PODCAST EP 76
How to rank No.1 in the App store with Yvette Sitters
On Episode 76 of the Paper Planes Podcast Simon chats with Yvette Sitters, Founder of Manage My Wedding.Listen Now
Simon Dell: I’m joined by Ryan Hanly, who is currently the CEO and co-founder of Travello, a social network for travellers. It’s used in about 180 countries around the world. Are there actually 180 countries?
Ryan Hanly: Yes, believe it or not. A couple of provinces on top of that.
Simon Dell: I thought it was 192.
Ryan Hanly: It was 194 and then there’s a few little provinces that claim to be countries.
Simon Dell: We’ll work out in a minute which ones you’re not being used in. Anyway, to finish the introduction, Ryan is a former gym owner and also a PE teacher. We’re going to give him some shit about that, but welcome to the show, Ryan.
Ryan Hanly: Thank you, Simon. It’s great to be here.
Simon Dell: Which countries are you not currently used in?
Ryan Hanly: That’s a good question, and I actually don’t know the answer. I might actually find out now because I’m interested.
Simon Dell: I’m going to take a stab that one of them might be North Korea.
Ryan Hanly: Yeah, I would say it’d be North Korea. While we’re talking, I might even check that out. I know we can visually see where our users are. They’re in some insane places, literally in war zones. We’ve got users in Mosul and all these crazy places. It’s really interesting, actually.
Simon Dell: We’ll talk a little bit more about the app at the moment, because that’s the main focus for you, but I want to take a step back. The first question I ask everybody on the show is: What was the first job you got paid for?
Ryan Hanly: First job I ever got paid for was when I was, I think I was in grade six or seven, I would say about 11 years old. I was working for $3 an hour working an old guy just do general stuff. He was a bit of an eccentric. He used to bottle fruit and do odd jobs. You think back now and you wonder how your parents actually let you… I grew up in Mackay, a reasonably small town, and these guys put an ad out looking for help. Mom goes, “That looks like a good idea.” And I get sent to an old guy’s house.
He was really nice. He was a great guy and we did some interesting stuff, but yeah, $3 an hour.
Simon Dell: It’s weird, because as you say, that sort of thing today would be completely frowned upon: strange old guy wanting young boy around his house.
Ryan Hanly: Yeah, and quite sad, really, that whole thing because he was a really great old guy. A little bit eccentric but he just needed help. As you say now, we unfortunately look at it in a completely different way, and be very sceptical, and that’s probably a sad indictment on the world.
Simon Dell: You’re a QUT alumni, aren’t you? What got you there? What drove you to do that?
Ryan Hanly: Probably chance and getting to grade 12 and going, “What the hell am I going to do?” I would imagine. My first year of university was at the University of Queensland, actually. I went to UQ because I enjoyed sport, didn’t know what I wanted to be, and so I did human movement not even knowing what it was. And then I’ve got to the end of the first year and I still didn’t know what it was. And so, I’ve gone, “I could be a PE teacher.”
I’ve never actually considered it. As soon as I said it, it was a bit of an epiphany and a bit of a light bulb moment. I thought, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.” And changed over to QUT after that first year.
Simon Dell: Were you a sporty guy at school?
Ryan Hanly: Yeah. I wasn’t an exceptional sportsman, but I liked sport and I liked what sport represented, being with your mates, and teamwork, and all those type of things. I always enjoyed that team environment, always played heaps of sport, and still try to.
Simon Dell: The career as a PE teacher, and I’ve got to say, everybody who listens to this probably had a favourite PE teacher and a nightmare PE teacher. Where were you in that scale?
Ryan Hanly: I would say it depends who you would ask. I think it’s one of those things. You really jell with some kids and others you don’t, but I think I’m a majority. I was fairly well-liked, but it’s always a worry when you’re a teacher because when you’re too well-liked, it’s probably a sign you’re doing something wrong. It’s a bit of a fine line, but I think most of the kids — I still see plenty of them out and about these days. Most come up and say, “Good day.” And we have a good chat, so it’s fine.
Simon Dell: What was it that triggered you deciding that that wasn’t what you were destined to do?
Ryan Hanly: It wasn’t a decision, actually. I actually really enjoyed it. I said this to quite a few people a number of times: Teaching wasn’t actually something I was looking to get out of. It wasn’t something I was jaded with. It wasn’t something I didn’t enjoy, and I know that happens to a lot of teachers, but I actually really enjoyed it and I found it really rewarding. The school that I was at had a great staff and some of my best friends are still there. I’m the godparents of people that are still there, and they’re the godparents of my children, things like that.
It wasn’t something that I was actually looking to get out of. This opportunity just came up. I figured that it was something that I had to explore further because I didn’t know teaching would always be there. I was in middle management so I was a head of a department. I was walking away from a little more than just a straight teaching job. But it was more that this opportunity came up and I thought I’d got to have a crack at this, basically.
Simon Dell: How did that all happen? Was someone approaching you? How did it land in your lap?
Ryan Hanly: For Travello, going full-time?
Simon Dell: No, because you eventually went to Jett, didn’t you?
Ryan Hanly: No. I was doing that concurrently. My wife primarily runs it.
Simon Dell: I want to talk about the Jett thing quickly before we jump into the Travello thing. How was the experience dealing with a franchise business like that?
Ryan Hanly: We were in very early. We got into Jett in the very early stages where they were finding their way. It certainly changed over time, I would say. As they started to grow bigger, things changed within the business, as I assume they would in all businesses. Brendon Levenson was the Founder and CEO. He was a great guy.
As it grew, people came into the business who became the CEO. He was always the leader of the business, but other guys were taking it in different directions and making sure it was a robust business. It changed over time, but it certainly had its difficulties just because of the restrictions that are placed on you when you think something would work, but you can’t actually implement those things. That was one of the difficult parts.
Simon Dell: Franchises are getting a fair knock at the moment, Domino’s, 7-Eleven, and things like that. How did you rate it as a franchise business?
Ryan Hanly: I think it was pretty good. It was Queensland-based. They came out of the Sunshine Coast so they were very grounded. It wasn’t a franchise coming out of the US that was cutthroat and ruthless from the start. That was part of the reason we chose it. It was Australian, Queensland, and relatively local. The head office is still down at the Sunshine Coast.
But it did change, and I think they do. I think it’s the nature of the beast. They bigger they get, the more corporate they become, and then certain elements come into it that make it harder and more restrictive.
Simon Dell: What was the biggest challenge running a small business like that for you guys?
Ryan Hanly: It was when you had a difference in opinion on the way things should happen. You were restricted in what you could actually do. There were upsides because you get the benefits of the big brand and the operational structure, but you are restricted when you think things should go one-way and you’re unable to take it that way.
Simon Dell: It feels to me that job, running a gym like that, has a very heavy sales focused. Is that something you found?
Ryan Hanly: Once again, it changed over time. The whole fitness industry has really changed over the past 5-6 years. When we first got into it, you just opened the doors, literally. Jetts was the first 24/7, if not the first one, the early guys that got into the 24/7 market. Obviously, in comes competition and plenty of it. There was an over-saturation of the market two years ago where it was just ridiculous. It was just crazy.
Gyms were popping up everywhere, and this is one of the areas where franchises can be reckless. It’s just a land grab, and they were putting up gyms in places that were just crazy to put them up and were already saturated. They didn’t really have the interest of the franchise. It was just, “Let’s get as many of these stores up as possible.”
There’s been a rationalisation since then, and the smaller guys are starting to drop off. Gyms are shutting. It’s just a normalisation of the market as there is in any market. But to go back to your question, yes, it has become definitely more of a sales focus. There’s also a big part of retention. A lot of it is on the whole customer success piece: customer service and make sure people are enjoying their experience. Retention through those types of strategies.
Simon Dell: The question that leads from that is: With the sales focus and the customer retention focus you must’ve experience whilst running a business like that, was that new to you? I guess being a PE teacher, that’s not necessarily stuff you need to learn, those sales skills or customer retention skills when you’re educating kids.
Ryan Hanly: It’s funny, and I’ve looked back on this on hindsight, but when you’re teaching, every day is a sales process. You’re sitting in front of 30 people who don’t really want to be there and you need to make it enjoyable, engaging, and a nice experience for them. When I was there, I didn’t realise this, but I look back on it now and look at the way you handle different people, different kids, different learning styles, different engagement styles, and you go, “You know what? I was actually selling someone 5 or 6 times a day to people who didn’t actually want it. And sometimes, by the end of that 50 minutes, they wanted it and they enjoyed it.” You’re doing it without knowing it. You’re picking up skills that are transferrable, which is probably most careers.
Simon Dell: When Travello came along, was that someone approached you, or that was an idea formed in a pub over beer? How did that come about?
Ryan Hanly: It was an idea. It was literally as simple as that. When I go right back to the very early roots, my in-laws just bought a caravan, and joining the grey nomads, and starting going around Australia. They would go to these caravan parks. They’d come home from their trip, but the best part of the trip was at the end of the day where you’d arrive at a caravan park.
It was social hour. They’d ring the bell, sit around a circle, and they’d talk. They said, “That’s where we get the best advice and tips about what to do, it’s from people there.” And I was thinking, “How do you know when you turn up in that caravan park that there’s not someone on the other side of the caravan park that you just didn’t cross paths with, but you were going to Alice Springs, and they just came from Alice Springs, and they could have really good advice for you or you could be friends, but you just didn’t cross paths?”
I was thinking there should be a solution for this. Maybe there’s some sort of app or social network for caravaners where they can see where caravaners are in caravan parks, so that they can connect up, get tips and advice, and all those types of things. That was a really early premise with this link around social and peer-to-peer sharing of information.
Simon Dell: Was there a light bulb moment for that, or was that an idea that formed over time? You were testing it in your head over time?
Ryan Hanly: It was definitely tested in the head over the time. At that stage, I was not on Facebook. I was the last person to adopt social networks, which is quite ironic. In fact, I was only once I had really said, “I’m going to go ahead with Travello. I’m going to make a social network. I probably should’ve joined one of these things.”
I literally wasn’t on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or anything. I was a really slow adopter of mobile technology. I was the last one out of all of my friends to get a mobile phone, all those types of things. I travelled Europe, and Africa, and everywhere with no mobile phone. It’s funny. I was a slow adopter of that.
So when I came up with the idea, it did take a little while. Because I was like, “I’m a PE teacher, who does this?” I’ve always been into new ideas and a bit of a risk-taker, but I didn’t even know where to start with this one. It was just so far away from what I was doing. It took a little bit of time. I thought about it and I was just looking into the market and going, “What’s out there?”
I was thinking something like this must exist. I kept looking and I didn’t. Eventually, I thought if I don’t do this, someone’s going to.
Simon Dell: Did Outbound come before Travello? What was the sequence of those?
Ryan Hanly: That’s right. Over time, the idea evolved a little bit and I thought, “This isn’t just an app for caravaners. This can actually be an app for all travellers and backpackers” because they all have that thing. I thought back to when I travelled. You meet great people in a hostel. All of a sudden, you’re off on a great adventure, but who else was in that hostel that I missed or who was around the corner that I just didn’t see because I didn’t cross paths with them, I didn’t have that serendipitous moment?
It was at this stage that I actually went to a couple of friends and said, “What do you think of this idea?” One of them was my now-cofounder, Mark Cantoni. I had a bit of a chat with him and said, “Look, I’ve got this idea for this app. What do you think?” And he was like, “Mate, this is good. I would use this. This would solve a lot of our problems when we’re travelling.”
It went from there. The name was one of the last things we actually came up with. We went through this process of scoping it out. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we ended up with the name Outbound. It took a little while to get there.
Simon Dell: What was Mark’s background?
Ryan Hanly: Mark was actually, by education, a surveyor. He did a little bit of engineering, was a surveyor. He had started up a recruitment business and things like that, a bit of business experience. But neither of us had any experience or skills in travel technology and start-up land.
Simon Dell: Just so I understand: Did Outbound morph into Travello, or are they two separate identities?
Ryan Hanly: We launched as Outbound. A year after launch, we were contacted by a website in America called The Outbound Collective and he’s like, “You need to change your name or else I’m going to sue you.” It was interesting. And a few people had gone, “You made it. Someone’s trying to sue you.”
Simon Dell: That’s the signal that you’ve made it.
Ryan Hanly: Anyways, we went and got legal advice. He kept at us. I learned a lot about trademarks in a short amount of time. One thing about trademarks is that you can’t actually trademark something that’s descriptive of your service. Outbound is a word synonymous with travel, so no travel company can trademark it.
The reason is, 30 or 40 companies with the word “outbound” in it. In fact, there’s apps still in the App Store that have got the word “outbound” in it. But for some reason, this guy just wasn’t to go at us. We got legal advice and found out that no one would be able to trademark it including us. We’d be able to trademark colours and logo in connection with the word, but not the word itself.
So, we’re explaining it to this guy and saying, “We appreciate your concern, but you’re not even anything close to us. You’re a website. We’re an app. We have completely different demographics and focus areas. There’s nothing you can do here.”
But he kept on complaining to the App Store. “These guys are infringing!” We were running back to the App Store and going, “Look, we’ve got legal advice saying that we haven’t.” One day, all of a sudden, we weren’t in the app stores, either of them. Basically, we were like, “What the hell is going on here?” It was a crisis moment because, at that stage, we were trying to raise investment. We were talking to these guys about strategic partnerships, and then we didn’t even have a product in the App Store.
The balance of power quickly swung then. The App Store’s take was, “We don’t know who is in the right here, but until you guys work it out, we don’t want to be a part of it. We’re taking you off our platform.” Even though he was in the wrong, he was then in the right. The balance of power shifted significantly, so we went and got legal advice.
The outcome was basically, “Look guys, you can take this guy on and you’re going to win the case because you’re in the right, but it’s going to cost you $80,000 to $100,000 to do it. Or you can change your name and get more security over it for $3,000 to $5,000 and get on with business. It was a difficult decision. I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision because you’ve got pride, and you’ve got your back up, and you’re like, “Oh, let’s take this prick down.”
At the end of the day, we just need to get on with it. That’s the decision we came up with, which was the right one in the end. We look back in hindsight and it was good that we changed the name and we’ve now got full ownership of the term and all of those type of things.
Simon Dell: Does his website still exist and can we go and visit it?
Ryan Hanly: It actually does. It’s got to be. He’s been through 500 startups, so he’s not a small player. It was just that American culture that Australian people just don’t have, “Let’s sue first” attitude. He wouldn’t talk to us. We’re doing a trip over too because he was based in Silicon Valley over there, and we were doing a trip over there. He wouldn’t meet with us in person and all those types of things, so it’s just completely different culture.
We were on the end of it, but once again, everything happens for a reason. We glad we changed the name. We got a better name. It’s more defensible and all those things.
Simon Dell: Where did the Travello name come from? Is that a brainstorming session?
Ryan Hanly: Yeah, pretty much brainstorming but the breakdown comes from “travel” and “hello”, so bringing those two words together. You end up with Travello. It’s just a bit of a brainstorm session. We put a hundred names down and one sticks.
Simon Dell: I think a lot of start-up and business people out there have been through that painful process. Did everyone agree?
Ryan Hanly: You shortlist it and someone doesn’t like this and that, but we went, “You know what? It sounds alright. You can tell it’s travel.” Everyone’s pretty happy with it.
Simon Dell: You’ve started that up. You’ve gone into business and a start-up. What was the biggest challenges in the early days for you guys?
Ryan Hanly: Everything, pretty much. We were naive going into it. We didn’t know anything about startups. We never had to learn start-up and we never read any books. We didn’t know anything about the ecosystem or co-working spaces, any of that. We just jumped in there and did it.
I think there’s actually some positives to that naivety. To a large extent, you don’t know the rules. And so, you don’t know what you have to stick by. We were just ploughing ahead, making all these mistakes, but we were actually making progress. I think if we had known the rules in the playbook, we would have taken a whole lot longer to get something to market and get it tested.
There was a lot of naivety there, but once again, I think it worked in our favour because we didn’t know the rules that we had to play by. We just went ahead and did stuff. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but we got some answers and validation pretty quickly.
The whole thing about startups is basically getting it out there and getting validation. In a weird, clunky way, we did that quicker than what we would’ve if we had known the playbook or rules.
Simon Dell: Given that neither of you are developers, how did you tackle that side of things? Finding something that you could trust and that was actually giving you the right advice? Not only were you not developers, but your technical knowledge was probably a big, fat zero at the time.
Ryan Hanly: Zero is probably oversetting it. We were literally googling how to make an app, and we ended up in agency land, basically, which is an interesting place. The “who to trust” thing is interesting because when you’ve got someone from an agency building a product, there’s never going to be much pride or diligence in the technical infrastructure than if you’re putting yourself.
We didn’t know what they were doing. We were like, “We just want this app to do this.” For the most part, there was some huge trials and tribulations through that process with the agency. Their scope was pretty vague. And so then, all of a sudden, you’ve got misunderstandings about what things are supposed to do and what it’s supposed to look like. It was pretty heating.
We learned a lot through that process. What we did get at the end of the day was something that worked, and in the App Store, in a relatively quick period of time. That was good because the start-up playbook is “find a technical co-founder and build this out.” It would’ve taken us months and months, maybe longer, to find a technical co-founder who probably would’ve been doing this part-time at nights, and it would’ve taken another 6 to 9 months to get it out, and everyone’s still working on it part-time.
The one benefit of going to an agency is it was more expensive but we could really treat them like employees rather than co-founders, and crack the whip a fair bit, and get something out in three to four months. We had something which was good.
Simon Dell: For everyone out there who is thinking of going down that road and wants to build an app: What was your cost from day one to that first iteration landing in the App Store?
Ryan Hanly: It ended up being somewhere in the realms of $70,000 to $100,000. It may have started at the lower and ended higher. That was a while ago, and we had double and triple that, and we managed to stumble across some guys who were happy to take it on. That was for iOS and Android, which once again, you’re not supposed to do. You’re supposed to just test on one platform, but we did not.
It was in that realm. So, Mark and I, neither of us were rich, so that was a lot of money for us and risk. We put our balls on the line and put a fair bit into it ourselves. Once again, we retell that story to investors now and they like the fact that we did that and they like the fact that we put our own capital into it. It was an interesting experience working with an agency.
Simon Dell: Were you both full-time at that point?
Ryan Hanly: Yes.
Simon Dell: So, you’re not only paying that, but you’ve got to support yourselves as well?
Ryan Hanly: Oh, sorry. I thought, “Were you still working full-time?”
Simon Dell: Oh, sorry. So, this was being built whilst you guys were both still working?
Ryan Hanly: That’s right. We were doing the night-time, some testing, and all that sort of stuff.
Simon Dell: When you look at the playbook, they always say someone’s got to be full-time in it from day one and all those kind of things. I mean, it’s interesting. I haven’t gone through all that myself. I look back and just go… Certainly, the technical side of things for me, we had a technical guy working with us but he’d never built an app before. It was almost like the blind leading the blind.
We’re all going, “What’s the best platform for doing this on?” We were going, “Should we do it on just iOS first and then Android?” Anybody you speak to, you just get about 1,000 different opinions, don’t you?
Ryan Hanly: Absolutely. It’s a really confusing process, probably for everyone, but particularly for us who didn’t have that background and knowledge.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting though. So, it was three, four months to get a working product out there?
Ryan Hanly: Yeah.
Simon Dell: That’s pretty fast.
Ryan Hanly: It was, but the longer they have to spend on it, and this comes down to the quality that you end up with at the end of the day, but the longer they spend on it, the more it costs. They are all about getting it in and getting it out. That’s the only redeeming quality of going via an agency, is they won’t stuff around. They’ll want you out the door and out of there as quickly as possible.
Simon Dell: Would you do it differently if you had to start all over again? Would you avoid the agency route?
Ryan Hanly: I don’t think so. I think the only alternative was, as mentioned, trying to find some tech co-founders who are willing to do this, who had the time. It just would’ve been slow. We would’ve got there, but it would’ve taken another 6 to 9 months, I think.
There’s literally not a line of code left from that original app. When we eventually got our tech guys in, they looked under the hood and just went, “Oh my god, we’re not going to try and build on this. We’re just starting again.” It’s a shattering moment. But that’s the way it worked out.
Simon Dell: Day one, you’ve got it there in the store. You’re high-fiving each other. You can see your product in the store. People can download it. What do you do next?
Ryan Hanly: It’s funny when you’re going through the development process. It was hard. We were having arguments with the agency, all of that stuff. It was really hard. We just thought, “We can’t find. We’re almost to the finish line. It just goes in the App Store, feet up, kick back and relax.” It’s not until you release it that you go, “You know what? We’re only just at the starting line. We weren’t even in the race before. We’ve just gone to the first thing.”
It was all about, for us, trying to get early traction. We were a social network. Those first few days, we once again didn’t follow the start-up playbook and released globally as opposed to focusing on one area like Brisbane, or Queensland, or Australia. We’ve just got a global product and got it out there.
In the first few couple of days, we got a social network with five people in it, six people in it, 50, then 100. Social networks don’t run with that few people. It was all about trying to make sure that that engagement was there, and making sure people were interested in the concept, and trying to get as many new people to join as possible.
Simon Dell: How did you do that? What were the key marketing channels for you in those early days?
Ryan Hanly: I don’t know whether it’s good luck or good management. It’s one of the few things we planned well for: We knew we did need some marketing channels. We needed a community before we actually launched because we didn’t have any money. I told you what it cost us before and that was everything we had. We didn’t have any money for any sort of advertising or marketing at all. We wouldn’t have known how to do it anyway.
We didn’t know how to do Facebook or Google Ads. What we did, which was pretty smart with the benefit of hindsight is, right when we started building apps, 4 to 5 months before we started building it, maybe even close to 6, we started building up a travel community on Instagram and Twitter. We were just posting travel content, building up a following.
By the time we launched, we had 5,000 or 6,000 followers on each platform. What we were doing during that time as well was contacting travel bloggers, emailing them and saying, “Hey look, we’re doing a secret project, social network for travellers. We’d love your feedback on it. If there’s features that you’d like to have included, let us know.”
And we engaged with a couple hundred of these travel bloggers, not asking for anything in return, just asking for feedback. We gave them the impression that they were, and they were, a part of this secret project that was going on. Everybody really liked the concept and were like, “You got to keep this under wraps.”
They were giving us feedback. Because of that, they felt a bit of ownership of the project. We never asked them. We never said, “Can you do a review of this?” or “Can you [INAUDIBLE] it for us once it launches?” The day before we launched, we basically got in contact… And at this stage, we had 300-400 on an email list. This was literally copy paste all of their emails and send it out.
The day before we launched, we contacted them and said, “Look, thanks for all your help. We really appreciate it. Just letting you know early access that tomorrow, we’re launching. Thanks heaps.” And within an hour of that email going out, we had announcements, and reviews, and all these things going out.
Those guys were basically our marketing machine, which was really good for us. That was a really smart play for us. We had this Instagram and Twitter community happening, and then we had these travel bloggers on the side who were our mouthpiece to their audiences. That helped us get some fairly early traction pretty quickly.
Simon Dell: Those travel bloggers, you’re saying you had a database of around 300 to 400 by the time you launched. What was the response rate for them? I assume not all 300 to 400 were emailing you back. Some were passively just accepting the information, but just a ballpark, what success rate did you get when you emailed these guys?
Ryan Hanly: It was relatively high, to be honest. The only thing we weren’t doing was targeting the really big guys. We knew they would either expect something in return or they just wouldn’t return our email. There were a couple of big ones in there, but most of them were…
They’re referred to now as micro-influencers. They’ve got under 10,000 followers or engagements and those types of things. And so, they’re more open to things like this. Most of them like the idea and the concept, and they like the idea of being a part of it. The response rates we were getting from emails, and people doing beta testing, and things like that was pretty pleasing, actually.
Simon Dell: As it’s grown, what have been the best channels for you for finding more people? I’m guessing as a social network for travellers, there’s a huge element of virality with it, with people travelling and saying, “I’m on this app” and they’re telling everybody they’re meeting. Is there any channels that work really well for you guys in terms of recruitment of new users?
Ryan Hanly: In regards to ROI, we’ve run a number of competitions and they worked really well for us. Travel brands are happy to work with us because we’ve got a big audience, so they’ll donate things. We ended up with these free prizes which were pretty good: trips around Europe that were worth thousands of dollars.
We continued to build up our Instagram and Twitter following and our own database. And so then, we could run these little referral competitions. If you do X-Y-Z, you’ve got a chance to win this trip around Europe or Australia. Because it cost us nothing and we were leveraging referrals and things like that, they were always one of our best campaigns. We continue to do that to this day, and they continue to be really good return for us.
As we’d speak, we’re running a big competition at the moment.
Simon Dell: How were you approaching those travel brands to get those freebies? Was that just email them and say “We’ve got X amount of people on our network.”
Ryan Hanly: Pretty much, just a little bit of hustle, writing emails, putting in heap of lines on the water. Heaps of them wouldn’t reply at all but a couple would. That’s it and then you’d get results, so you could go to another brand and say, “Hey look, we did this with Busabout. Are you interested in doing this?” And you’ve got some runs on the board, so it grows from there.
Realistically, it costs these travel brands very little to seat on their bus or whatever it is on their tour, so it doesn’t actually cost them much and they get some pretty good brand exposure from it.
Simon Dell: How many people would they be reaching now? If there’s people in the travel industry who happen to be listening and want to reach out, what numbers are you talking?
Ryan Hanly: It depends on the level of the prize, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands conservatively. The one we’re running now is our biggest one ever. We expect to get reach in the millions for this one. It’s a huge prize, and part of it is people creating videos and sharing it on their social networks. There’s a fair bit of network effect happening in the campaign we’re running now.
It’s always a really good response.
Simon Dell: What demographics are using your platform? Are we talking the young millennials?
Ryan Hanly: 20 to 25, yeah. 18 to 32 is like the sweet spot, but we’ve got users that sit outside that. They can still enjoy and use the platform, but definitely that 18 to 32 millennial traveller is probably the sweet spot for us.
Simon Dell: Assuming that you’re not sending out emails via Outlook with cutting and pasting, what do you guys use in terms of software to manage the business and manage the marketing?
Ryan Hanly: Once again, the joys of getting bigger. We’ve got Sam Lindner, who is a marketing guru. He looks after most of this. We use some fairly standard tools: SendGrid for emails. We still do a lot of the social ourselves. We don’t use the Hootsuites and things like that for a lot of our social. We just jump in there. It’s a bit ad hoc, but we still handle most of that.
We try to keep it fairly simple on the whole and not make things too complicated. Once again, a bit like the Jett story earlier, once we get bigger, things become more complicated and you need to start to increase those efficiencies and things like that. Sam does most of it. We do run some ads on Google and Facebook and Sam looks after all of that for us, which is great.
Simon Dell: From a metric point of view, are you guys numbers guys? Do you get up every morning and go, “How many new people have we got? How long are they spending on the app?” Is that important to you?
Ryan Hanly: Definitely, it’s got to be. We keep a constant eye on our metrics and our key metrics just to know what’s happening. We run a heap of experiments in the app. They’re running all the time, so we like to see what effect they’ve had.
Simon Dell: Give us an idea of an experiment that you would run in the app.
Ryan Hanly: Last week, we changed the algorithm of our feed. We were starting to get more content coming in so we needed to make sure that what people are seeing from a first experience is quite curated. We’ve got a very different feed to your typical social networks like Instagram and Facebook. We’re coming on and seeing random content.
The whole idea of our app is connecting people that don’t actually know each other. It’s not like Instagram where it’s all your friends and Facebook’s your friends. This is people you don’t know, so how do we make that content really attractive for people coming in? We do a heap of stuff with the algorithm in our feed, constantly playing.
Just last week, we switched a few things up and pulled a few different levers. We saw engagement, likes, comments, and feed scrolls and things like that dropped by 20%. So we just went, “Okay, let’s undo that.”
Simon Dell: Panic. “Where’s the undo button? Quickly!”
Ryan Hanly: Exactly. We do heaps of stuff like that, right down to the colours of buttons and all sorts of stuff.
Simon Dell: Do you find that you get a bit too micro with it?
Ryan Hanly: We go through phases. We test things out. We’re probably not too bad. We know the metrics that matter to us and we concentrate on optimizing those.
Simon Dell: As we mentioned before we started, for everyone out there, I met you originally through a pitching event, River Pitch here in Brisbane. You must have pitched the business a fair few times in the last few years.
Ryan Hanly: Yes.
Simon Dell: Do you enjoy it?
Ryan Hanly: No. I enjoy talking about the business but pitching is different. You’ve got to be a certain type of person to enjoy that environment. It’s pretty intense. That was a big one, you’re in front of 150 people and it’s just questions flying out you from people you don’t know, don’t know your business. It’s intense.
It’s part of the process, but would I say I enjoy it? I don’t think so.
Simon Dell: To be fair, I’ve only ever done it once. It was at that River Pitch time. I find that people pick on small things within the presentation, that you perhaps didn’t even think about at the time why you put it in the presentation. “Why have you put that logo in there?” or “Why are you making that statement or that claim?”
All of a sudden you’d be like, “Woah, I wasn’t quite ready for that.”
Ryan Hanly: That’s right. The discussion can get diverted. That’s a very different form, that River Pitch. It’s a fairly public thing. It’s a bit different when you’re in a room with just one institution or investor.
Much more comfortable with that situation because I tend not to pitch, more of a discussion rather than me presenting 10 slides in 4 minutes or whatever it might be. That’s the way we try to do it now. It comes across more naturally if you can talk through your business, be conversational, have it less structured. That’s probably the way I would prefer it.
Simon Dell: I’m going to retract what I said earlier. I’ve actually done it twice. The second time, I got called out on the numbers. And fuck, I wasn’t ready. Immediately afterwards you go, “I had an answer to every question but I hadn’t prepped myself to answer those questions.”
Ryan Hanly: There will always be something you’ll get caught on. But whenever we’re in that mode, we do hit the homework and make sure we know all the normals. The normals, I could talk through the business and strategy until the cows come home, but it’s the numbers that generally people get caught up on. It’s a matter of knowing those and making sure you cross everything.
Simon Dell: Would that be your number one tip for everybody else out there when they’re standing up in a pitch, is to know the numbers?
Ryan Hanly: I think so, yeah. You’ve really got to know what they’re going to dig into and dig into your own numbers a little bit more so you’ve got absolutely everything covered. I think most founders and most people pitching can talk about their business, and strategy, and the customers, and all of those types of things pretty seamlessly and easily.
But you really have to know those numbers. They matter. It’s what investors are investing on. And if you get them wrong, you lose credibility pretty quickly.
Simon Dell: Getting towards the end here. I’ve got some final questions for you. The one I want to ask you is: If you went back and did all this again, what was perhaps the one skill that you would go back and go, “You know what? I need to know that first.” Is there one thing that stands out to you that you go, “I would train myself more about that or learn about that.”
Ryan Hanly: Skills can always be learned, but if you’re going to become a start-up founder, you need certain qualities. There’s intrinsic qualities that you need to be. I’m CEO now but I still don’t really even know what a CEO does, if I’m doing it right. I’m reading heaps and I’m learning heaps but what do I do? Am I doing it right? I’m not sure. All of those skills can be learned, but I think there’s certain qualities that you’ve got to have in order to be able to learn those skills. That’s more important than the typical ones of persistence, resilience, and all of those type of things.
The one thing I don’t realise was how hard this was going to be. I don’t think a lot of people realise that. My friends don’t realise how hard it is. I don’t think people, before they start a start-up, know how hard it is. That’s why the vast majority give up at the end of the day. It’s generally that element of persistence, and hanging in there, and just grinding away and finding a way. That will be the difference in the end.
It seems to be the story I’ve read, just about the biographies of just about every major start-up going around. It’s a similar story for all of them. They struggled early. Very few of them got the viral growth that you think they did, but they just found a way to do it.
Airbnb guys selling breakfast cereal to get their first $50,000. What the hell, but they found a way.
Simon Dell: I like the story about Uber, and I forget his name now, but that was never a main gig for him. It was all a side gig for him at the time.
The question I’m going to have to ask you because you’re a travel app is your best and worst destinations that you personally like and dislike.
Ryan Hanly: I travelled through Africa, and we flew into Kenya and Nairobi, worked our way across 10 weeks down to Cape Town. It was just amazing. I would go back there in an instant. I’ve got kids now and I want to go back there. I think it just gives you a really good perspective on life. It’s such a beautiful country and the people are beautiful, but then you see some of the poverty. It just brings a whole lot of stuff in perspective.
That’s my favourite place. The worst? I guess it’s just on a scale because I like travelling everywhere, but… Was it Remini? Some places like that in Italy. There’s tourist beaches where English people go to party and stuff. It’s just the beach is pebbles with a million chairs on them. You’re just like, “What the hell?”
You come from Australia and you go to those beaches and you’re like, “This isn’t a beach. I don’t know what this is.” We still had some good nights there, don’t get me wrong. But as far as travel destinations, that was probably pretty average.
Simon Dell: What are some of the other brands you admire, that you see out there, that you aspire to mimic or evolve into? It could be anything: not necessarily apps or travel brands. Something you buy a lot? A lot of people always go Apple but other examples.
Ryan Hanly: I’m not really brand-loyal. There’s nothing that I just obsess over from a brand, “I’ve got to have this brand.” In fact, I’m pretty unhappy with my iPhone at the moment, to be honest. I like the Virgin brand and Richard Branson. I like what he did, what he stands for, how he’s built his business, how it’s evolved into all these different things. I like that.
I like the fact that he started off with one thing and sees a whole heap of opportunities along the way. But the Virgin brand has seeped into all of those different verticals. He’s probably a guy that I admire and a brand I admire as well.
Simon Dell: What’s next for you guys? What new features? What’s the plan for this year? Longer-term, is there an exit for you guys that you guys see, or is this something you see yourself running forever? It strikes me as a brand, as an app, that a bigger travel company would want to acquire at some point.
Ryan Hanly: To answer the first question, what’s next: There’s some really exciting stuff coming. We’re starting to explore some new technology around blockchain and converting some legacy stuff that’s happening in travel, possibly on the blockchain, and looking at the way that works, and how that could affect travel. I think it’s a new technology that I don’t think is going away. We want to be at the forefront of that, so we’re looking into a whole heap of projects there that could be really exciting.
For us, I know everyone’s: You need to have an exit plan. You need to know how you’re going to get out before you get in, but we are enjoying this. We’re enjoying the process. We like what we’re doing. We’re on social and we’re on travel. It’s two pretty cool places to be. We just want to continue what we’re doing. We’re not doing this to flip it or to exit, but if an opportunity comes along, we’ll look at it.
We want to create a global brand here. That’s what we want to do. Whether we do that by piggybacking off somebody else or whether we can build that ourselves remain to be seen. That’s the adventure over the next one to two years for us. We’re certainly not doing it to get bought by a bigger company. That’s not the aim of what we’re doing here.
Simon Dell: Is there another raise in the pipeline?
Ryan Hanly: There is, actually. We’re in the middle of it at the moment. All of our pitching questions are on point. It’s going okay. We’re getting a good response. We’ve got probably one of the most difficult fundraisers to do in Australia because we’re a slightly consumer-facing social network which is difficult to pitch to guys who are used to investing in houses, or SaaS platforms, mining, and things like that. It’s going well. You’ve just got to find the right people who believe in the bigger picture and get them on board.
Simon Dell: If people want to come and talk to you, if they want to ask any questions in the travel industry or even in the start-up and ask tips for your pitching as well, where’s the best place for them to come and find you?
Ryan Hanly: Just contact me through LinkedIn. You can just find me on there, “Ryan Hanly Travello app.” Email is fine as well. I’m fine with that. If people want to reach out, it’s [email protected] They’re probably the easiest two ways.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much for your stories and your advice today. I’m sure a lot of people will go and be downloading the app today and following your progress. Thank you for spending time with me today.
Ryan Hanly: Pleasure, Simon. Appreciate it.
Simon Dell: Cheers.
Ryan Hanly: Thanks, mate.