Journey of a Startup - Serai: Building, sustaining a marketplace


In this series, we cover the journey of an entrepreneur from an idea to reality and the framework in which decisions are made. Adit Parekh of Blume Ventures, an angel fund, shares the story of Serai, an app which integrates various social platforms to help create a travel journal. In his first instalment, he talked about how the idea was conceptualized.

In this final piece, he delves deeper into sustaining the marketplace through the use of both the mobile and desktop by allowing a user to use the application for both his social and personal use.

One of the decisions we had to make was on the level of application features we should provide based on the audience we were catering to. Both the professional user (photographers) and the average traveller should be able to use the application seamlessly.

Thus we provided ‘wow’ features that one can delve into if one is a devil for details. The application allows for users to decide the level of detail in creating & recording their trips - the web app was feature rich, while the mobile app was very light.

As people could use the app for a variety of occasions –weddings, nature photography, long trips with friends or just a simple birthday party - we wanted to ensure that the app does not limit the use case.

Customer Acquisition:

With the Cost per loyal user for iOS being around $1.86, just relying on the app marketplace would be a disaster. Seeding the community with archived trips and then allowing these users to use the app (when in beta) to create live trips was one way to increase the app downloads.

Innovative use of travel forums, conferences and contests is what the company plans to do something like 500px. Referrals will be a huge hook for increasing the organic downloads.

There is a good article by everpix on their acquisition cost reduction strategy

Keeping the user engaged is quite daunting in the age of instant gratification, and we had some thoughts around ensuring a high NPS (net promoter score).

Having a mix of notifications, album collaboration, contextual sharing and depth for access to the atomic unit was essential in both the mobile and web app.

Simple things like smart / automatic tagging with an exhaustive ontology of keywords would allow for search based on subject, time and region. This would help in increasing the feedback mechanism of likes, views, comments and followers.

Interesting categories and Listing Priority by the 500px is provided below:

Views, likes and favorites all contribute to a photo’s rating or ‘Pulse,” a rating system based on time and popularity.

A pulse starts at 0 and can reach a maximum of 100. A photo gets 27 pulse points for its first like or favor. Each additional like or favor increases the pulse less and less. Once a photo gets in the 90s each additional vote or favor may only be worth 0.1 pulse points or less! A photo is considered “Upcoming” if it receives a pulse of about 75 and “Popular” once it reaches about 80.

  1. Upcoming and fresh is time based
  2. Popular is points based
  3. Should have Curators Choice

Metrics to Track:

The end outcome is to ensure that the key metrics that the company tracks are growing.

Some common and some specific metrics that the company plans to track with a few goals in mind are:

  • Number of collaborative journals will be our yardstick to decide how successful the application is. The idea is to make the application a one stop shop for photo organization, archiving and thus sharing.

The other metrics that we plan to track are:

  • Number of users with an ideal seed (before the app) of 1K users.
  • Number of trips per user based on usage was around 3 in the last 3 months, thus assuming one per month.
  • Number of pictures per trip, based on usage we see around 100, which we believe will be trimmed down, since users will pick and choose what they want to showcase.

The sharing / engagement metric is the number of people viewing the trip. Public sharing, assumption is around 100 per trip while private sharing the assumption is around 15.

Humans are social by nature and with the digital revolution making us more highly connected but lonelier as people, we need the app to be positioned such that people can share and relish their cherished moments.

Referrals will only be successful if the user gets value from the receiver and visa versa. There is a good article by Airbnb, where new users were enticed by following features: Wish List, Referral, Neighborhoods, References, Blog and Listing Pages, Their referral techniques increased their guest bookings by 13%, Hosts booking by 145%, Referral sent by 264% which increased their referral as users and guest by 500%.

Serai has some interesting genuine hooks that would make people want to get their first degree of acquaintances to collaborate while still remain connected with their second degree of acquaintances by sharing.

For instance, there is an option where users can create a wish list of places to visit along with a list of places that have already been visited & then invite people for those trips. Users can also follow a prolific user’s travelogues. We are also planning to allow people who are in a particular city to comment on somebody’s travel to that city.

Some interesting thoughts on contextually related recommendations based on phone book /FB & Contact List along with showing the value of the share (either in $$ or Credit).

The cyclic conversion funnel is something that we plan to track on a continual basis:

Metrics: Based on Good/Better & Best

Would like to thank the team at Serai - @rohitmuppidi, @vipulshaily, @nitinhayaran

About the author

Adit is a Principal at Blume Ventures who focuses on mobile and SaaS space. He tweets at @aditparekh