Think about the last time you booked a trip online. It probably involved wading through paragraph after paragraph of information, from user reviews on booking sites to prices on comparison sites to promotional content on online city guides. Maybe you could sort results by whether you were traveling alone, with your family, or for business—anything more specific, though, and you were on your own. When did planning a trip become so exhausting you needed to take another vacation just to recover?
It’s 2012, and people are traveling all over the world. Savvy travelers need more than just a good deal on a rental car and a few tourist attractions to catch their eye. They want to sleep under the stars on a safari, to sunbathe on a hidden beach in Thailand, and to dine on the best tapas in Barcelona. Serving it up to them is Wanderfly, a travel recommendation platform that helps people discover and share travel experiences, socially and visually.
Created in 2009 by a group of four friends who met at the University of Pennsylvania, Wanderfly is “a travel recommendation platform for people to discover and share travel recommendations,” says Christy Liu, director of marketing and one of Wanderfly’s co-founders. The business generates revenue from brand partnerships, commissions, and affiliate fees from flight and hotel websites. Although you can make bookings through the site, at the moment the focus is on recommendations.
To use Wanderfly, users sign in with a Facebook or Google account. When users first sign up, they’re prompted to choose a profile, such as foodie traveler, family traveler, or romantic traveler. Then, the more active a person is on the site, the more tailored the content becomes. “The recommendations that you see are truly personalized to you. What you see is going to be pretty different from recommendations your friend sees,” says Liu.
Wanderfly.com’s first public launch was in October 2010. In March 2012 the company officially launched a new version of their site with a few upgrades. Wanderfly 1.0 was based just around discovering new cities, and the content was curated by Wanderfly employees and select brand partners. In the 2.0 version, the site took things a step further. Not only can users discover new cities, but they can also discover new things to do in those cities, from restaurants, nightclubs, and museums, to kayaking trips and out-of-the-way beaches. The site’s recommendation engine uses dozens of algorithms that generate new suggestions depending on what you click on and the search choices you make, catering new content to your previous preferences.
The other big change is that now users can make their own recommendations. Wanderfly, which is based in Brooklyn, employs nine people, so incorporating user-generated content into their website is expected to help them scale more easily. “In the prior version it was Wanderfly [employees] and certain partners of ours inputting the content, almost like more of a traditional publishing model. Today, it’s open to everybody,” says Liu. “It has evolved tremendously. To some users, it’s almost a brand new site,” says Liu.
Part of working for an internet start-up means that you have to be comfortable with change, so when hiring, Liu and her team look for people with that trait. “There are a lot of inherent risks in joining a start-up, and moreover, there are constant evolutions and iterations every single day. What you’re doing one day may become irrelevant the next day. We need people that can adapt to that on the spot and not be precious about the effort or work that they put in, because all that matters is that we keep moving forward,” she says.
Liu admits that in the past the company has made some wrong decisions in terms of hiring. “Some of the biggest mistakes that we’ve made have been in terms of hiring and evaluating people, and not knowing the right time to part ways with somebody,” she says. “We can’t waste any time here. As a start-up we have limited funds, we have limited time to prove ourselves in the market. We need the best people here all the time and can’t afford any dead weight.”
In the first weekend after Wanderfly 2.0 was launched, recommendations for 300 cities were added, bringing the total number of cities in their database to 522. Compare that to a traditional travel guide, like Fodor’s—which according to Liu has only covered 300 cities in its entire history—and the fact that Wanderfly’s information is dynamic and constantly changing and updating. “I think we could evolve into the most extensive crowd-source social travel guide out there,” she says. “I also think that we could have the most relevant and most personalized content available. I think we are a much better TripAdvisor and I think that’s a model that is ready to be disrupted.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.