For many American college kids, backpacking through Europe is a rite of passage. Before the Internet, expensive telephone calls and picking up letters at the local American Express office were the only way to keep in touch with family and friends at home.
Today cybercafes allow the kinder to email home from anywhere. Ryan Byrne formed Globe Drifters in September, 1999, to make it even easier for student travelers to keep in touch.
Byrne, an avid traveler himself, was appalled at the lack of services for the budget traveler, a lack he experienced first hand when he lived in Europe while studying at the London School of Economics. Byrne defines this market as people ages 18 to 26 who travel abroad for an extended period of time. They stay at hotels with the lowest rates, typically between $15 and $30 a night. Typically they leave home with no itinerary, instead making their traveling decisions at the spur of the moment.
“This is a very misunderstood market,” says Byrne. “The stereotype is backpackers have no money and don’t expect service. That is not the case.” Instead, Byrne says this group is generally college students who grew up in high income families. Often a six week jaunt to Europe can cost upwards of $4,000. They are also highly educated and very Internet savvy.
Byrne originally formed the Santa Monica, California company to create an on-line guidebook for this market. The site, called gorillaguide.com, currently has over 2,000 video clips of restaurants, tourist sites, and hotels.
Easy Email For Travelers
While assembling a list of hostels in Europe and Australia, Byrne noticed a few hostels had installed an Internet terminal in the lobby. And the cyber cafes were packed. He realized his market, used to going on-line every day, was suffering withdrawal pains.
However, he knew connection costs are high in Europe. He felt if he could add email to his site, student travelers could research their next stop and email home, too. This would save them time and money because they wouldn’t have to surf to another site for the email function.
Byrne decided at the outset he didn’t want to monkey with email. Instead, he chose to outsource the email function. “We didn’t want to tackle the technical side of the email client,” says Byrne. “Also, we couldn’t provide the number of services that a supplier could.” He began a search to find an outsourcing supplier who could provide email services that would integrate seamlessly into his site.
The search took five months. He selected Commtouch of Santa Clara, California, because its programmers were willing to customize the interface. This was critical in his decision because gorrillaguide.com has a specific feel that he was adamant about preserving. “Commtouch worked with us to make this possible instead of building a brick wall between us,” says Byrne. “We looked hard to find someone who would do things our way.”
Now a student traveling in Europe can go to the gorillaguide.com site and sign up for a Commtouch email account. The software allows the traveler to fill in his POP account information and user name to retrieve email from his home email server as well as send messages to Mom. After the traveler sets up the email account, subsequent log-ons are automatic.
Feature Rich Email Accounts
Travelers have up to six megabytes of email space and can establish up to three different email accounts. Users can also change the color of the background and the type font, important capabilities for this Net savvy generation. They can configure their email program so they can be notified by fax, pager or voice mail whenever they receive an email message.
Commtouch’s program also has a Web-based calendar function. It allows users to access events and tasks. It will automatically update recurring events. The notification process will send the user notes by email, pager or ICQ, if they have an ICQ number.
The contact manager is an on-line address book. Users can create and manage groups so Grandma only gets some, not all of the messages. Customers can download their address books from other email programs into this one so they don’t have to recreate the wheel.
The site will soon have a language portion that allows non-English speaking users to send email on gorillaguide.com. And users can write a letter in English and let the system translate it into French when emailing a pal in Paris.
Commtouch is currently working on a video email service called Talkway. The company is installing about 400 cameras in hostels throughout Europe so gorillaguide.com customers can sit in front a camera and then email the video clip home. Gorillaguide.com will be the first Commtouch customer to use Talkway.
Commtouch and gorrillaguide.com have agreed to share advertising revenues. Every time a gorillaguide.com user opts into an emailing list that is offered on the site, the opt-in list sponsor pays a fee. The buyer and supplier are sharing this revenue.
During this busy summer traveling season the kids are going ape over gorrillaguide.com’s email service. Currently it has 10,000 users. It certainly has been a great journey for Byrne.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Outsourcing an email function allowed the buyer to put a very sophisticated system on its site that it could never develop itself.
- The outsourcing provider can develop new services that the buyer needs.
- Buyers and suppliers can share opt-in advertising revenues.