Groupon, LivingSocial and Gilt Groupe have proven that daily deals are here to stay.
The latest startup to enter the flash sale scene is Jetsetter. It launched in September of 2009 and already has 2 million users.
The NYC-based startup is the brainchild of Gilt Groupe* and offers amazing vacation packages, from surf and yoga retreats in Mexico to seven nights at a private Greek villa, for 30-40% off.
We spoke with CEO Drew Patterson about how he’s snagging members, why the world needs another discount site, and how his role as a founding member of Kayak has helped him run Jetsetter.
*Disclosure: Gilt Groupe’s CEO is cofounder and chairman of Business Insider.
Business Insider: How did Jetsetter get two million users in less than two years? Has it been largely thanks to Gilt?
Drew Patterson: Certainly that was a big piece of the equation. I think the other part of it was people frankly liked it and they shared it with their friends. They had experiences on Jetsetter that were satisfying and that’s encouraged consumers to [spread the word].
The way the business is structured, Gilt’s incubated this business. They’ve provided the capital to get us off the ground; they provided us with support and, most importantly, credibility and a big audience.
Jetsetter’s offers are presented to Gilt members on a regular basis and in an integrated experience [but we’re separate companies]. They recently did a destination vacation sale where they had a couple different travel looks and included a Jetsetter offering. It was a beach vacation, places in the Caribbean, with safaris, sunglasses, and gear to buy.
Within that broad lifestyle that Gilt represents, travel is a pretty interesting component. We’ve gotten a lot of folks who have signed up for Jetsetter on that basis.
How many of your members are not Gilt members?
How many sales has Jetsetter had to date and how fast is your membership growing?
We’ve sold 176,000 room nights via 800 partners in over 70 countries. I’d say we’re growing at a very healthy clip.
Is Jetsetter just a niche, luxury Groupon?
I’m not sure that Groupon and luxury come into the same sentence all that frequently. It’s nice that folks want to compare us to Groupon; they’ve been a huge success and if someone offered me $6 billion for my company, I’d be excited.
Both of us have elements that are similar, both of us are in the space making e-commerce exciting.
Jetsetter launched in the middle of the recession when people were (and still are) cancelling vacations. But you are a discount site, which is the type of thing people love in a down economy. Has Jetsetter been hurt or helped by the recession?
I think the economy in some ways plays into what we’re doing. It creates a desire for savings, a sense of value consciousness, that wasn’t true in more flush times. But we think we’re building a business that will be exciting across the course of the cycle in any economic climate.
You were a member of Kayak’s founding team. What did you take away from that experience and how are you applying it to Jetsetter’s strategy?
For me, Kayak was a foundational kind of experience. I learned a tremendous amount from Steve Hafner and Paul English; hopefully those are things we’ve been able to put into practice at Jetsetter.
For example, I learned it’s important to find great engineers, great folks with a real sensibility about product and who are incredibly creative. You need to allow them to do their thing and exercise their vision.
I also now have a real appreciation for [excellent] customer service. I remember Paul English at Kayak saying, “We’re going to answer every customer email within an hour and it’s going to be answered by someone in the organisation. We’re not going to outsource this.” At the time I remember thinking, that’s crazy.
Nobody expects that from [most companies]. If you send Google an email, you don’t expect them to respond to you within 2 hours, but Paul had a real passion for that. Here at Jetsetter we take the same approach.
We have a team of twelve folks who sit in our offices. They’re largely from the hospitality industry and they serve as advocates for our customers. The other day, a woman wrote in saying she just discovered she had cancer. One of our reps was able to rebook the trip around her chemotherapy so she still could go and enjoy it.
Little things like that make a real difference in our relationship with our members and bring home our promise. That was something I learned from Paul.
What can we expect from Jetsetter in the future?
We’re early on in our development, but we see a much broader set of needs than the flash sale product alone can serve. That’s why we launched a 24/7 product [where you can access any deals that have run on Jetsetter every day]. We think mobile and new platforms can be powerful tools for how we connect with our audience as well.
We think consumers around the world are going to be interested in what Jetsetter has to offer. Today we already get about 10% of our revenue from customers outside of the U.S. and that’s without a whole lot of focus. We think by trying to build an offering that will serve consumers in other parts of the world, we can grow more quickly there.
Why does the world need Jetsetter?
A lot of what’s happened in travel has been fairly commodity-oriented; we try to celebrate things that are particular and things that are different; that seems to be something that resonates.
Secondly, affluent consumers don’t have great answers in the travel sector; flash sales have been a great way to get folks’ attention.
I think what makes Jetsetter’s idea work is that we verify hotels and only pick things that are going to be of the standard our members expect [no trip is advertised without a Jetsetter correspondent having physically visited first and given their stamp of approval].
We live in a world with an overwhelming amount of choices. Having an advocate like Jetsetter helps consumers make informed decisions, and it really makes a difference. That coupled with great customer service seems to be a winning formula.