David Armstrong, CEO @ Travel Pirates

Successfully Acquiring Traffic Through the Power of Social Media

The recipe to go viral on social media and pay for only 7% of your traffic.

David Armstrong possesses a long-standing general management background in trade, tech and travel, managing cross-functional teams & multi-cultural companies of various sizes up to 800 FTEs. He is the CEO of TravelPirates, a unique travel deal and inspiration source that publishes bargain hotels, flights and package trips which are researched daily and compiled from numerous other websites.

David’s core competencies include a profound expertise in general management, e-commerce, tech & product, marketing & sales, distinct analytical/strategical skills and sense for opportunities, a team-oriented leader with strong communication and social skills, established practice in customer care and CRM, great innovational strength developing and aligning business models, as well as products with USPs, and an extensive experience and achievements in managing change and turn-around situations

 

Interactive Transcript




Nearsoft: Hello
everybody. Welcome again
to DojoLIVE. I'm connecting with tech experts like
you. For those of you who may not know me, my name
is Kim Landis and I'm here from one of Nearsoft's
offices in Mexico.

Joining
me is fellow teammate Tullio
in Los Angeles as
well as Carlos Ponce from Mexico City.

Today we'll be talking with
David Armstrong
who is CEO of Travel
Pirates. Hey David!

David: Hi.

Nearsoft: I understand you are originally from the United Kingdom,
where are you today?

David: I'm in
San Francisco right now visiting
the I4 travel conference.

Nearsoft: Perfect.
I'm going to have to apologize for making you stay up
so late.

David: Not at all.

Nearsoft: So David, as the CEO of Travel
Pirates, why don't you tell us a bit more about you as well as
Travel Pirates
itself?

David: So
I'm actually not from the United Kingdom
but we are based there with one of our
entities. I hope I would have a
different accent if I were from the UK.

I'm actually a Canadian but
I was born in the US and I
grew up in Germany.
So I have an unpredictable
accent.

I worked
in travel the last 20+
years
throughout different verticals.
And was brought on board
to the Holiday Pirates group which is based in
Europe, headquartered
in Berlin, Germany.

I
also head the US entity which is the
Travel Pirates corporation based in Boston.

What we
do is we have
210 people
globally searching for
awesome value for money travel deals and publish them on
social media, predominately Facebook but
others as well.
And generate traffic through
social media. That's what we do in a nutshell.

Nearsoft: Thank you. That actually brings us back to your chosen topic of the
day of successfully acquiring traffic
through the power of social media.

You say that you have a
recipe for going viral and there
is a specific number of paying for only 7% of
your traffic.

So 7%
is a funny number to me. We are used
to seeing 5%, 10%, 25%. Can we talk about that
7%? And also what is that
recipe?

David: So
7% is an actual
number. If we were to say 5% or
10%, it would be
a guess I would say. So 7% is the
actual figure that
we had last year in 2017.

We never
spend $1
in Google ads so
far. We only spend money on ads on
social media mainly
Facebook as I said. And the amount
of traffic we pay for is only
7% globally.

Everything else is organic. So we get
organic traffic from social media but also from
Google.
People see and are in touch with our brands.

By
focusing on social media, we
have managed to become the largest travel
brand on social media globally.
We are nearly hitting 10,000,000 Facebook
fans in a
few weeks I would suppose.

That's what we do.

Nearsoft: Congratulations.

So what was the root of this
idea, this 'Aha'? Was it something that happened organically
as well? Or was it something that was calculated and
thought out?

David: It wasn't calculated at
all.

The idea was to search
for awesome travel deals and share them on
social media. There was no plan to
build a real business
out of it. It was more
like sharing or not having to
repeat over and over again to friends and
family how to find a good deal. Can you
help me find a deal etc?

Everyone who is in the travel space knows those questions.
So
it was finding
awesome airfare or hotel deals or
packages
and posting them
on the
website and the Facebook page.
And telling everyone just look it
up there, if you want information, just look it
up and do it
yourself.

Nearsoft: So there is this real
deep passion I guess of travel for you.

So you were born in
Canada, grew up in Germany.
And you work in
the United States, so travel
is in your heart of what you
do.

David: Absolutely.

I could
go even further. My mother is from Argentina and
my father is of British decent.

Nearsoft: You are a Heinz
57.

David: I know I
don't look like a blend but I
am quite a blend
inside.

It's all about travel, different
cultures, different languages and mentalities.

It's
about addressing
especially
the millenial traveler out
there. Most travel
brands and established travel businesses
struggle in addressing millenials because
the brands
that have email newsletters and so on,
millenials do not subscribe to email newsletters.
They don't even read emails anymore.

So how do you
address them? How do you reach them?

What we do
is we help traditional
suppliers, OTAs and so
on,
show their offers if they are really
good. And spread them
out to the millenials in the different countries that we
serve.

We operate in ten different
countries.
So that's nine European and the
US.

We are closely looking
towards Asia and South America as
next steps. But the US is
our focus right now.

Nearsoft: So
when it comes to millenials and this new generation,
does a lot of this approach have to do with the
spontaneity of the generation?
So
without having the tendency of planning
ahead?

I think in the past it was very
clear cut, you get your X amount of vacation
days and you utilize them and whatever
else. Is that part of the reason why you find that social
media is so successful?

David: Partly but it's not
all about being
flexible and spontaneous,
being able to hop on an
awesome deal next week or having
to decide right now within five minutes
to book a flight
leaving in November or December.

Not many
people can make these decisions right
away. There is a
lot of planning with family partners and so
on.

So people that are
flexible can do that. But the majority is not.

It's
more about
inspiration. It's
more about trusting
brands. Millenials
learn
to become reluctant towards traditional
advertising. Like
brands trying to sell them
something.

That's our approach. What
we do is we
find [inaudible] from other suppliers or
OTAs and just say we
found this, if you are interested go and look at it
and if not, then don't.

It's not a pushy
sales approach. It's check this out if you want
and if not, then don't.

That gives
trust in our brand
and we
only publish or push things that are really
good offers.

[inaudible] were to promote and show something
that is not really good, people would
say why are you showing this?

We
always have to have this high standards of
quality
to keep people's attention but to also constantly
build
the trust and have them
come back to us
and search for
the [inaudible] inspired
from offers
that we were pushing.

Nearsoft: Hey David, I have a
question. Can you walk
us through your business model? Are you selling
directly to consumers or you are licensing the platform to the OTA and
representing them?

How does it work?

David: We are not a typical online travel
player that's out there. We
partner up with OTAs, with airlines,
with tour operators, with all
kinds of suppliers such as hotels and so on. Also
with meta search.

Wherever
we find a very
good value for money deal, we
publish it.
That can also be found
with an OTA that we don't have an agreement in
place but it's such a good deal,
we just have to push it out to our
followers and fans.

Of course we try to
pull in commercial agreements with
OTAs and other suppliers.
So we base them on a rev share model
or
even a media model depending on what works best for
that supplier.

But
the
credo is to never publish something that
we wouldn't
book ourselves. So it has to be really good
content, that's the key to
the success on social media,
to be authentic and really having people trust
your brand and
not showing that we have this in stock, we
want to sell it, come and
book it.

That's not our approach.

Nearsoft: So from user experience,
who owns that? Once you expose the offer, it has good
content and it's interesting and someone is interested and they
want to go and book it, do you maintain the experience or do
you hand it over to the agency
that's offering that?

How does that work today?

David: Today it's different in several markets.
Predominately
today we hand over the customer to
the partner,
so it's a referral from our
platform to the OTA or to the airline
and so on.

In markets like
Germany and the UK, we have partly
begun to convert business on our
website directly through
technical solutions. And that's the clear path that
we are going to go in most
countries
for the largest verticals.

We of course will never have
a 100% solution in
place as that's not feasible. But
70 - 30, or 80 - 20
solution should be
fine to achieve
to at some point hold the user experience in our hands and convert on our
website.

Nearsoft: In those markets
where you are beginning to test
managing the user experience yourself,
I'm asking this question because I would wonder
how well it converts once I get a great exposure to an
amazing deal and then sometimes you end up on a site that's not
exactly representative
of the experience I just had.

Are you getting better conversion in those markets?
Can you talk about that?

David: So we don't talk about
conversion rates.
But that's clear.

We have clearly
much better conversion
if we don't refer to somewhere
else.

It's
nearly double.

Nearsoft: Tell
us a little about your
company's culture, your people, what are some of your guiding principles?
We are curious to learn from companies
like yourself what you are doing that is
working.

Nearsoft: [inaudible] 10 different countries and
10 different languages.

David: Absolutely.

10 countries and I think
it's like 7 languages.
Luckily enough,
the UK and the US is almost the same
language.

Nearsoft: Almost.
I read the Harry Potter books and there were a couple
times where I had to use context because I don't know what that
means.

David: It's like a 95% match I would say.
And that applies also
to Germany, Austria and
the German speaking part of Switzerland
for example.

So
there are 7 languages we serve.

The majority of our
staff is based in Berlin
in Germany. In
total we are almost
220 employees.
And 170 are
based in Berlin.
We do have 35 different
nationalities in our
organization. It's
very diverse.

So
the key thing is to have this open mindedness
of different
cultures, religions and so
on in the company serving those
different markets.

But it's key to have the people
in place that really understand the different markets.
So we couldn't
market and serve
Spain if we
hadn't had
people in Spain running
an office in Seville. Or in France running an office in Lyon.

We
do however have some Spanish and
French colleagues working from the headquarters
for some of the functions in the markets. And that
also applies to the UK and to other markets.

We have
a two way strategy, we are
focused on localization
wherever it's necessary and makes sense. And then we have
whatever we can
centralize in our headquarters.. centralized.. talking
about our culture, I would claim that we
are not a typical
company. We are way out of
the start-up phase, we are over six
years old now. We never took venture
capital or external funds
from the beginning.

So we are privately held and
profitable.
That's a big part
of the culture is that we aren't
driven by having
to tell stories
about our success to investors or to anyone.
We
are successful and we are doing it for
ourselves and for our staff.

Many companies claim
that they don't have that many hierarchies
and so on and so forth,
we do have hierarchies
and you need them but the things is we don't really
live along them.

Anyone can approach
me and I
really encourage everyone to speak up and
tell me if they
have an idea or if this and that is going
wrong here or why something
is so.

We really try
to involve the entire crew wherever they sit
in every decision that we make
in the company. And have everyone
understand why we are doing this and not
that.

So people are really aligned
and stand behind every decision we
take and every route we
go.

Nearsoft: I have two more questions and I'll pass it back to Kim
for more.

I'm curious about two
things,
there is obviously massive amounts of data and information that
you have to curate and distill to actually make intelligent
decisions on what to offer the consumer.
How are you doing that? What scheme are you using to do that? Are
you using any data science or AI or
things of that nature?

The
second question is how are you extracting
that information from the likes of Facebook,
Twitter or Instagram and so forth and what are some of the
challenges that you are facing there?

David: Personalization and
relevance are topics that
really are on our
agenda. We have a lot of data, we gather a lot of
data. We have access to a lot of data.
Working with social media platforms
such as Facebook,
people share data with
us which is
totally transparent. And we can do something with that
data.

We gather a lot of data through
how users use our
website, what they do etc.

Our
challenge
is to identify
the
users and
work out patterns because
almost 80% of our
traffic is mobile.
So people using our app or on the
mobile device, that lays in the nature of
social media and most people check Facebook on
their smartphone. So whenever
they come across a great deal, they just click on it
and they land on it
within the app or on the
mobile page.

So
at some point they come back
to the desktop to book.
And I think
most companies have this
friction in
understanding who was
the mobile user
that later on converted
on the desktop.

So these are
things that we are trying to figure out
more and more.

Then also not only personalize and
make push messages more
relevant to our users, we don't only communicate
on Facebook or
show in the news feed, we also push
to our over 10,000,000 app
downloads. And
we
have another 1,000,000 What'sApp
subscribers which is a big thing in Europe at
least.

We are looking
into ways of using other instant
messaging
platforms to communicate with our followers and
fans.

There are many ways we communicate.
And
if you are one person, we don't
want to spam you with the same information on all of
these different devices and
channels. We want you to tell us
you'd prefer to get an
email if that's the case.
Or a push notification on the app or on
Facebook or whatever so you don't get
spam.

These are the things that we are looking at
right now.

Nearsoft: Congratulations on all your success.

Someone once told
me Argentinians are
Italians who speak Spanish but think they are
British.

David: That's
true.

I think
even at some point the
Argentines had to
vote whether or not Spanish or Italian
would become the
official language. And it almost
was Italian.

At some point they had so many
Italians. And my mother has Spanish and
Italian ancestry.

Nearsoft: So do I.

Kim back to you.

Nearsoft: Thank you.

So
you mentioned Facebook, Twitter
and WhatsApp and WhatsApp is a big deal in Mexico where we are
but not so much in the United States I've
noticed.

So
with social media are you finding that it is successfully
trending more in one direction?

Whenever somebody says social media, Facebook
is the first thing that comes to mind. Are they those little
nuggets of potential and how are you
identifying those?

David: Facebook is our
main source
of
inspiration and getting in contact
with people and also how
we generate
new fans because
the mechanics of Facebook are really
great because if we manage to
post great content,
then it's obviously liked and shared.

That's how we
organically grow our
user base on Facebook.

But
when it gets to people wanting to not miss
out on a good deal, get
personalized
things pushed at the
time that they
are there, it's better to have one to one communication.

So having
a push message on
WhatsApp or perhaps also on
Facebook Messenger
if the person wants that.
Or an email or
the app.

The one on one
communication is very important
to many of our
clients but
they
have to be sure we don't send them anything that they wouldn't be
interested in.

As soon as they understand it's random
stuff and it's a
lot of stuff that is not really relevant to me,
then they would unsubscribe or not pay attention
anymore.

You have to find a very good balance
and be careful.

Nearsoft: So I heard you say the
word inspiration, inspiring again and
again and you are all about that user experience. So to
give us an idea of how you are able to achieve that, I believe you
mentioned 210 employees and
growing, what's that division look like?

There
is a huge undertaking in all of this
and filtering and managing and programming.

Would you say
your split to developers, to UX, to
direct customer relations,
what does it look like to have to manage something of this
magnitude?

David: Roughly
I can tell you
in product and in IT, we
have around 60
people. So developers and product people
including UI, UX and so
on.

Social media is
around
25 - 30. Marketing another
20 that includes online
marketing, CRM and all of
these kinds of things.

Then a great part of our operations are
content
people, our editors,
travel deal hunters.
In
normal sized countries we have 4 to
5 editors and in larger countries
maybe 6 to 8. And
they really drive the
content.

We've
developed software that helps them
find
good fares.
We have software that goes and
compares within different
sources and tries to find anomalies
in airfares. Then the system pops that up to the
editor and says I found this, do
you think it's a good deal?

If the editor says
it's a good deal, then they grab that
and they push an
article out on
social media.

The editorial
team is about
75 people
altogether serving these ten
markets.

Nearsoft: I've
heard many times someone says I want the kind of job where I get paid to go
shopping. So if someone wants to get paid to go
shopping for deals, this is the company to go work
for.

Nearsoft: I like that.
I am surprised
by the large portion of editors that you have.

I like where you have this marriage of
technology with human science. I think we
still aren't at that place where a machine or software is
able to determine for us or create that
inspiration like you say.

So the software helps
weed it out and your editors
make the ultimate decision and
add that [inaudible] to what you are looking
for.

David: Right. Your followers on
Facebook and on other channels
would really notice and
feel that
it's not
pushed by a human and it's not curated
content. For that specific deal, putting in experience
that this editor
might've had traveling to
that destination.

People
just notice that it would be
from a bot or a
system and they wouldn't pay that much attention. It wouldn't be that
authentic.

That's what a lot of traditional travel companies
do not understand because when it comes
to servicing people or creating content, they want to automatize everything and
have
everything super
streamlined and automated.
But that's not how you are
successful in social media.

Nearsoft: That's
interesting. When I was younger,
we used to go to a travel agency to book a trip whether it was a
business trip or a vacation. It was a
very personalized concierge
high touch service.

Are you saying what people really want
is the ease of use of technology but
still the personalized
human touch experience? Is that's
what is missing that you are taking care of
right here?

David: In a nutshell
it's actually trust.

The first
steps in this trust was
review platforms like Trip Advisor where people
just want to be sure to
book something
that many people
have rated good
or very good t
not have a bad experience when you end up traveling
there.

And in the end it's
about trust. Back in the days when
you had your travel agent, you normally
went to the person you knew because you had a
good experience the last time.
And you knew he or she wouldn't
sell you something just to sell something because
the person knows if
it's not a good experience you will come
in person to the travel agency and sit
in front of him or her and
tell her something.

So with OTAs,
things changed because
it's more or less anonymous. And if you have a
bad experience, you can
write an email or
you can write a
letter or whatever.
But the trust is not that big
because you cannot really make a person
accountable for something that went
wrong. It's just an OTA or an
airline but it's not a person
that you really have a relationship
with.

We are something
in between because social media really helps us
and
our fans to have
this transparency
that builds trust in the
end.

Because if we
say go on this and
it's something bad or if it's a
bad supplier or if there is a
bad experience, we will hear from that on
Facebook. And everyone will be able to read
it as it's very transparent.

In
the end that's a form
of making people accountable for
something
and us having
the pressure of not
selling or promoting something that will end up
with a bad comment on social media
for us.

Nearsoft: David we are
coming down to the end of our 30 minutes today.
Of course if you have anything else that you'd like to
mention, please do so.

My only question was
I really like this idea about the inspiration, the community, the
trust, the relationship that
Travel
Pirates is building with its followers. How is it with
so many people onboard, 70 - 80
editors, that you keep
this one voice?

Can I go to
any one of those entities and feel like
this is Travel Pirates? Or do you change that
voice in accordance to the different countries and
cultures?

Is my question
clear? [inaudible] Travel
Pirates [inaudible]

David: Absolutely. That's a
buzz word but we do have a DNA in
the company. I think we
do a good job in preserving
it and transporting it to every new
pirate that joins the crew.

But it's hard work definitely.
But
of course every market,
every country, people have a
different mentality. So
of course the
Spanish maybe use different wording slightly than
perhaps
the Italians or the Germans because it's just
appropriate in Spain but it wouldn't be
in Germany.

So in order to be
authentic in that market, you need the people
that know the market and
the mother tongue and can handle
it.

The
core DNA of how we
approach and how
we do things is the same, we try to
preserve that and we put a lot of effort in that as well.

Nearsoft: How has that done? You have core
values that you focus on and from [inaudible] going
back to your hiring of
the people that you choose to work with as well as the companies that you choose to
work with?

How do you protect that DNA? What are
your few key ingredients
to creating that?

David: It
really starts with the hiring process. We are
very transparent
on our websites but also on
LinkedIn for example about
our values and who we are
and what we do.

You can find a lot of
posts
as
a candidate and really get the sense
of who we are and how we do
things.

Of course our HR department
really tries to bring
that across as well
to understand if the candidate is someone that really fits with the team and our
values.

Then it's
about integrating the people into
the teams
and showing them in practice
how we come about
our job, how we
live along these values.

It's not a
religion or
so.
We
put our users, our followers
in the focus and that's how the business
started.

It didn't start with a business
plan. It was never meant to be a business like
this and to earn money
with it. It
was putting good content and by
doing that, traffic
and revenue and profits
more or less came on their own.

That's what
we tried to transport and
don't be too business focused. Focus on what
you think, what we
think our users want to see and what's
good content. And
the business is actually
second.

Nearsoft: I think that's a
very amazing note to end
our conversation today.

It seems to be a common thread amongst
some of the most impacting businesses
that are out there.

Did you have anything else to share with
us? Tullio, any other questions
today?

I know we are coming up to the end of our time
today.

Nearsoft: No questions here. Thanks for joining us. I'm
glad you exist. I'm excited for
the software.

David: Thank you for
having me. It was great.

Nearsoft: Our pleasure.

David,
if people want to know more about you or Travel
Pirates, what's the best way
to find that information?

David: First
of all, download our app or
like us on Facebook
right away. Then
you'll see the awesome deals in
your news feed or download the
app whenever you want. Or visit the website
of course.

Nearsoft: That's both
Android and iOS I'm assuming?

David: Absolutely.

Nearsoft: So Travel
Pirates for the United States. Holiday Pirates for
Europe based?

David: Holiday Pirates for the UK and then we have
local
brands in the other countries.

Nearsoft: I'm
assuming following one can help you find the others as
well?

David: Right.

Nearsoft: Well David, it has been a
pleasure.

Carlos, I
believe DojoLIVE is taking a break for a few weeks, is that
correct?

Nearsoft: Yes. I'm
going to be personally away from this for
a couple of weeks. We are going to be
restructuring a few things and I'll keep you posted on that.

David,
just so that you know,
if you or
your audience or anyone who is
interested in Travel Pirates would like to
know more, you can find this
information right on the DojoLIVE website which is
Dojo.Nearsoft.com

All the
information to contact David
or Travel Pirates is going to be right
there. Just keep an eye on that and also look for
this interview right on the interviews
menu which is very
intuitive.

The
only thing left for me to do is
to thank you and send you a big thank
you for having been with us today.

I'll
send you shortly the link to this
interview with all the updated information.

I
wish you great
success and hopefully you are going to
be meeting with some of our teammates in person.

David: Thanks. It was a
pleasure.

Nearsoft: Take care everyone
until


X

For a written transcript copy of this interview please fill in the information below:

Thanks! we will be in touch soon

Close
Focus Mode

Contact Request

Close

We will call you right away. All information is kept private