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Jen O'Neal is the Founder and CEO of Tripping.com.

Jen launched Tripping.com from TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010. Since then she's raised over $21M in funding from investors in Silicon Valley, New York, Europe and Asia. After the company's Series B financing, the Wall Street Journal reported Tripping.com's pre-money valuation to be $100 Million.

Jen grew up near Silicon Valley and graduated cum laude from UC Berkeley. She was employee #5 at StubHub, an online marketplace acquired by eBay for $307M in 2007, where she was responsible for the development of its brand and Marketing group.

After StubHub, Jen moved to London to head up marketing efforts for Viagogo (started by StubHub co-founder Eric Baker). In addition to managing a team of marketers across Europe, Jen also managed the marketing elements of deals with partners including Manchester United, Chelsea, FC Bayern Munich, Madonna and more.

You can follow her on Twitter: @jenoneal

She will be live on July 21 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • MM

    martín medina

    over 2 years ago #

    Jen,

    Thanks for coming on here and doing this AMA with us. I heard your episode of the Growth Hacking Podcast just the other day and I loved your discussion there.

    You guys starting off by working with a lot of partners to grow Tripping. I know you have extensive experience working with partnerships from your days at StubHub as well. What is it about partnerships that you value the most and how do you go about approaching potential partners?

    There seems to be a new travel startup popping up all the time and you mentioned how big of an industry it is as well in the podcast. There are many different sites you can use and several even have a lot of overlap in what they do. How do you guys differentiate your product in this crowded space and what is it about the industry that attracted you to it?

    Thanks!

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Martin - thanks for your questions. I’m excited to be doing this AMA today!

      Building partnerships can be a fantastic way to kickstart your business. They give you immediate credibility and access to potential users.

      For example: when we launched Tripping.com back in 2010, our site was originally a social travel platform that made it easy for travelers to meet locals. To spur growth, we partnered with study abroad programs, the Peace Corps, AARP and over 40 other membership organizations.

      These partners promoted Tripping.com and, in return, we gave their members private networks on Tripping.com. So if you were a Peace Corps volunteer, you could join Tripping.com and meet up with other active and retired Peace Corps volunteers wherever you traveled.

      As a result, we had a super high quality, highly vetted, and highly active userbase after just 3 months of launching. It was amazing -- we had users in over 150 countries thanks to this strategy. Best of all, we could focus most of our resources on technology (building the private partner networks) while our partners did the heavy lifting to attract users to Tripping.

      What I value about partnerships: good partners will give your brand instant legitimacy and they can drive users to your platform in a cost-efficient way.

      How to approach partners: network, knock on doors, make cold calls. Do anything you can to get in front of the right people. When you meet them, give them a compelling reason to work with you (potentially using fancy presentation materials or whatever will help close the deal). And then make sure you actively manage that deal and build strong relationships with your partners, so that they’ll continue to work with you.

      Important: don’t be afraid to approach the biggest partner you can think of first. Sure, they may be harder to sign. But once you sign them, everyone else will line up to work with you.

      (I’ll circle back to your second question after I answer a few other questions)

      5 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 2 years ago #

        "Don’t be afraid to approach the biggest partner you can think of first."
        This is great advice. It's really irrational fear that prevents many of us from doing this.

      • DG

        Daniel Graziano

        over 2 years ago #

        Second the advice on targeting larger partners. You'll also get the benefit of just one of those partners producing the bulk of results, instead of managing 15 relationships with smaller partners that produce the same result.

  • AA

    Aldin A

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen!

    Thanks for taking the time to be here.

    1) How did you initially source and get the supply side (ticket sellers) on to stubhub when it was just starting, and didn't yet have the
    demand necessary to naturally attract the supply side? How did you build credibility with them and get them to give you
    a shot?

    2)How did you go about acquiring the supply side at scale?

    3)What are some of the challenges of scaling the stubhub marketplace and how did you overcome them?

    4)How did you decide on what percent of the transaction you would take? Take too high of a percentage and you seller side will be unhappy, if you take too little and then try to raise the percentage later sellers will be up in arms. Any tips on figuring out an acceptable percentage with suppliers when it comes to the marketplace model?

    5)How do you frame experimenting with transaction percentages in your communication to the supply side? How would you convey to them that experimentation is necessary to find the optimal transaction percentage? How would get them to be okay with the fact that the percentages may vary in the beginning as you try to figure out the best model for your marketplace?

    Thanks

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Aldin,

      Great questions! My amazing colleagues from StubHub who worked on the supply side may be better at answering some of these, but I’ll give it a shot:

      We launched StubHub in 2000. Back then, we didn’t have a ton of money for marketing so we didn’t have many buyers on the site. Without buyers, we couldn’t attract sellers. Without sellers, we didn’t have a marketplace. So our founders did something brilliant: they went out and signed cobrand deals with sports teams, music artists, and media companies.

      For example, one of our first partners was the Seattle Mariners. We built a cobrand that looked like the Mariners site, where their fans could buy and sell tickets with each other. The Mariners promoted us to their fans (which made us seem like a legit company instead of a 5-person startup) and we were able to build up supply with their help. After a while, we eventually had enough traction from these cobrand deals to market StubHub as an independent brand.

      How did we build credibility: we offered a great service to ticket sellers. For the first time, fans were able to recoup costs on tickets that they couldn’t use. In other words, the fastest way to build credibility is to build a good product.

      2. How did we build supply at scale? Well, those early partnerships helped us get to scale. In addition, we attracted season ticket holders who had lots of tickets to sell. (In baseball there are 81 home games, so even the most die-hard fans can’t make it to every game.) With lots of tickets floating around the market, we were able to get to scale pretty fast.

      3. What were the challenges of building StubHub? Beyond the fact that our founders had created something entirely new and revolutionary, one of the core challenges was managing the dynamic between supply and demand. As a marketer, this was always top of mind for me. I did a lot of testing throughout our marketing campaigns to ensure that we were always playing to both sides of the market in smart ways.

      For example, we would run radio campaigns leading up to the start of baseball season. 75% of those ads were targeted to sellers and 25% were targeted to buyers. After baseball season started (and most supply was already posted on the site), I would flip the rotation so 75% of our ads were targeted to buyers and 25% were targeted to sellers.

      4. How did we set the transaction fee? I honestly don’t remember. Our founding team was super smart so I’m sure they had a good rationale for figuring out fees.

      5. How do you communicate fees to users? It totally depends on what you’re selling. I would caution against telling all of your users that you’re experimenting with pricing, since that may give them a reason to question your business. Instead, run targeted surveys or chat with small focus groups to get a sense for what your fees should be. Then communicate those fees with confidence to the rest of your users. Note: is that it’s easier to start with high fees and go down from there. It’s much, much harder to increase fees as your company grows.

  • SA

    Shaker A

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen!

    Great to have you here!

    1)In your opinion what's are the most important metrics for marketplaces?

    2)As marketplaces scale its gets harder for the buyers and sellers who would be a good match to connect, just because there are so many of each side. How do you think about accurately and efficiently connecting buyers to sellers that can fulfill their needs? What kinds of things did stub hub & viagogo do to make process of compatible parties finding and connecting easier?

    3)How does retention differ in marketplaces vs. non-marketplaces? Are there differences in retention for buyers and retention for sellers?

    Thanks

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Shaker! It’s great to be here.

      1. What are the most important metrics for marketplaces? This really depends on the type of marketplace, but here are core metrics that you should look at every day:

      - Supply: always make sure that you have enough supply to meet demand
      - Traffic: always make sure that you have enough demand to meet supply
      - CR: if your site isn’t converting, your business is in trouble
      - Revenue per Transaction: it’s important to understand how much you make per order
      - Cost per Transaction: measure this against Revenue per Order to make sure that you have a clear path to profitability
      - Repeat Usage: getting users to come back is way cheaper than acquiring new users

      2. How to efficiently connect buyers and sellers? This is an interesting question. At StubHub and Viagogo, we facilitated the entire transaction so that buyers and sellers never needed to interact. This was one of our key selling points - people liked that we would handle all of the logistics of their transactions for them (from sale to shipping to payment). And we liked this too, since it enabled us to stay in control of the transaction and ensure that users would come straight back to StubHub or Viagogo, versus taking their next transaction offline and causing leakage. If possible, I’d recommend facilitating transactions for your users so that they remain loyal to you.

      3. How does retention differ between marketplaces and non-marketplaces? There isn’t a single answer for this: it really depends on the industry and product being sold. That said, marketplaces typically offer a wider variety of products (since they’re coming from independent sources, whether it’s tickets or vacation rentals or services) at a wider variety of prices. This tends to encourage retention on the buyside. And since sellers are actively using your platform to generate revenue, sellside retention rates tend to be high if you give sellers a good user experience with reasonable fees.

      2 Share
      • SA

        Shaker A

        over 2 years ago #

        Thanks for taking the to provide such answers!

        How did you make sure that buyers found events that they liked, which would stimulate more ticket sales?

        Thanks

  • LC

    Liz Cozzaglio

    over 2 years ago #

    Can you talk about an experiment either at Tripping or earlier that provided a really big insight or learning?

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    over 2 years ago #

    Hey Jen thanks for your time! This may not be a question directly about company growth...but....I'm curious about your thoughts on the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Since you've been here for so many years, you've definitely seen it change and...grow. What would your tips be for someone about to move out to the bay who may be interested in a growth position? How do you think one could begin their career out here?

    Thanks!

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hey Logan! Thanks for your question.

      I was lucky enough to grow up in the Bay Area (born in SF, raised on the peninsula) so I’ve definitely seen it change over the years. One thing that has always remained constant is that the Bay Area attracts people who are adventurous, people who want to build cool things, and people who are willing to put everything on the line to achieve their dreams. It’s an amazing place to live and - though I’m totally biased - I bet you’d love it here.

      Tips for moving here and beginning your career:

      1. Do your homework -- read, research, and talk to locals about what it’s like to live in the Bay Area. Having a good understanding of the overall landscape will help you figure out where you want to live and work. (For instance: living in San Jose and working at a hardware company is VERY different from living in the Marina district of SF and working at a media agency)

      2. Network like crazy. In San Francisco and pretty much everywhere else, it’s ALL about who you know. When you first move here, I highly recommend going to industry networking events, going to parties, and hanging out in local spots where you can make new friends. Your new friends are highly likely to open up their networks to you, which will help you find housing and jobs and everything in between.

      3. Pay it forward. There is a wonderful culture of karma in the Bay Area. People genuinely want to help each other succeed. When you move here, don’t be surprised when people go out of their way to help you in some way. And then remember to pay it forward by helping other people when the time is right.

      4. Find mentors. I can’t emphasize this enough - it’s so important to surround yourself with smart, talented people who can help you in your career. Mentors will be able to guide you towards your passions, they’ll be able to open doors that seem inaccessible now, and they will inspire you to play at the top of your game.

      Hope this helps. If you end up moving to San Francisco, give me a shout and I’d be happy to grab coffee sometime and offer some more tips. Good luck!

      6 Share
  • RB

    Ry B

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi @JenONeal

    Awesome having you on. Excited to learn from you!

    1) How do you retain your users, if they only need to use your app occasionally by nature (ex fashion shopping app)? If your app isn't used frequently building up the habit is hard, which makes it hard to retain the user. How do you go about trying to stay top of mind, so that when the user has a need that your app solves they think of you? How did stub hub,viagogo, and tripping.com solve this?

    2)How did you think about fraud (both fake tickets and credit card fraud) at stub hub/viagogo? How did the two marketplaces combat fraud?

    3)What stops someone from recruiting the sellers on stub hub/viagogo and creating a competing service - similar to what we've seen with Uber and Lyft vying for the same drivers? How do they 'lock-in' their sellers? What is it that makes stub hub/viagogo defensible products? I understand that they have competitors, but what allows them to hold on to leading positions in the industry?

    4)In regards to partnerships how do you go about convincing prospective partners to give your platforms (stubhub/viagogo/tripping) a shot when you had no customer demand to show as validation that your product works? What's your process in those kinds of scenarios to convince these partners to give you a shot?

    Thanks for doing this!

  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen - Thanks for doing today's AMA!

    What's the most unexpected (or biggest, if nothing unexpected) impact Airbnb has had on the vacation rental market?

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Jason!

      Airbnb is a fantastic company. They’ve really propelled the entire industry by bringing vacation rentals to a mainstream audience. I think biggest impact they've had has been around enabling individuals to rent out their homes (versus traditional property management companies).

      I have a ton of respect for their team and I look forward to seeing how they’ll continue to innovate - not just in the rental category but other travel verticals as well.

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen,

    Incredible to have you on - i'm really looking forward to hearing your AMA answers.

    A couple of questions from me:

    1) I work actively in the UK start-up scene (with an obvious focus on London). What did you find the difference in your experiences between The Valley and London (other than the scale)? What do you think the UK can do to mature its start-up ecosystem or is it just fundamentally different?

    2) How difficult has it been to grow Tripping.com to a $100m+ business and to stand out from the noise being made by what appears to be a very competitive landscape?

    3) What has been the most cost-effective marketing channel you've used to grow Tripping and what channels are you actively exploring at the moment?

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Edward. Thanks for joining us from the UK today! I really like your questions. I’ll answer the first one now and circle back to the others later:

      When I was offered the role at Viagogo, everyone there told me that “London is the next Silicon Valley!” This was in 2007 and, when I arrived there, the entire tech scene seemed to consist of a few Microsoft BizSpark events and occasional hackathons. Luckily things have changed a lot since then.

      I’d say the biggest difference is that technology is woven into the fabric of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. You can’t get a tall vanilla latte with soy milk at Starbucks without overhearing a conversation about term sheets or tech stacks. I can even see a drone hovering outside my window right now. It’s just a part of life here.

      It’s absolutely possible for the UK’s startup system to become increasingly active and mature. Great guys like Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) are already playing an active role in generating awareness and excitement around the UK’s growing tech scene. That said, I believe two things must happen in order for the UK to accelerate its ecosystem:

      1. Investors must be willing to fund UK startups at the seed level. European and British investors tend to be more risk-averse, which can stifle innovation before it even starts. By backing smart founders with good ideas, the ecosystem has a better chance of flourishing. (And then, when those smart founders make money from their exits, they can return the favor by investing in other startups and so on and so forth…)

      2. The UK tech scene should develop a culture of karma similar to what we have in Silicon Valley. When people help each other by making introductions, sharing knowledge, and doing favors for each other, everyone benefits.

      4 Share
  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    1) Have you ever experienced a growth stall?

    If so, how did you overcome it?

    2) What did you learn from a growth marketing standpoint partnering with top European soccer clubs?

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Arsene! Thanks for your questions.

      1. Like all marketers and founders, I’ve definitely experienced growth stalls. They’re painful, but they can be overcome if you’re willing to test, try new things, and take risks.

      The first example that comes to mind is from Tripping.com. When we launched our original model in 2010 (a social travel site), we wanted to attract study-abroad students to our site. We acquired students through facebook and other channels, but growth stalled when we ran out of marketing budget. To overcome this, we shifted strategies and focused on building B2B partnerships with universities and study-abroad programs. This strategy paid off and we quickly grew to having users in over 130 countries within a few months of launching.

      2. Similar to why we partnered with study-abroad programs at Tripping.com, we partnered with European soccer clubs to spur growth for Viagogo. The teams marketed us to their fans, both online and in the venue, which instantly gave us users and credibility. (I can’t take credit for this since our founder came up with the strategy. I had fun managing the marketing elements of those deals though, which meant that I got to spend a lot of time watching football matches at Old Trafford and the Allianz Arena!)

      • AL

        Arsene Lavaux

        over 2 years ago #

        Thanks for sharing these inspiring answers Jen.

        But I have to say that your last point on question 2. makes me envious! ;)

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    over 2 years ago #

    Jen, Thanks for being here!

    What lessons did you take away from your time at Stubhub and Viagogo that you've applied to how things run at Tripping?

    Cheers!

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Javier. I was lucky to learn a ton of things from my time at StubHub and Viagogo. Here are some of the top lessons that I’ve brought to Tripping:

      1. It’s all about team. When you hire the right mix of people, something magical happens.

      2. Make decisions based on data. Whether you’re building a company or running marketing campaigns, use metrics to make smart decisions. Data-driven organizations have a huge competitive advantage.

      3. Don’t scale too fast. It’s tempting to want to be a national or international company overnight. Technology makes it incredibly easy to scale geographically. But focusing on too many markets can be distracting, expensive, and time consuming. Instead, start with one market and nail it. Then rinse and repeat.

      4. Listen to your users. Understanding the needs and desires of your users will help you build a better product.

      5. Don’t listen to people who don’t believe in your vision. If you’re building something totally new, people will tell you that you’re crazy. When we launched Tripping.com as a metasearch engine for vacation rentals, we were 3 years too early to the market. Investors told us we should give up. But our data showed that the metasearch model had real potential and the market was trending in our direction, so we stuck with it. This year, we’re slated to do over $500MM in gross bookings. I’m glad we didn’t listen to them.

      4 Share
  • BS

    bruce shopper

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen

    I'm pre-revenue, I have identified many customer profiles of who will buy my product, each has a slightly different value proposition.
    How do you incorporate them all into a single elevator pitch? Or Do you go with the single pitch for your biggest segment?

    • JO

      Jen O'Neal

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for your question and congrats on having a company. Without knowing anything about your product or customers, it’s hard to give good advice on this.

      Overall, I’d recommend that you stay ruthlessly focused: do one thing and do it better than anyone else.

      When you’re pitching investors, you want to show them where the biggest opportunity lies within your business. Focus your pitch around that one thing. And then, when they’re excited about that, you can say “But wait - there’s more!” to get them even more fired up about everything else you're doing.

  • RS

    Rafael Soares

    over 2 years ago #

    Hey Jen, thank you very much for your time. I am from Brazil and I am starting with a startup of custom travel planning. Here in Brazil you have tons of bloggers, many people who want to travel, go backpacking.... but we do not have too many options for travel planning. What we have is two or three major businesses which sell travel packages, but nothing like in the middle of expensive inflexible travel packages or "do all by your self".

    So, I have many questions for you.
    1. How did you'll find your main audience, and how did you create the behavior of people which are not used to use this kind of service, to start to use it?
    2. How did you start to think about the need to build your product and then finally come to what you have today?
    3. How did you get the word out that people should use your product? A
    4. And finally, how did you find investors to believe in your "crazy" idea?

    Thank you very much for your time!
    A big fan of you here!

  • AP

    Anthony Panepinto

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Jen,

    This is a very timely AMA, based on your track record and work with StubHub it's a perfect fit!

    Brief background: We're building out an online marketplace that connects food-lovers and event planners to restaurants and unique event spaces that offer pre-set meal packages. Our thinking is, restaurants and event spaces typically have off-peak days/times where their space and staff are underutilized, to help them maximize their asset, they can list promotional meal packages on FastVenues.com, either discounted or unique and allow customers/guests to pre-book them. Guests can send booking requests, and if the restaurant accepts, the guest's CC is charged and all they have to do is show-up with their booking id/voucher and enjoy, without having to take out there wallet.

    Questions,

    1. How would you recommend we sign-up our supply-side? We currently have our team going door to door to sign them up one by one, which is obviously not scalable. What is a way to sign-up the supply-side at scale?

    2. How did you market to your demand side? Once you built out the supply side what was the demand side approach?

    Thanks for doing this!

    Anthony

  • AF

    Alberto Freites

    9 months ago #

    Jen,
    I’m a founder of uPPyx an app that help to maximize the time of the tourists wen they rent a car and I’m in constant struggle reaching the product market fit and then start our growth strategy.
    What would be your recommendation to quickly reach the product market fit and stay in that zone

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