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Why travel startup Travefy didn’t pivot (and probably never will)

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Lincoln-based Travefy started in 2012 as a travel planning product marketed directly to users. They later figured out their biggest potential customers could be large travel companies. Response? They didn’t change a thing.

“I don’t know if it makes us super interesting or super not-interesting,” said David Chait, co-founder of Travefy. “There has never been the word ‘pivot’ here. There’s never been a fundamental change.”

That sense of clear direction, however, is a bit misleading. The real story behind Travefy is their relentless habit of testing, testing, and more testing.

“We are data nuts,” said Chait. “We’re always looking back at the data and our feedback.”

Travefy helps groups organize trips from idea to execution. From that experience the Travefy team has learned about everything from bachelor party trends to group psychology.

Those insights provide a unique value to major companies in the travel industry.

“We really understand our users because we are engaged with the full service of planning a trip,” said Chait. “Whereas if you’re Expedia, all you know is that your user was debating between the Ramada and the Days Inn.”

Everything starts with user engagement

When David Chait and Chris Davis started Travefy, their focus was on one thing: building a core product and pushing it to enough users to return meaningful data. From that experience they figured out what features engaged users and what features did not.

“We got a lot of feedback about what wasn’t cool and what needed to be fixed. And that’s what you want,” said Chait. “But at a statistically significant size we learned this works.”

That early experimentation gave them the confidence to say they had a viable product.

“We walked away [from that] and, said, ‘OK, we’ve learned,’” said Chait. “We saw that people were engaged, they were using it, and they saw value in it.”

Celebrating success and embracing failure

Chait and Davis knew from the beginning that distribution would be an issue for them. While they were improving their product, they also tested various distribution channels, starting with PPC, SEO, and content marketing.

“Content is actually one of our biggest wins,” said Chait.

The key for Travefy was to find what channels were a good fit, how big the market potential was for each, and what the cost-benefit analysis was for each channel.

Not all the channels worked.

For example, Travefy was having success partnering with brands, offering pre-loaded itineraries. They expected that working with conferences would be a great opportunity.

They tried it out with a few conferences, and the results were disappointing.

“The numbers we anemic. It just didn’t take off,” said Chait. “People weren’t thinking about conferences in the way we thought. People only thought about conferences in the moment they were registering, and we just weren’t set up for that at the time.”

They quickly shelved that project, but this year they will be working again with conferences, having used that past failure to improve their product.

“That was a colossal failure,” said Chait. “But only in the moment.”

Ready to leverage

According to Chait, Travefy is now at the place where they are able to leverage the right distribution channels effectively, even as they continue to add features to the consumer-side product.

“The beauty is that a lot of companies, when they think about distribution channels, have to actually change what they are doing,” said Chait. “For us, nothing we do changes on our product side. We change on our sales and marketing side.”

Switching from SEO marketing to sitting down with major travel companies has its learning curve. Chait discovered that the value proposition is very different for each user along the line.

“For an independent consumer the value proposition is that organizing trips is a pain. That never changes,” said Chait. “But as you move up the chain to, say, a large travel management company, dealing with customers is like herding cats. [They want to know] ‘Is there a great collaborative tool that I can use to help me manage that?’”

“Then you get to the Expedias of the world,” said Chait. “They are a hyper-commoditized business where they are spending over a billion dollars in PPC a year just to remain somewhat competitive. [They want to know] ‘What are ways that I can more deeply engage my customers, increase sales conversions, and get ancillary revenues?’”

Travefy has figured out that by investing in the delight of their end-users they can find potential customers and partners across a variety of channels.

“It’s about the end user,” said Chait. “But the point is everybody is targeting that end user.”

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  • David D. Chait

    Thanks so much to Ryan and SPN for helping share our story!

  • Rick Knudtson

    Brand and site lookin’ great Levi! Nice work.

    • Levi Nelson

      Well thanks Rick 🙂 We’ve got a great team building a pretty fantastic product.

      • Rick Knudtson

        Yeah, Travefy is a fun one to watch! Keep up the awesome work.

  • Thanks for the coverage SPN! Keep up the awesome work!

  • Sara Mullens

    Very impressive what the Travefy team has accomplished!