOut
Now, enjoy Ol’ Blue Eyes.
17 March 2010
some more development news here at CityandOut. As pre-announced in my previous post, mighty Mark has implemented Videos onto the website. We have partnered with the great guys at Tripfilms and have now access to their full database of over 6,000 travel videos. Some are super professionally done by the Tripfilms crew and some are provided by expert travellers and locals sharing their experiences. All in all, a great collection of trips, tips and adventures.
We hope you’ll enjoy browsing through the videos just for fun and in preparation for your next trip.
As usual, we’ll love to hear your feedback and let us know if you want to share your own videos with us.
As today’s St. Patricks’ Day, I leave you with The St.Patrick’s Day Tour of Dublin video as a taster of what you can find on CityandOut.
CityandOut – Be a local. Everywhere.
8 March 2010
We just wanted to share with you some news and data about CityandOut.
1 – Yesterday, we completed the Restaurant booking development. You can now easily search and book over 5,500 restaurant tables across Europe and of course we will continue to add new ones.
2 – We are taking over some of the assets of CityTherapy.com, one of my early investments. Over the coming weeks we will be integrating some of the content and features of the 2 sites and we will be transferring the CityTherapy subscribers to the CityandOut platform.
3 – Since launching CityandOut we have received an increasing number of visits to the site and to the Facebook fan page. People from 33 different countries and 159 cities have accessed CityandOut.com since the 25th of January, the day of our public alpha release. Frankly, this is way beyond my expectations and very surprising; there are even some places I have never heard of before. Clearly, word of mouth is working and we have to thank you for spreading it. Please, continue promoting both the website and the Facebook page among your friends.
4 – Videos. We have just created a CityandOut youtube channel, as a way to aggregate and share interesting travel related videos we find around. Please, go and have a look at www.youtube.com/CityandOut and feel free to join, comment and publish relevant videos.
Even more importantly, we are now working on integrating several thousand videos on the website. We are partnering with Tripfilms and getting acccess to their full database of travel videos. You’ll be able to search by destination or other keywords and view their curated videos across the world.
Finally, we would love for you to share our content more so please don’t hesitate to promote our Facebook page among your friends and post any events or relevant content, pictures or tips on the FB page or by emailing us to ShhOut@CityandOut.com.
Thanks a lot.
Be a local. Everywhere.
27 February 2010
Aside from my own ventures, CityandOut and artandseek, for the last few months I have been working with and advising my friend Francesco and his partners on their awesome start up.
Sunny Solutions is bringing to the market two services that are not available (to our knowledge) anywhere else.
The first, Sunbrellaweb (http://sunbrellaweb.com/), is a portal for beach resorts. Similarly to the way you have meta search and booking applications for hotels or restaurants, on Sunbrellaweb you’ll find thousands of beaches with the basic info, pictures and the services they offer. The system allows beach resort owners to create a microsite for their beach, shaped in the form of the real thing. Aside from pics and other information, the managers can lay out the umbrellas and beach chairs on the beach shape and make them available for online booking. They can allocate prices depending on season and availability. The system is a de facto beach management system.
Beach goers can search the database, by area, name, type of services, etc., compare resorts and book their ‘place in the shade’. It’s all completely free for users of course and also for the resorts to create thei microsite. Sunbrellaweb takes a small commission for all completed booking transactions. There’s also an affiliate system for travel portals to integrate the beach search onto their own systems.
The second service, SunbrellaMobile, is, if possible, even more exciting. Sunny Solutions is the exclusive licensee of an international patent for a system made of the following components:
1) a small solar panel that can be mounted on top of standard beach umbrellas;
2) a device powered by the solar panel providing an electrical power source;
3) a terminal, powered by the device, enabling guests of the beach resorts to order food and drinks directly from under the umbrella;
4) a central server providing wireless access throughout the beach resort via the terminal and via any wi-fi enabled phones, to the customized food & drink menu and to other services;
So, basically, either through the bespoke terminal provided under the umbrella or through their own smartphones, people can order food and drinks from the bar of beach resorts while sitting comfortably under the umbrella; later additional services can be developed.
All people we talk to, resort owners and users, love both ideas. We have delivered the first few umbrellas while we prepare for a large scale deployment for the 2010 summer season.
We’ve recently started fundraising and had some very positive meetings with follow ups scheduled, and more meetings already in the agenda.
If you are interested in the idea or know someone who might be, give us a shout; you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
9 February 2010
Today we have released another new exciting bit onto the CityandOut website: ShhOuts.
ShhOuts are tips and recommendations about a certain place, city or region; anything exciting that you love or have enjoyed during a holiday or while strolling around your local neighborhood. A favorite bar, hotel, market stall, etc. We’ll also be adding interesting posts and tips from other travel blogs and websites (with their permissions of course). We want to build a large collections of ShhOuts to help you discover new things in all cities.
ShhOuts are still in rough form but, as usual, we’ll keep adding new functionality and content as quickly as we can so keep the feedback coming. In this case, we’ll love for you to ShhOut interesting tips at ShhOut@CityandOut.com, and we’ll add them to the site.
We’d also like to thank all of you who have been providing feedback and ShhOuts and those who have been using the site so far. We now have friends in 16 countries and the numbers keep growing.
Andrea & Mark
Be a local. Everywhere.
25 January 2010
As many of you already know, for the last few months Mark and I have been working on CityandOut, our brand new startup project. Our aim is for CityandOut to become a true travel ecosystem where travel lovers and professionals can meet, get inspirations, plan, book and enjoy their travel and destination experiences.
We are partnering with a growing number of established players in the travel industry: Booking.com for Hotels, Livebookings.com for Restaurants, @Leisure for Villa rentals and many more.
Today we have just released the first tiny part of the service, a hotel search and booking solution. Our database contains approx. 72,000 hotels worldwide and the best prices at least in the European market. As you would expect the site is still buggy but you can confidently start booking your stay.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be releasing new bits as quickly as possible. We look forward to receiving your feedback on any issues on the site and suggestions for future features. We want to build the best travel platform in the market so we regard your input as crucial for our success.
Soon, we will be launching a fund raising round so if you are interested or know someone who might be, please give us a shout.
We hope you’ll love our little baby as much as we do and help us grow it strong and successful.
Andrea & Mark
Be a local. Everywhere.
25 October 2009
I am saving money to buy this: