#Outovating: Innovating From The Outside In

Our blog mixes inspirational tales with posts on the business/tech side of travel.  Titles are usually a dead giveaway, but subjects may vary.  You’ll see both sides – that’s a good thing.

Where does innovation come from?  According to one popular theme – reinforced by TV shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley – new technologies and products come from a group of hoodie and jeans clad wunderkind techies cranking out code in a dark, dank garage.

They work tirelessly towards launch, arguing over coffee and microbrews about how to make their product hella awesome. At launch the product meets reality. Often it fails because it was developed in an internal bubble, with little regard for how it will be received by customers.

outovating IMAGE - chris-barbalis-98731-unsplash

Innovation can only thrive outside the constraints of internal structures and biases.  (Milan vertical forest image by Chris Barbalis)

The history of new product launches is littered with the rejected carcasses of seemingly brilliant yet ill-conceived ideas (RIP Pets.com spokes-puppet).  Old skool marketers will also recall one of the greatest blunders of all time, New Coke.  Wha?  Yes, back in 1985 Coca-Cola executives thought they’d mess with the formula that made their soft drink a global phenomenon.  It was one of the worst marketing blunders of all time – largely because they completely underestimated how their customers would react.

ALEXA, WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

Contrast that with Amazon, where new product ideas are vetted by how attractive they will be to consumers.  Each idea basically starts with a one-page press release.  This forces the erstwhile inventor to answer the very difficult question: why should consumers give a damn?  It’s a great place to start and one I suggest every product manager or inventor puts to use.

That’s easy to do for a small startup team, but what about the VP of Marketing or Product in a large organization?  Internal biases can be hard to avert. There’s also pressure from in-house technology departments. Filled with experts in their space, they understandably want to be seen as innovators in creating whatever their internal customers need.  But they may be limited by existing infrastructure or processes. Market or investor pressure to show returns on existing products is also a factor at startups or large organizations.

Take Facebook, for example.  The core consumer value proposition of being the easiest way to connect and stay in touch with “friends” has rightfully earned it over 2 billion monthly active users.  Their ad-driven business model has proved highly profitable.  But in its quest to continually develop more precise user targeting, it opened users up to exploitation as in the Cambridge Analytica debacle (the New York Times breaks it down well here).  Often the relentless drive to monetize a core technology and user base dilutes the original concept.  The end user pays the price.

SOMETIMES KPIs ARE TBD

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics are often identified to determine whether or not a new project is deemed a success.  Usually it’s a single metric, based on careful consideration of how it supports a strategy like attracting travelers in the dreaming phase, before they’ve selected a destination (shameless plug: this is what TripTuner is designed to do).  That’s good, because there are an overwhelming number and types of metrics that may be reported upon these days. Not all of them may be relevant or worth tracking. However, when testing a new innovation user feedback and behavior may reveal benefits beyond what was originally intended.  

When we launched TripTuner, users told us that it served up solid personalized options (“It’s like it knows me!” tweeted one) and that it was sticky, if not addicting (“so freaking obsessed” tweeted another).  That led us to believe engagement metrics like visit duration — which were often several times more than an average website – were most important. But if we hadn’t paid attention to some other benefits like booking search clicks, we would’ve missed out on one of our most important value propositions: the ability to take travelers from inspiration to booking in a personalized, low-pressure way.

PHASED AND CONFUSED

With the evolution of A.I. powered multivariate testing, multiple A/B tests on new features may be done simultaneously.  That’s great when making a tweak to existing functionality. But when evaluating the benefit of a new feature it’s important not only to view a wide ranges of metrics (to uncover unexpected user behavior patterns), but to also ensure we’re comparing similar phases of the purchase process.  

We found out that a client of ours was comparing product clicks generated on TripTuner (upper funnel) with clicks on a specific discounted product (lower funnel).  It wasn’t apples to apples, but it did highlight the fact that our user-centric approach was generating purchasing demand – a functionality that didn’t exist before.

#OUTOVATING: ARE YOU IN?

Breakthrough innovations require that we get out of our internal bubbles and view things from a fresh perspective – the consumer or end user’s view.  As we develop and deploy new technologies like machine learning and other artificial intelligence techniques, we need to be aware of how our own personal biases influence the product and ultimately the consumer.  

We have to design — to innovate — from the outside in.  We’ll call it “outovating.”  Not sure it’ll catch on but I’m going with it.  Looks like it was used five years ago but today only produces 3 results in a Google search.  When’s the last time you’ve seen THAT?

Stay tuned.

INFOGRAPHIC Traveler Tastes for 2018: To Chill or seek Thrills?

TT Taste Lab - relaxing

As 2017 winds down we’re sharing some fresh traveler preference data to help marketers target the world’s top 10 markets next year. It’s not your typical list of up-and-coming destinations (you can always find those here). Nor is it a list of popular activities or themes. Those have been covered thoroughly.

Our goal is to capture traveler sentiment on a broader scale: to go beyond the what, how or where to understand the why. We’re looking for what truly motivates travelers — the intangible result they want from a vacation — beyond any specific event or criteria.

For many, it means a chance to rest and relax. For others it may be an opportunity to recharge through active exploration. To capture these seemingly opposite objectives, there is a Relaxing vs Active preference slider on TripTuner.com and throughout much of our partner network.

This infographic is based on 1st party data (anonymized and aggregated) from 1 million inputs on that slider across the TripTuner network through December 26, 2017. It shows how travelers in the world’s top 10 outbound countries (as defined by the UNWTO) rank in their desire to relax or be active when on holiday or vacation.

This data is unique in three respects:

  • Actions, not words: it’s based on what users do, not what they say in a survey or review.
  • Qualitative sentiment: by focusing on intangible criteria (e.g. relaxing or active) it offers deeper insight than a model based on quantitative booking data.
  • Captures nuance: preferences are indicated on a sliding scale (what blend of relaxation and activity is desired) instead of a binary preference (do you want to relax OR be active?).

It’s the first of a series of reports we’ll share in the coming year from the TripTuner Taste Lab. So stay tuned for more as we continue to mine an ever-increasing trove of first-party preference data.

 

Feeling Right at Home on a Minneapolis Business Trip

It was good to be squinting.  The rising August sun beamed off Lake Minnewashta, fragmenting into millions of diamonds around my paddle as a gentle breeze offset the rising temperature.  It’s a business trip, and I’m on a paddleboard.  Sweet, right?

Minnesota, paddleboard, SUP, lake, travel

Experiencing a place like a local resident is a desire for many travelers these days.  Lately, it’s increasingly a key ingredient for business trips as well.  Just look at airbnb’s business travel tagline: “Travel for work, feel at home.” 

On a recent trip to a Minneapolis conference, I rode this trend like Paul Bunyan on Babe the Blue Ox. Here’s how I rolled (in an intentionally non-numeric list, because the world has reached listicle peak):

No Hotels for Homies.  Like most business travelers, I usually stay at hotels.  But for this trip I pulled an “airbnBRO”, staying at my brother’s house about 25 minutes southwest of the Minneapple.  No big deal, right?  We’ve all stayed with family.  But the traditional conference strategy is to stay close to the event so you can gorge on the precious face time (the real, in person kind) that paradoxically eludes us in today’s hyper-connected world.  A growing number of business travelers however, want to a more feel at home.  Nowadays it’s not rare for a team of colleagues to rent a house for a business trip.  Staying at an airbnb – or a bed in my brother’s pinball arcade basement – is increasingly a viable business stay option for those who want to feel at home.  Feel me, Homie?

Early bird get that worm.  This isn’t a new trend but if The Wire’s Marlo Stansfield says it, you better listen up.  Conferences often beget late-night benders, but keeping a disciplined at home routine is key to bringing your A game on the road.  This means carving out time by getting up early to meditate, plan the day, hang upside down – whatever gets you going.  If you’re not a morning person (or binged the night before) it may be tough.  But you’ll feel better afterwards, and will have the rest of your day to maximize your chances for serendipitous meetings like Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh does.

Work Work Work Work Work (out).  Keeping a home routine on the road often means exercising, even if only to help clear your mind.  As an entrepreneur my mornings are often chock full of ideas that gestate overnight.  Multiply that by 10x on a business trip.  I was lucky to be staying where I could get out on the lake by paddleboard or canoe for 20 minutes each morning.  It set the tone for the day and let me reflect on a previous day’s meeting that sparked a new go-to-market strategy.  No lake, you say? Poor soul. Try this 15 minute high intensity routine in your room.  Any time, any place.

Get some culture.  Wherever you go, there’s a local culture to explore.  For me, it was the Minneapolis music scene.  For those who aren’t fans of Prince (BTW what’s wrong with you?) Minneapolis is where he got his start.  The week Prince died, my brother planned to go to one of his many public, come-as-you-are house parties at his home/studio complex in Chanhassen.  I missed out on those but made the pilgrimage to share in the outpouring of love and support shown by the mass of mementos placed in tribute to the Purple One.  It had special significance for me as a fan but also as a former DJ on the station credited with “breaking” Prince, KMOJ-FM (shout out to Q-Bear, Chazz and the crew).  For more culture in Minneapolis, try the Walker Art Center, and if the elevator tries to bring you down…go concert crazy at legendary First Ave, where Prince filmed Purple Rain’s concert scenes.

MInnesota, Paisley Park, Prince, travel

Eat Local Fare.  This is definitely one area where you’ll need to be flexible about breaking from routine.  At home I usually don’t consume much dairy, and have recently explored gluten-free options (even though I’m not celiac – another trend).  Traveling to the milk and grain midwest heartlands forced me to suck it up and eat local fare: bring on the deep-fried salty cheese curds and local walleye fish tacos from Lake Minnetonka!

Take Care of Business.  Oh yeah, that.  The main reason for my trip.  No trend here – your bottom line should always remain first.  Even though I stayed outside of the city and it required more effort, my “feel at home on business travel” approach yielded insightful meetings, creative inspiration and a chance to dip my toes in the local culture.  Plus quality time with my brother and his family.  A win on all fronts! #StayTTuned

 

 

 

The Fisherman: You’re Already Home

Last night I had the pleasure of presenting to the DC Lean Startup Circle community.  The theme was around the hidden costs of following the Lean startup methodology, and I closed with an abridged, slightly mangled version of this parable about a fisherman in Mexico.  As a make-good I’m posting the complete version below.

The point I was making is that in life there’s often a tendency to size up how you rate versus something else: another person, company, or lofty goal.  This is exacerbated in a startup, and particularly for practicians of Lean, where close monitoring of metrics, A/B testing and constant challenging of assumptions are key tenets.  It can be often grueling work towards what seem like moving targets.  But if we’re passionate about what we’re doing right now, that won’t matter.  We’ll still be making progress, but we’ll enjoy the journey.  LIke the fisherman, we’ll “already be home” (a phrase inspired by a similarly named Jay-Z track).  Here’s the story:

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long,” answered the Mexican. “But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs … I have a full life.” The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. “And after that?” asked the Mexican. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.” “How long would that take?” asked the Mexican. “Twenty, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American. “And after that?” the Mexican asked. “Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!” “Millions? Really? And after that?” “After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

 

 

 

Marketing Tips from a 6 year old

So anyone who’s a parent or who’s been around younger kids are amazed at how quickly their young fingers become adept with our iPhones and iPads. And yes, listening to fathers gloat about their kids’ accomplishments can get tiresome.

But I gotta give it up to my daughter. Just started 1st grade and I think she’s ready to help run my web startup. One recent morning, she let out this zinger: “Daddy, how can people you don’t know get to your website?” I was flabbergasted. Just the other day a friend asked for my elevator pitch. And I was ready (it’s a web app for personalized trip ideas and on demand expert advice). But my daughter stumped me. Here I was, giggling on the outside but somehow stymied as I searched for a simple kid-friendly explanation of my marketing strategy! “Well…ah…you know, first you have to create something that people want…so that when they want to read about something…or, when they are searching for something that you have, you want to make sure they click on your site.” I totally flubbed it. How the hell am I going to pitch potential investors? Fortunately my wife chimed in: “you know, it’s just like when you search for Jonas Brothers videos on YouTube.” My daughter got the relevant example. “Oh. So you make it so people can find something they like on your website.”

Now as any entrepreneur knows, marketing is critical to any new business – the old adage about building a better mousetrap (and how the world will beat a path to your door) doesn’t hold true anymore. Finding a core group of “earlyvangelists” or champions for your product is critical to its success for sure. But continued growth will need to come from new customers – the strangers my precocious daughter was talking about. Fortunately I do have a plan, and part of it is something you can participate in. Please take the quick 3-minute survey at http://svy.mk/my6yrold

to see if you fit into our target market (or at least what we think it is). If you’re selected, we’ll give you a chance to earn gift certificates to your favorite places like iTunes, Amazon or Starbucks. And in the process, you’ll be helping out an entrepreneur trying desperately trying to stay one step ahead of his 6-year-old daughter. Which may just ensure success!