I live with Tom for a few months and I can say Tom is definitely passionate about Adioso and fighting for survival any way he can. To me, Fenn and Tom are two of the pioneers in the startup scene in Australia. I know that there were people in Australia doing startups before then, but for the current generation of new people doing startups they are an inspiration and the people we look up to.
When someone talks about YC in Australia, you can be sure that the name Adioso isn't too far off. I love using Adioso, even before I met Tom & Fenn. It such a cool idea and I still use it as my first point of call for looking for flights. If only they could keep adding more flights! I'm glad that they have gone back to open ended text search - that is what made them unique and easy to use.
As a user, you sometimes don't know where you want to go, BUT you want to go somewhere. You might know the origin destination and possibly the end destination, which makes Adioso great to use.
I also had an interview with an incubator in the US, and who do you turn to? The guys with the experience. So I asked Fenn for help which he was more than happy to assist with and he gave me some invaluable advice to prep me.
I'm sure these tough little cockroaches just won't die easily and they can figure it out.
1) Your tagline on the bottom of the homepage tells me more about your service than the copy with the "Have the best vacations humanly possible". Lists are boring, especially without visuals. Because the homepage is the most important page, I'd focus on only getting them to try search first then find out about all the other features you offer.
2) As many have mentioned, the video thing is really annoying. I click on the video to expect something to watch, but it's blank. If you don't have a video, don't put a placeholder image there yet.
3) Where do you want to go and when? default text in the searchbar. The less the user needs to type, the better. It's also MUCH more convenient for the user to select the When from a drop down list because they usually have pretty precise dates they want to travel. Because there's this extra option, I didn't know what to type at first. I had to search 3 times to realize that you do City, State and Country.
4) Because your site doesn't have any visuals, your featured lists actually take most of my attention. Those should never take away from your search bar which is your call to action.
I'm no expert on design, but I'm just listing out what I've learned the past year (my homepage for a past startup was very similar to what you have now).
I took a few minutes to make you a sample homepage mockup that incorporates a lot of the stuff I mentioned above. Design is a really subjective matter; everyone will think differently of the mockup below, so it's up to you. Just my two cents.
The people who make it say that persistence is key.
But what if you're climbing the wrong mountain? How/when do you know that what you need most is change?
For me personally, I've changed things when my heart just isn't in it for the long haul anymore. When I don't love it anymore. (And usually, when I realize I don't love it anymore, I often realize -- sometimes not until much later -- that I never did.)
It's been clear to me when I do love something, or someone. So that's what I focus on.
Take the offer, heal up and lick your wounds for a few years, figure out what you did wrong...and remind yourself and everyone else why you truly are God's gift to hacking by utterly killing it at your new company.
Then try again.
The principle, "Exits are harder than entries," comes up in a lot of different places.
Hindsight bias distorts the picture. What could be more obvious than that, say, the Twitter guys were right to keep making Twitter even when nobody else cared. But whenever we think that way, we're retroactively assuming the power to predict the future. Then we find ourselves in some real situation that matters and that superpower doesn't work and we're totally stumped. (Edit: actually almost all our vocabulary around "persistence" assumes hindsight. When something turns out to have worked, you displayed plucky perseverance. When it fails, you were a stubborn fool. In real time, these qualities are not so easy to tell apart! Maybe they're the same thing sometimes.)
So what do you do? It's a hard, deep question. I agree with stevenj. Consult the heart.
Clearly there are tons of people excited about the idea of Adioso. The problem is that the technology doesn't deliver. No matter how ridiculous of a schedule I'm willing to put up with, I still can't get from NYC to Cambodia and back for $300 or whatever. And it's not even clear that that will ever be possible no matter how much time they put into developing it.
Now if they were able to figure out a way to charter planes that would otherwise be flying empty and get them filled to capacity so that I actually could go to some random country in SouthEast asia for a few hundred bucks then that would be awesome. But that simply hasn't happened yet.
The parallel to hill climbing algorithms: it serves as an heuristic to determine if you growth rate will be enough to reach product market fit.
Thank you for writing this. The euphoric prose that plagues TC and ilk can often do a real disservice to those trying to build the seemingly impossible, and your honesty and humility are refreshing.
But after reading this blog post and checking out their site, the only three words on my mind are "Video coming soon..."
"Video coming soon..." ??
Edit: Oh wait there is a video box on their main page which just shows the above text.
Buy plane tickets at the best possible time
1) Search for your destination
2) Subscribe for deal alerts
3) Book your ticket to your destination
Furthermore, why limit yourself to plane tickets? Why not combine a few more services like hotels and car rentals? This opens up the possibility of booking entire vacations all through one portal.
Thanks for the great read. I wish you guys the best of luck.
edit: Some features I would love:
-'I need baggage' and 'I'm paying with a credit card' checkboxes which would add the relevant fees to the fares. From an Australian standpoint, sometimes the difference between a Tiger fare and a Virgin one is far less significant once you add fees.
-A 'get me here by [X]AM/PM' option, or the ability to sort flights by time a-la Hipmunk so that if I'm looking for a connecting flight which is different to the recommended one, it's easier to find.
With our startup we have had multiple of those near-death experiences and currently are navigating a difficult situation. So it was good to read how others handle this. This just gave me a big boost. Thanks for sharing and the openness.
I think you should try out your site on some random everyday folk, pretending like you're not hugely emotionally invested in it, and watch, listen, and ask lots of questions. Just go to a cafe or pub, and ask nicely, people are often kind. Even if you don't get any golden information, it's amazing to see what you do through someone elses eyes.
I'll be brave, reveal what an idiot I am, and honestly explain my "man on the street" experience:
* I follow the link on your blog post
* land page
* What is this? "have the best vacations..." hmmm, maybe holiday booker (meaning flights + hotels)
* 1. blah 2. blah blah 3. blah, video. whatever, no time, I'm ignoring
* oooh, I like this search box. I type: "berlin on sunday" (true, I do in fact want to buy a flight to Berlin on Sunday)
* results page
* I get "Birmingham to Berlin" results
* I happen to have my browser window small. All I can see is something for typing in an email. I don't want to type in an email or read the text about why I should type in my email. Also I'm in London not Birmingham. I wanted something better than a box to type my email into. I think, "this is rubbish", and go back to the blog post.
* After finishing blog post. I think "maybe if I say I'm in London it'll work better". So I go to front page, and scout round for something to say I'm in London. Find it, and use it.
* results page again
* I get "London to Berlin" results
* I heard someone say something about a graph in the blog comments, so I scroll down
* Ooooooh, nice graph! Wow, I really like this.
* Now what?! Another scout around, and I figure out to scroll down some more to view the flight details
* Top item is a cheap and correctly timed flight. I am extremely pleased and impressed.
* I find myself opening up another tab to go to that airline's page directly. It was done automatically. I'm not sure why, I think it's because I don't quite trust your site enough and wanted to go to a "proper" site to do the actual buying.
So some clear problems:
* I totally didn't notice/get the following flights idea
* Small UI niggles, and I guess maybe general look of the site, led to a general feeling of distrust
* You communicated some important stuff using text (following feature), and I didn't read any of it
* You're UI required me to know to scroll down
* You quickly asked for an email. But at that point I hadn't experienced any useful functionality, didn't trust you, or understand what you would do with it.
It could be of great aide to founders who haven't made it yet.
This may have been a case of reaching the wrong audience, lots of people in the startup scene and lots of travel related people but nowhere near enough people actually looking to take valentines day trips.
I think as in many startups there has been some aversion to pushing the sales stuff. We hear so much about nailing the user experience and not making out products low quality and spammy. As many other articles have also said though build something awesome and people will come may work for some but isn't the reality to everyone, especially in the crowded travel niche.
Great read, really can't wait for part 2.
The obvious take away from this post and something I have already experienced first hand, is the difficulty of raising and networking this far away from the valley. Locally we just don't have the investor or talent pools to draw on and finding people with the right attitude for a startup is very difficult.
Thanks for the epic candid post Tom and I am looking forward to the next instalment!
We can't get you directly to China just yet.
Might want to put a prominent (disclosed) affiliate link there instead of letting me down. Or just simply say "But wait, there's more! I can get you to country X nearby.
Perhaps consider using different geoip databases for different locales, I might be in the minority but you thought I was 940 miles away, in the USA.
1) What took 2 years to build? I don't understand special technology behind this site.
2) What's the value proposition to a user here? The data isn't even accurate and the site warns me of outdated prices.
3) How do you guys come up with trips? Are those manually maintained?
4) How would you make money in the end if all booking would happen by a third party?
Adioso quietly launched to Australian discount travellers in early 2008 which had a simple interface and the ability to search over broad terms.
It was initially a side-project but they ended up pursuing it further - and got into YC W'09 program. They had a major global launch in 2010.
With regards to the technology behind the site, Adioso use NLP rather than the traditional stuff you find on other travel type sites entering the origin dates etc in forms, with Adioso, you can enter stuff like "Europe In July" etc.
They also have a routing engine which links flights from low-cost airlines to create long-haul itineraries to help their users save $$$.
Essentially the value proposition for Adioso is to:
- allow travellers with flexible dates & destinations to see where they can go/look for alternatives they never may have thought of
- Use low-cost airlines to make long-haul flights - saving you $$$
With regards to their revenue model - even if it happens on a third party site - they can still take referral fees from both airlines and accomodation.
Similarly, I believe for all of these travel search engines etc that there is the potential to develop a new method for airlines to advertise their services and acquire new customers - there would also be some referal fees (and potentially an upfront fee) for this as well.
How many search engines for the same task will a significant userbase ultimately tolerate? Of course most of the current players will have to exit at some point. And I bet the winners will mainly win on UI because in this case it's complex and the prices seem pretty close.
Following deals, date range and wide area search are very nice touches but then if I want to search the traditional way, helps to remember a bunch of other search engines and figure out noticeably different UIs more suited for the task, like Hipmunk.
And is it really surprising the Adioso userbase remains small with a novel therefore hard to explain value proposition and an unfinished landing page which might not explain it? Also the UI needs bugfixing and polish. Otherwise a few more marketing attempts that clearly communicate the novel searching concept and that it allows you to find the lowest price should lead to slightly higher numbers.
Strikes close to home, and so well written.
That said, when I read this I immediately thought of this bit of PG's LISP advocacy:
There's clearly no explicit delineation of human drama here, b/c, obviously, it's not intended as such: it's a technical briefing (a really masterful one). One can only guess what trial by fire--if any--there was behind the scenes.
Especially if you're approaching burnout, a purely-technical role in a "safe" place (where there's great technology, but the business itself is largely derisked, at least on a short timescale) is probably going to be a good way to recover.
Especially if you're covered in preference, for founders, it's probably relatively better to go to the best new role vs. maximizing sale price in a talent acquisition but going to a less interesting company or position.
Spend more effort getting the right people involved and less effort on coding. Talk to the guys below who have good landing page and virality suggestions. You dont necessarily need one of them fulltime, but you do necessarily need to listen and internalize what they're saying. Be generous with equity to solve this problem.
Might confuse people in Spanish speaking markets.
I even thought that they possibly based the name on the Spanish word "adios" (you say "bye" when you leave, right?).
I do get the play on words with the word adios. But after saying it aloud my wife asked me if I was saying Odioso instead.
I actually say bye rather than adios. :)
Here are some good points about quitting talked in Freakonomics: "The Upside of Quitting" http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radi...
You need a viral component. That "You aren't following these results" thing should be a Facebook app (or maybe a Twitter bot?), not an email.
Email wasn't "back." It had never ceased to be important.