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How to create unique user experiences and be a rock star startup

Sponsor: Thanks to Microsoft BizSpark, a Microsoft program for startups, for supporting Silicon Prairie News. The program will be providing posts each month throughout 2013.

About the authorThis post is authored by Sonal Manea Microsoft BizSpark Startup Technologist based in Chicago.


I have been working with Chicago-based entrepreneur Nihal Advani for a while now. He is one of the most energetic and positive people I know. Nihal is the founder and chief executive officer of startup Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish and I wanted to give you his insider perspective on the process of launching a digital platform as a young entrepreneur. In exploring the product itself, you can see how Georama strives to create a unique user experience and shines through!

Allowing travelers to plan, book and share their trips, Georama conveniently allows you to explore destinations, create itineraries and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. After inputting your needs, interests and must-haves, Georama sorts through your preferences to find destinations that are a fit. From there, you can plan your itinerary, make bookings and share your trip all in one place.

A year since its public debut, Georama, based in Chicago’s co-working hub, 1871, unveiled a Windows 8 application earlier this month.

Creating unique user experiences

Having seen hundreds of startup apps over the past few months and shipped enterprise products such as Windows 8, Bing and Office 2007, I have a soft spot for high-quality user experiences. Here’s what’s unique:

1. Content-based design

The Windows 8 Georama app has an organic and easy-to-digest flow, which depends on the user’s interactions. The user is greeted with a rich visual landscape of views from all over the world. Content takes center stage! There is an opportunity to explore and also dive into specifics as needed.

2. Do more with less

After I click on the tile that says “Chicago” on the image above, a rich display of neatly organized information presents itself.

Hotels include the hotel star rating on the tile, hostels show user review ratings and attractions are beautifully lined up. As I swipe through, the edges of images peek out revealing there’s more to view and explore.

3. Fast and Fluid

Planning a trip is easy and seamless. The user interface adapts to my inputs and transforms to display relevant information as needed.

The Georama website takes you through a similar flow and also lets you view cities on a map.

Creating unique experiences is a craft and comes from a great support system as well as expertise. Nihal began his professional career as a search media strategist for Microsoft in 2007. Climbing the ranks of the world’s largest maker of software, he was named display program manager in 2010. In this role, he managed the Microsoft Media Network business in the East and Central U.S. regions and served as a liaison between the product and field teams. He built and managed tools for analysis, benchmarking and optimization of search and display advertising campaigns. His wealth of experience and passion for travel served as a fitting impetus to launch his first venture, Georama, in 2012. Here are the five things that Nihal shares to consider when launching a startup and what makes his company work well:

  1. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to fundraise: Fundraising is not an easy job; it takes time and persistence (apart from great traction, team and product). Bootstrap your company for as long as you can and do not expect institutional funds unless you have revenue, especially if you are in the Midwest.
  2. It’s much harder to scale B2C than you might plan for: Try to have a B2B angle in at least a component of your business (Georama has a licensing arm; some implementations of its technology will be featured on other sites later this fall). Having a B2B side might help bring in revenue that could take longer going the B2C route.
  3. Make SEO a priority: Be sure to focus on SEO from the beginning to leverage organic growth and reduce dependence on paid marketing campaigns.
  4. Don’t be afraid of remote teams: The digital age allows for you to utilize the best resources for your project, no matter what the location. Don’t be afraid of this! In addition to a small team in Chicago, Georama has a team of ten in India.
  5. Build partnerships from the get go: Identify companies you can partner with for content, product and more and start building those relationships early. Georama has built partnerships with more than 20 companies, which helps separate itself from the competition.

About Georama

Discover the best vacation destination for your needs with Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish. Get personalized recommendations based on your travel dates, interests and more in order to plan, book and share your trip—all through one convenient site. Explore destinations, create itineraries and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. Georama received the Best Presenter Award in the technology category of the New York Venture Summit in June 2013 and Nihal Advani was selected as one of the “Top 35 under 35” in the travel industry at the PhoCusWright conference in November 2012. For more information, visit www.georama.com. 

This blog post has been authored by our sponsor, Microsoft BizSpark. 

About the author: Sonal Mane is a startup technologist based in Chicago. She writes at Windows of Words and you can connect with her on Twitter, @sonalpmane. Her team creates a platform for startups to gain visibility and technology support and also is looking for the next high-potential startup to nurture longer term. A variety of events form the backbone of Microsoft’s program for entrepreneurs, Windows Startup challenge, Accelerator for Windows Azure, supporting the 500 Startups Demo Day, Startup Weekend and DevCamps. The program also is engaged in financial funding and providing great mentors all over the country. 37,000 fans on Facebook and a Twitter following of 27,000 is a testament to the growing support entrepreneurs and stellar startups are receiving from Microsoft.

About our sponsor: BizSpark is Microsoft’s startup-specific program designed to get software and server products directly in the hands of people building technology companies. Joining the BizSpark program also gets you access to professional technical and business support as well as the option for visibility of your products into new markets; best of all it’s available for no fees.

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