“leisure travelers don’t scale”

The quote “leisure travelers don’t scale” is from an interview with Rafat Ali (founder of paidcontent) at the Next Big Thing. (At the 6:35 mark in the video if you want to skip over him talking about his new venture Skift, though if you’re interested in the travel industry then you should become familiar with Skift.)

Skift also aims at informing the business traveler rather than the leisure traveler. The business person might travel several times a month. Anyone involved in a travel startup knows that it’s difficult to scale a business around consumers traveling to specific destinations. How many times does a person travel for leisure. Ali says “once, twice, thrice a year”. How many times does a person travel internationally? Only a few people do so even once a year.

Even if you build a loyal customer with your superb guide to the basket weaving of the Peruvian highlands, it’s going to be another year or more (if ever) before that fan buys your insightful, one-of-a-kind guide to the public sculpture of Odessa. Okay, that example is an extreme niche but it’s hard to grow a business by selling content to leisure travelers. You need content to dozens, if not a hundred or more, destinations if your travel content business is to sustain a staff of more than one based on revenue alone.

A core requirement in forming a startup is to spend time reflecting on the product you’re developing and, particularly, what problems are people buying that product to solve? Are there enough customers to actually build a business that can grow, or is the business so narrowly defined that it’s potential is little more than a supplementary income for one person? The latter is not a startup.

In the interview with Ali the moderator Scott Kurnit (found of about.com) asked a wonderful question, “Twenty years into the Internet, why do we get to do something new…why hasn’t it all been done…why wasn’t this done 5 years ago?”

As Kurnit suggests, it’s often because technology has changed (particularly with regards to mobile) or consumers have changed. Ali goes a step further and reveals the forumla behind his successful strategy, “I love businesses that are a layer on top of existing businesses.”

For those of us who lovel travel, Ali offers a vision at the 8.33 mark in the video as to why travel is important:  “travel is a lens that can bring understanding to the world”.

The challenge is creating a livelihood through a travel startup.

Field Trip app hints at Google’s future

Aimed at travelers & locals curious to learn more about their city, Google’s Field Trip app (Android only for now) serves up content based on your specific location within that city. The app launches today in six cities.

The app, oddly for a Google product, presents a very nice visual design. There’s  even a sleek made-for-tv commercial. What is Google up to with this app?

An insightful post on the New York Times Bit blog predicts that the app “reveals a lot about the big directions Google wants to go.”

Note the binocular/field glasses motif that also forms the icon for the Field Trip app.

Are those field glasses just ornamentation, clever use of graphics,  or a hint towards Google’s future attempt to disrupt mobile computing with Google Glass & wearable computing?

Where are the Apps for the Armchair Traveler?

Mobile developers & entrepreneurs occasionally forget that smartphones and tablets are often used in the home. The iPad makes an excellent lean-back device. We mostly recognize that tablets excel as devices for reading, watching, shopping, & other “passive” activities. Obviously I’m leaving out a wide range of tablet uses but for the sake of this particular analysis let’s focus on that passive behavior of consuming content.

People create startups based around ideas where they understand the possibilities. Are their untapped possibilities to provide valued products to users sitting at home in a cozy chair?

The Armchair Traveler

I continued to be astonished at the absence of apps aimed at the armchair traveler: the person sitting at home who is planning a trip or, very likely, just curious to learn about the world.

The Fotopedia apps are among the best examples of current apps that serve the armchair traveler by offering spectacular images by professional photographers.

A couple of print publishers that have surprised me by not doing more with apps are DK and Insight Guides.

DK’s Eyewitness Travel books are beautifully designed for appealing specifically the person who is not at that destination.  Those are great books for planning a trip & figuring out the sights you want to see. But they’re even better for getting a sense of a place without ever going there.

More than 10 years ago I was browsing in a bookstore with a friend when I brought the  DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan

My friend, rather curiously, asked, “When are you going to Japan?”

I answered, “I don’t know. I just want to learn about it.” A decade later I’ve still not been to Japan, but I have purchased many DK guidebooks. Yet, as someone who has traveled a lot, I would never take one of those books on a trip. That’s not because I can get all sorts of information online these days. It’s because the books are simply not that useful at a destination. Better to have a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

Since DK truly understands the visual I was excited when they released an app for iPad. Sigh, as a long-time DK customer how disappointed I was at their iPad offering. It was okay but didn’t inspire me in the same way as the printed edition. That’s not because print has any intrinsic quality over digital in this case. I ended up deleting the app after not much use and am really hesitant to ever buy another app from DK. Hmmm, but I would still buy their books and will give an app by DK another chance at some point.

I mentioned Insight Guides, which is a very different type of publisher from DK. Whereas DK publishes visually rich, but content thin, volumes. Insight Guides produces in-depth, mostly historical accounts of destinations. Great opportunity for repurposing these products onto a new platform, but the publisher has taken the rather bland approach of converting to e-books. Well, that’s a step and the title offering should certainly exist as -ebooks. I’m not doubting that.

The holdback

What’s keeping publishers from creating more exciting apps for armchair travelers? Certainly the cost & complexity of app development is the major factor. Then there’s the issue of multiple platforms. Not only does technical expertise need acquiring, but also the platform requires a new way of conceptualizing the product. And that’s the really hard part.

Reading in Print Again

Last night as I climbed into bed I discovered that the battery on the iPad was empty. Urgh. No bedtime video watching or reading. Well, I could have used the iPhone but I prefer the larger screen iPad. So I went over to the bookshelf where I still maintain a fairly good collection of print books. It had been well over a year since I’ve read a print book. All my reading this last year has been on the iPad, using either the iBooks or Kindle apps.

My reading choice:

Great book!

Notes on setting up in-app purchase on iOS: iTunes Connect

A series of posts focused on different aspects of setting up in-app purchases for iPhone & iPad apps. This is not a detailed walkthrough but just notes that outline the process. Be sure to read the in-app programming guide for a thorough overview, though be warned that the official guide doesn’t clearly cover every aspect of the process.

This post covers only the iTunes Connect part of the process.

In iTunes Connect you will need to setup the product you want to provide for in-app purchase (IAP). Basically, this is a process of registering your IAP product with Apple.

  • Login to iTunes Connect
  • Click Manage Your Applications
  • Select your app
    • This could be problematic if you’re setting up for a brand new app that is not yet in the app store. Go ahead and create the iTunes listing for the base app but do not submit the app. You’ll see some contradictory, outdated info on the Web that says you need to submit an app and then reject the binary in order to proceed with testing an in-app purchase. That is not true based on my own experiences.
  • Click Manage In-App Purchases
  • Click Create New
  • Select the type of IAP. Most of what I do are non-consumable IAPs.
  • Enter a Reference Name. This is for internal use only & can be named whatever you like. I usually enter something descriptive, e.g, Av de Mayo walking tour.
  • Enter Product ID. ****extremely important**** This is the unique identifier for your IAP. It can be anything but you should make it unique not only to your IAPs but also to any other IAPs in the iTunes store. The best thing is to base it on your bundle ID, though it’s important to note that it has absolutely no technical relationship to the bundle ID of your app. You can use a reverse domain name and that works very well. e.g., com.endlesshybrids.avdemayo. Note that you will use the product ID in your code, so get this right.
  • Cleared for Sale: select YES. If not, you will not be able to test your IAP.
  • Select Price Tier.
  • In-App Purchase Details. Select Add Language.
    • Select Language of your IAP.
    • Enter Display Name. This is the name people will see in the App Store for the in-app purchase listing. It may also be displayed in your app. Think carefully about this from a marketing perspective.
    • Enter Description.
  • Enter optional Review Notes. I’m not sure if the app review team really needs test user accounts and password, though the IAP programming guide indicates to add that here.
  • Screenshot for Review.

Once all that information is entered then you can put the IAP into Ready to Submit status.

Adding an IAP to an app 

****very important****

I missed this the first time I tried submitting an IAP and my app got rejected. So save yourself a couple of weeks of app review time and pay attention. When your app version, either a new app or an update, is in Prepare for Upload an option appears on the app details screen: In-App Purchases. Select Edit and select the IAPs you want to submit with this version. Note that this option does not appear in every state of an app version.

Focus on the vertical niche

Imagine you’re interested in selling a set of how-to guides as e-books on a particular topic. A few years back you could throw up a Web site & find an audience after an intensive amount of SEO. That might also have involved blogging on your topic. Now it’s a lot tougher to find that audience due to the proliferation of social networks and an over abundance of choices among consumers. People rely less on searching the net and more on recommendations that stream in through social networks. Okay, so you add a social network campaign to your mix by making use of Twitter, Facebook, & even Pinterest. But is any of that giving a reason for your targeted audience to come to your Web site?

Your site’s bounce rate is going to be really high if all you’re doing is selling something to somebody. You need to show that you see others as more than just a person whose money you want to take. You need to be part of the community to which you’re selling. A way of doing that in your niche is by offering a service to that community. If you want people to be interested in you, then you need to be interested in what they’re doing and the common interests that you share. Make your Web site not a long sales page on the value of your e-books but put the effort into developing a community around the topic that interests you. Transform your site into a quality destination for a community of interest. Focus on the vertical niche.

Forming a channel on the Internet

The other day I asked,”What is keeping new networks and channels from forming on the Internet?” The answer, of course, is nothing. The answer, of course, is that there already are a significant number of channels on the Internet. We often just don’t think of them that way yet.

The old-time TV set had a circular dial (remember those?) that you twisted to view the available channels. In my early childhood we only had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, & PBS) plus one fuzzy station (channel 17 whatever that was) that always had something interesting.

With cable TV came an expansion of channels but it was (and still is) packaged as a set of choices. With the Internet the options are wide open. Certainly there are dominant brands. We all know about YouTube. And there’s Netflix for traditional movie/TV watching. But how does a newcomer compete with that? Everybody offering anything on the Internet has the same problem: finding an audience.

People have an overwhelming amount of choices. People need a reason to view what you’re offering. What is it that you’re offering that matches their interest?

See where this is all going? Vertical niches. Many TV channels are built around a vertical niche: a cooking channel, a travel channel, a sports channel, a history channel, etc.

A vertical niche is all about creating a community, giving people a reason to not only visit but also to participate. More on this topic soon.

TV networks will never go for it…so what?

There’s a belief that Internet TV is hampered by the unwillingness of TV networks to license content. The critical question: why does Internet TV need traditional TV programming? As a greater supply of video-based content is built up on the net that is outside of traditional broadcast television then the need for those TV networks is less and less. HBO rose to prominence on the back of cable TV. What is keeping new networks and channels from forming on the Internet? The space for industry observers to monitor is what’s happening on the Internet already and not what’s occurring with traditional TV networks.

Something’s cooking in Cupertino

Apple observer John Gruber points out that trusted sources are not always accurate…at least, the trust sources of others….but Gruber does state: “Something big is going on with Apple TV in Cupertino, but it’s still being cooked.”

Meanwhile, Apple’s AirPlay technology offers ways to  present apps on iOS touch devices while utilizing a TV display connected with the existing Apple TV. Building on that Brightcove recently announced its App Cloud Dual-Screen Solution for Apple TV, which is part of its App Cloud SDK: a way of building apps with HTML5 and JavaScript. Of course, if you’re building just for iPhone or iPad then you’ll just want to use iOS.

Via TUAW