Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hello! My name is Benjamin Wallsten, and I am the CEO and Cofounder of Flyright. My Cofounder and CPO, Ty Hopp, are creating the first true travel platform that does something different than just managing bookings or keeping track of a travel itinerary.
While those things are important (and, one day, we'll add our own variation of some of these features), we believe there's more to international travel than just booking your trip. Flyright is about the tools and services you need at every step of the travel experience, from pre-trip planning to on-the-ground, offline functionality so you can be confident you have the info you need at all times.
We now support visa information to and from 195 passport origin countries so no matter where you're from you'll always be able to find out whether or not you need a visa!
We support health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currency calculators (especially handy when you're shopping in the country), timezone references (so you always know what time it is in your origin timezone), and metro maps for 90+ international cities.
More than anything, we've made all of this available to users offline! Once they "Save a Trip" that critical info is with them for the entire trip!
Our goal is to further refine our services and to make Flyright the first travel platform that focuses on travelers' needs while they're actually exploring the cities they're traveling to.
What motivated you to get started with? how did you come up with the idea?
The idea was brought to us by mutual friends (who were all from different countries) who were trying to figure out who would need a visa if they decided to go visit Mongolia.
After a series of chats, they asked us to build them something that they could use in China (where they were studying at the time) and for small countries like their own.
What went into building the initial product?
Both co-founders are self-taught developers. We learned everything we needed to know by simply trying over and over again. (It was incredibly difficult and frustrating at times.) The first product only supported passports from one country: the USA.
It also didn't include any of the offline features we now support, so we've definitely expanded our own expertise and goals!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Simply describing the platform we envision. The idea that something so useful could be offline AND be available to anyone, no matter their passport, is really inspiring to our potential users.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business was tough. We didn't know how we could monetize information like this, and we didn't want to include things like ads in our products. The hardest part was coming up with a compelling business model that wouldn't negatively impact our promise to users: no ads, just information.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Our primary business model involves the deployment of a highly requested API granting developers and other travel companies access to our travel data (things like visa and embassy information and health requirements are the most frequently requested items). That product is currently under development, and we anticipate rollout of the first version at the start of the new year.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and the obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?
The biggest challenge we've faced and continue to face is acquiring new users. Travel isn't like other industries. It happens far less often than picture sharing or social media interactions, and so we have to convince people they'll want to have this when they're trip 6 months from now, for example, comes around.
Now that we're supporting passports from nearly every country in the world, the newer challenge is acquiring users from technologically underserved communities (like Africa, South America, etc.).
These communities have become so used to the idea of being left out of technological innovations that they're no longer really looking for them.
Our challenge is to find a way to get into these communities and let them know we're paying attention to their needs too. Our goals for the future are twofold:
1) Become the dominant information and data providers for all travel-related verticals for both consumers (via the Flyright platform) and industry (via the forthcoming Flyright API)
2) Break into the underserved communities around the world and start to shape future feature updates based on their needs.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We've received some funding through a small Friends and Family investment round and that will keep us going for the next 3-4 months. The future for us is simple: acquire as many users as possible and start to generate some revenue via our API so as to legitimise a full seed round investment. We think we can achieve this, but it's not going to be easy.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Good business is about anticipating user needs, trying a thousand different things, evaluating their performance, and then formulating a new strategy based on the results... and that happens incredibly quickly, sometimes even daily.
If I've learned anything through starting this business it's this: criticism is always good.
If you can't hear about a problem you have and/or be able to defend that decision then you need to step back and think about what your priorities are. There's no time to be shy; you'll never know if what you think about your business or monetisation strategy is true unless you get out there and try.
Always, always try. At the end of the day, it's not necessarily the smartest or most business savvy companies that survive. It's the companies that keep showing up, keep trying to be better than last.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Amazon Web Services products power most of our backend infrastructure and services; we use Contentful to manage our website; React Native is the platform we've built the mobile app on to be able to port it to both Android and iOS.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The podcast "How I Built This with Guy Raz" is my go-to resource. The "a16z," "Vergecast," and "TechMeme Ride Home" have also been helpful in framing what a good technology business is and is not.
What’s your advice for the fellow aspiring entrepreneur who is just starting out?
You will doubt yourself and your business every day. You have to fight that temptation. That's not to say you should ignore reality or blindly stumble forward.
You have to be honest with yourself about your business and about its future. If you really see a future for it after answering all of the hard questions and taking all the criticism then keep at it.
You'll find your market but you've got to keep trying. One other thing: the stress never ends, especially after a new launch or big update. It only gets more intense, and you need to find ways to deal with your mental and physical health.
Everyone says to sacrifice sleep and relationships for your business because that's what it demands, and sometimes that's exactly what you have to do. But don't forget you're still a human being that has simple human needs.
If you deny those for too long you'll end up imploding and your business (at least, especially, in the early days when it's you and maybe one or two others) will go down with you. Take care of yourself or your business won't mean a thing.
There's no business if there's no founder.