December 27, 2015
“So Jeffery, Emma has that great travel startup concept that I mentioned the other day. You still ok to share it?” Alex said as he opened another bottle of wine. I quickly finished what remained of the last bottle before he poured me another glass and got up to do the same for Charlie and Jeffery. I hadn’t expected such a boozy and relaxed lunch, and was still swimming from the size of the loft and the view of the city. I’d stalked Charlie after getting her card on the balcony, I figured I’d send her an email, and was actually shocked when she replied – people in this city talk a lot of shit at night, of which, a large chunk doesn’t carry over to the next day.
It didn’t take long to find out that she had been one of the first twenty people at Google, Charlie was basically one of the most successful women in tech.
The invitation had been to talk more about my concept under the premise that he had a friend who may be interested. This had led to one of the most panicked weeks of my life, pulling in favors and advice in order to have a decent presentation and some initial branding ideas ready. It didn’t take long to find out that she had been one of the first twenty people at Google, Charlie was basically one of the most successful women in tech. Her and Alex now invested in loads of companies, most recently some ticket startup based in Brooklyn. They seemed so at peace with each other, comfortable in this perfectly designed Tribeca sanctuary.
He can’t have been more than forty but he had already sold one company to Microsoft and had been an early investor in Tumblr.
As we finished the light pasta lunch it inched closer to the point I would have to eventually pitch, it was a lot more informal then I had anticipated and my thirty slide deck was serious overkill, none the less here I was.
After the first glass of wine I had excused myself and googled Jeffery in the bathroom. He was dressed in shorts, boat shoes and a oxford button down, only his watch gave away a hint of serious money. He can’t have been more than forty but he had already sold one company to Microsoft and had been an early investor in Tumblr.
I smiled, gave a little laugh, then wondered if I sounded fake.
“It’s just early days,” I said, “but it is something I’m passionate about, I love the travel industry, and there is a gap in the luxury experience side of things.”
As she sat down I admired her legs and beautifully manicured toes visible through the glass. It was cool that she was in bare feet, but it did make me feel way overdressed in heels.
Charlie returned to the table, placing a cheese board close to me, as she sat down I admired her legs and beautifully manicured toes visible through the glass. It was cool that she was in bare feet, but it did make me feel way overdressed in heels. Jeffery nodded away, “Sounds interesting,” he said, “let’s hear some more.” And with that it was my cue to fuck this game changing opportunity right up.
“So we have seen this huge rise in unique experiences, innovative boutique hotels are killing it, Airbnb has enabled people to list these beautifully designed personal spaces. People want bragging rights to something that isn’t widely available.”
“They want something they can Instagram.” Jeffery said.
“Exactly, the background for their selfie. But beyond just the place to stay, it’s the experience, the story.” I paused for impact as I had practiced with Viv, “I want to be the online destination for super luxury experiences, stuff you couldn’t even dream of doing, stuff that only money and connections can make happen. Let’s say you want to live with a famous artist in Italy, paint alongside them and then exhibit together, that could be available on the site. The most unique and lavish accommodation, the most amazing people, the rarest objects and most delicious food, packaged together to make it super easy for someone to spend on a story that will make anyone they meet envious. It could be something you plan as a holiday or something available locally within an hour’s notice.”
They fed me with questions about how it would work, my words were spewing out of my mouth and I made myself stop. Chill. Relax, don’t show you’re too eager.
I continued to talk about the changing market for travel and the desire for luxury inventory, referencing some travel agents I had talked to. They fed me with questions about how it would work, my words were spewing out of my mouth and I made myself stop. Chill. Relax, don’t show you’re too eager.
“Cool, right?” Charlie said to the guys.
“Absolutely,” Jeffery said, “Sounds like a lot of fun as well. Reminds me of a friend of mine back in LA, he used to have a little event consultancy helping people throw these crazy parties, some of the stuff that he would put together….”
“And what about competition? Anyone else doing this sort of thing?” Alex said.
“Not really, some current travel agents are starting to tailor more luxury packages, and a bunch of other services are being designed for people to list and sell their own services as travel guides, some people are focusing on the adventure tourism side but there is no marketplace for these extreme luxury experiences.”
“Interesting, you might find the travel agents are more of a sales channel then competition, they will often sell anything where there is a commission. I know some people with large tourism and hotel holdings that might be interested in something like this.”
“It’s definitely where things are going,” Charlie said, “So you are still at the record label, when do you plan to kick this off? What would it take you to get it up and running? Your minimal viable product would be a nice site and a decent range of inventory right? At least enough to capture the first mover advantage.”
“Yes, but I guess it’s…”
As if sensing my shellshock Alex explained that this was the first time I had met with potential funders, giving me a second to get a few thoughts in line.
“I have looked into using a kind of plug and play ecommerce tool and my tech lead has said we should be able to get the core functionality we need without spending too much at this stage, but it takes time to establish inventory.” My ‘tech lead’ – the dude who looked after the East & Low site, he ran me through a bunch of different platforms for running your own web marketplace.”
“If you want to do this right, you’ll need to do it full time and get a team around you.” Charlie said.
“Yes,” said Jeffery,” but it sounds like you could test the market without needing to go all out and hire a bunch of people. You almost wouldn’t even need a complex ecommerce system, just line up a bunch of inventory and use the site as a portfolio, do some highly targeted marketing and you have a proof of concept.”
“Yeah,” I said, “If I could get to the right people. I’ve scoped out an online marketing strategy looking for the most effective way to reach them.”
“You might also be better off going from word of mouth initially. Have you put much thought to how much seed money you will need? If you don’t mind me asking.”
I glanced at Alex, observing me closely as she took a sip.
“I actually have some slides here but I was looking at around the 600k mark with a functioning site, lining up all the experiences and then marketing them. That’s to launch and then operate for 18 months.”
I also took a second to have a drink, the talk of money made me notice a touch of sweat between the middle of my shoulder bones, sticking the silk to my back. I followed the wine with a drink of water.
“I think it’s cool, I’d love to chat more. Perhaps you could do a presentation for my partners as well?” Jeffery said.
“Count us in on that one.” Charlie added, smiling, leaning forward and crossing her hands on the table.
“You know what might help. We have this mini conference with a bunch of VC firms next month, part of the council trying to drive more tech investment in New York. What about putting on some kind of unique event for us? We could give you a budget. Why pitch what you are selling, when you can show them?”
I was now digesting that this opportunity could be contingent on my ability to blow the minds of some very wealthy individuals – a challenged I welcomed, but one that had the ability to drill panic right through me, exposing me for a fraud.
While I was still getting over the fact that I was having serious conversation with these people, I was now digesting that this opportunity could be contingent on my ability to blow the minds of some very wealthy individuals – a challenged I welcomed, but one that had the ability to drill panic right through me, exposing me for a fraud.
Whatever, Just because they were massively successful, doesn’t mean they knew the secret framework to having a good time. Give me your accomplished, your wealthy, your connected influencers craving to experience something new. I’ll show them something you don’t get in the valley.