When Jason Karas joined TravelPost, the team had more than $2 million in the bank from a previous round of fundraising. But the product wasn’t going anywhere, and the team soon began to focus on an idea Karas had that would eventually become Trover. The service — which includes an app and website — has the lofty ambition of bringing like-minded people together around travel, culture and photography.
With 130,000 monthly users, Trover’s numbers aren’t enormous, but the community is engaged and growing. And for now that’s just fine for Karas. He spoke with Street Fight recently about the company’s recent fundraise, how to eventually monetize the power of passion, and the strengths of a tiny team.
Why are you focusing on engagement instead of sheer numbers? While 130,000 isn’t small, it does seem like local discovery apps work better at scale.
It’s about quality more than quantity. We are successfully engaging people that like to tell stories with photos. We are in the content-generation phase of our life. The number of discoveries that have been posted has grown 100% last month. The number of followers on our network grew by 100% last month. Building relationships across these “photo junkies” as we call them is really important to us. Building out the content is really important.
We have really a specific concept: it’s beautiful, it’s informative. If you look at our content you will see high-descriptive images that have interesting and unique things you can do. They are geo-located. They have neat write-ups. They get social feedback. It takes time to build a quality content base. Getting a lot of liquidity from people who don’t create great content is not going to get us there. We’ll be another run of the mill social sharing service. We feel like we’re doing the hard work now.
We’ve built this really, really nice layer of content that people will increasingly emulate as we scale, but it takes time. It took Yelp two or three years to generate a million pieces of content. We’re on the same path. We want people who are passionate about creating content. We don’t believe that scale for scale’s sake is going to get us anywhere. Slow growth will lead to a better set of content over time. We are a pretty elite, unique group and they aren’t everywhere. We have to find them and engage with them. If they like the beach, they don’t want to meet people who aren’t as passionate as they are. They want to meet people just like them.
Phase two is a different story. When we have the layer of content, then Trover becomes more interesting not just as a publishing platform for these photojournalists, but as a platform for people to consume content, too. We don’t feel like we are there yet. It’s not a great consumption platform for the mass market. It’s a great consumption platform if you like to read Travel & Leisure or if you like to look at local arts magazines, but we don’t have the quantity for it to be a mass-market tool to navigate your world. We have to go through these phases.
Is there a timetable for phrase two?
I wouldn’t say that we have a timetable. We have some theories about the level of density we need to have. Seattle is closest to that density. New York, Paris, and London are also cities where we have good density. We don’t know what the level of density is, but we do know that our pure content consumers are going to start to return and we’re going to start seeing more repeat visits. At that point, we’ll decide that we have a consumer product.
I read that you have a team of six. Is that still the case? What are the advantages of a small team?
We are still six people, although we are probably going to hire an additional engineer soon. That will likely be the extent of our growth. We like being really focused. We like taking our time. The small team really forces us to be judicious in how we add, subtract, and change features. So far, the formula has worked well. We’ve been able to get to launch, scale it up, and make the tweaks we think are most valuable. We are sticking with this kind of scale for now. We like it. We’re really lean.
You raised $2.5 million in July. What are you planning to use it for?
We’re going to make it go for awhile. We’re focused on phase one. We have really gotten to know what the photojournalists really want, which is to meet other people like themselves. We are really focused on building out features that allow people to connect on a local topic or a local place of interest. We want to make sure our product connects those people. We are really investing in the match-making ability of our community. The other area is just to constantly improve the tools that we provide for the photojournalist-type people. The content should be beautiful. It should be easy. We’ve built a platform that’s ideal for travel and local storytelling: the geo aspects of it, the image aspects of it, the way we have built the mosaic. We want the product to be simpler and more pleasing.
How are you planning to monetize Trover?
The monetization has never been a big concern. For one, people are already asking us for our content, especially the travel companies. Destination pages for major online travel sites are pretty plastic-y and unengaging. More and more, people are looking for UGC and that Instagram feel that really speak to authentic fashion. We feel that as we acquire this content and build it with our community, we’re going to become a much more interesting place to go shopping for your next outing, whether it’s picking a restaurant to go to tonight or picking a place to go for your next vacation. We’re building the foundation of a totally different, visual, authentic, and personalized shopping experience for outings.
Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.