Several months ago, I met Steven Cohn at a First Growth Venture Network event. Steven is a serial entrepreneur who sold his last startup to Living Social. He’s now hard at work on his next venture, Irrive.com, which he hopes will transform the way travel experiences are shared amongst family and friends.
Irrive recently raised $1.5m in funding. Below is an interview with Steven, where he shares his vision for Irrive and also talks about the experience of selling his first startup to Living Social.
Steven, can you tell us a little about your last startup and its sale to LivingSocial?
I started a company called BuyYourFriendADrink. The name kind of says it all. It was a product that allowed you to buy a real drink in a bar for a friend. Once we launched, liquor and beer companies reached out to us, and wanted to buy drinks in bulk. So we pivoted our model. In 2008, we signed up with LivingSocial as a partner. LivingSocial marketed our free drink promotions to their massive consumer base. Not many people remember what LivingSocial did before their Daily Deals product, but they had a group of viral apps on Facebook. At one point they were the #1 FaceBook app, but were not monetizing well. Tim O’Shaughnessy and I had a similar vision…to bring online social interactions to local retailers. Our partnership turned into an acquisition in March 2009.
Once inside LivingSocial, the team started iterating again. We experimented with Daily Deals and used the BuyYourFriendADrink sales team to sign up the deals. We even used the BuyYourFriendADrink email list, since at the time LivingSocial didn’t have any emails (they had 100 million people using their facebook app, but zero emails). It was a different model. But once we tried it, it was clear to everyone that Daily Deals was going to work and scale faster than focusing solely on drinks.
Can you share some insights with first time entrepreneurs about what it’s like selling a startup to LivingSocial?
As mentioned, our sale started out as a partnership, so we had a good feeling about each other. When we sold to LivingSocial, I think they only had about 14 employees. Last I read, they have over 5,000 employees. So it is a different company now. But in 2009, LivingSocial was a very entrepreneurial environment. We were willing to experiment and fail. The team moved very fast. As a matter of fact, I think (not 100% positive) that Aaron Batalion wrote the code for the first Daily Deals product over a weekend. Personally speaking, selling your company is a wonderful life event. I think it is akin to watching your child go off to college. You are proud and happy, yet also a little nervous and a little sad. But reality quickly hits, and you realise that you still have to execute in the newly formed company.
How did you come up with the idea for irrive?
It started with a different idea that I had been iterating on for a few years. The initial idea was called SeatNeighbor, an app where you can see the LinkedIn profile of people on your flight. I think that is a good idea, but not a good business.
The core of that idea however, can be a good business. The fundamental question I was trying to solve is that in a time when we are flooded with content, why is it still so hard to answer basic travel questions – which of my friends have been to Paris? and what did they do there?
There are many services launching to help people plan their travel, how is yours different? Great question. Most of the social travel products out there are planning products — Irrive is not. We’re focused on a different problem — how does a traveller organise and share all of her travel content. People create a lot of content when they travel (pictures, notes, check-ins, tweets, itineraries, videos, etc). travellers organise and share this content using multiple services. But this fragmented way of capturing your travel isn’t a great method of sharing with friends.
Think of an offline analogy. When a friend asks, “how was your trip?” You talk about cool locations, great restaurants and that amazing sunset. You add in context, like weather or flight delays or people you bumped into. You tell the story of your trip. That’s Irrive’s goal…to make it easy to share the story of your trip. We accomplish this through the TripPage, which automatically organizes all of a traveller’s content (pictures, check-ins, tweets, notes, itineraries, etc.) into a visual story. TripPages add in context automatically and update in real time so friends can follow along as you travel or after you get home.
One of Irrive’s key differentiators is that we leverage the services people already love, rather than ask them to switch to a new product. The TripPage sources content from a traveller’s favourite social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Instagram) and adds context that these feed-based platforms do not. We say, “keep doing what you love doing and we’ll transform your content into a beautiful story.”
When are you launching?
We launched our private beta last week. So far the feedback has been very positive, but there is certainly a lot of work ahead of us. Please go to irrive.com to sign up, we would love to hear your thoughts!
Who are your investors?
We are not disclosing our investors right now. But it is a great group of Tier 1 VCs and angels.
What’s next for Irrive?
We are focused on two things. First and foremost, improving the product. Listening to our users and seeing how they use our product. Then adding (or removing) features that make it a better experience. Second, we have a number of distribution partnerships that will be launching soon that will help online communities share their travel with friends.