Friday, March 20, 2015
Interview with Ross Weber, ClickTripz
Los Angeles-based ClickTripz (www.clicktripz.com), is a startup developing ad solutions for travel publishers, and thought we'd learn more, so we spoke with Ross Weber, co-founder and CEO of ClickTripz, to hear more about the company. Ross tells us about how they bootstrapped the company, the challenges of going up against big, venture funded competitors, and how it sees opportunity in Europe.
What is ClickTripz?
Ross Weber: ClickTripz is an advertising platform for travel advertisers.
What's different about your platform that more general advertising platforms?
Ross Weber: We're not here to replace ad platforms like Google Adsense. However, what we're seeing, is a lot of travel publishers are looking at lost traffic, as metasearch continues to grow. What our technology does, is it offers up an exit ad unit, so if a user hasn't booked on a publisher they have look at, that ad unit will show relevant ads.
What's the story behind the company?
Ross Weber: I was at Virtual Tourist with JR Johnson, where I was in charge of on-site monetization of Virtual Tourist. A lot of that was through rate comparisons through TripAdvisor, until about two years ago. We made a lot of money on those rate comparison popups, but it was a ghastly user experience, with seven different popups whenever a user engaged with that feature. That said, we made lots of money and sold the company. After that, I wanted to do something more substantial, so I worked at Kayak. However, it ended up being the same kind of solution, although done more elegantly, namely lots of popup ads, and one pop under unit from the home page. Advertisers were willing to pay a lot for the traffic, and even though Kayak was a super-sophisticated and sexy website, 30 percent of their revenue was still from comparison ads. If you think about it, since their margin was 30 percent, without that stream, they would not be a $1.8 billion company. I decided--why stop fighting this, because this type of advertising just works, and figure out how to do it a little better in the past. We want to give publishers the ability to use this technology, to help them monetize their traffic.
How did you guys start the company?
Ross Weber: In the U.S., our primary competition is Intent Media, which has raised $51M in venture money. We actually came to the market as the same time. Eric, my cofounder, and I started this as a side business, because each of us had been running other websites, and we were not really happy with the solutions. So, we built this tool, and started running with three publishers. Eric built it, and let it run itself, and a year later, we already had 50 publishers using it--all from word of mouth.. We scratched our head and decided to focus on this a little more. I was CEO of DealBase, Eric was at TravBuddy, but two years ago it became impossible for us to ignore this, as 90 percent of our incomes were coming from a business we were spending 1 percent of our time on. It was ridiculous how long it took us to get fully involved with ClickTripz.
Who are your customers?
Ross Weber: We have publishers such as ShermansTravel.com, StudentUniverse.com, and Fodors.com. However, where we really see the opportunity in Europe. Two years ago, on a whim, we started building in local language and currency support. We didn't have any European customers two years ago, because back then US traffic converted better and made publishers more money. However, as we built that out, we saw our growth accelerate, so that Europe is now more than half our traffic. We're the only ones who can support local language and currency, and are now in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Russia. We now have a managing director in Europe, who is very well connected, and has fifteen years of experience and knows everyone in the industry, so now we're getting meetings in Europe with top online travel agencies, like LastMinute.com, StaTravel.com, Amoma.com, all of the major OTAs in Europe, where in the US it's a tougher conversation due to Intent Media.
Given the competition in this space, have you ever considered taking some venture money to compete?
Ross Weber: The one thing we did in running the business, since it started as a side business, is we were able to run it profitably three months after launch. We each put a couple of thousand each in equity, but since we already had relationships with advertisers and OTAs, and we did our own coding, within three months we had our first iteration launched and we were already making money. Also, we didn't take money out of the business for almost three years, and we just kept on growing. That built us a nice piece of cushion in the business, so we've been able to completely fund everything ourselves without any need for venture capital. Not that we wouldn't take it, if the right opportunity came around, but at this point, I think we know what we're doing and don't need outside capital. The only thing we might consider, is a strategic investment to help us expand in Europe.