Brian is the co-founder and product lead of Flip.to. He’s been breathing life into web products for over 10 years as a hybrid developer/designer. As a Brooklyn-born, engineer by schooling, world traveler by preference, visionary by self-proclamation, Brian is a proponent of social media, travel and new technology bridging the two. You can follow Brian on Twitter and Linkedin.
G: Tell us a little about your start-up?
B: Flip.to is a platform that helps hotels & restaurants earn new guests by turning their current guests into a huge team of trusted advocates.
Here’s an example of how it works for hotels. After a guest books a room, Flip.to incentivizes them to spread the word about their upcoming trip and where they’ll be staying. So if you’ve just booked a room at The James Chicago, you’ll earn a complimentary room upgrade certificate in all of two clicks. And the hotel just reached all of your friends, family & followers in a really natural way- boosting brand awareness and deepening their pool of potential future guests.
Just as Flip.to engages hotel guests at convenient touch points (like at time of booking, suggestions when they arrive, a quick review after their stay), Flip.to engages restaurant guests right from their table on their own mobile device. Restaurants learn who their guests are, incentivize happy ones to spread the word, make a personalized connection with their friends and get negative reviews turned into real-time alerts for staff- all in a few swipes and taps.
G: What were the biggest obstacles launching the start-up and how did you overcome them?
B: Like most start-ups, our biggest challenge was getting past that initial inertia when you’re sitting there with only a glimmer of a product and zero customers. Because once the ball is rolling (when you have customers), it becomes easier to build on that traction- both in terms of landing new customers and figuring out what the product should grow up to be.
We started talking to folks in the hospitality industry really early on in the product development process to get their take on what we were doing. It helped validate the direction Flip.to was headed, build some excitement and it’s how we landed one of our very first proponents, who is now heading up our business development. Even before Flip.to was ready to go live, we had signed our first (paying!) beta client.
G: Where should social media be integrated by start-ups? (marketing, customer service and etc)? What are the best ways to do that?
B: Every company needs to take a good look at what their goals are and then match those up to how social media can help- there’s no one-fit solution. For start-ups, doing that is especially important because resources are scarce.
For consumer-oriented start-ups, social media makes sense for customer service provided you can be responsive. But if you’re going to make public the good and the bad about what your customers are saying, you better be on top of it. People don’t expect perfection, things happen, but you can lose credibility if it looks like you’re being unresponsive to issues. For B2B, you should respond directly and give your beta clients direct access to the team.
Using social media for marketing makes lots of sense. Only in the past few years, has it been amazingly easy to reach a large number of people. And social media becomes particularly potent, when folks are pushing out messages about your product or service on their own existing social networks. Flip.to is all about this- the hotels and restaurants using it can reach far beyond their own network by tapping into their guests’ networks, which collectively becomes massively bigger. And hearing something from a friend is always going to be more trusted than from a PR or marketing person.
G: Which social media sites do bring the most value to your start-up?
B: At Flip.to, we’ve found that Facebook has been the most popular place for our hotel’s guests to post about their upcoming trip. It has also generated the most traffic back to the hotel’s site, in terms of visitors and real action. Twitter isn’t far behind, followed by LinkedIn.
G: What are your favourite social media campaigns created by start-ups?
B: You’ll always get my attention if you can make me laugh out loud. Betabrand is a young online clothing company that is proving hilarious, well-written copy is sometimes all you need to get people buzzing. Their “privates” underwear that “promises to block TSA employees from seeing your scanned junk” is a good example of that.
The best social media campaigns feel authentic and for me personally, a little wit goes a long way.
G: What is the funniest/most unexpected thing that happened while developing your startup?
B: The very first incarnation of Flip.to (pre-beta) was to help companies spread the word about new products or services with the help of their employees and customers. We got lots of interesting feedback but as we were kicking ideas around, it felt far more natural for folks to talk about their travel experiences. Plus the marketing budgets for boutique hotels and destination restaurants were hurting after the downturn- helping them turn their guests into advocates just made sense.
A big Thank You to Brian for his great insights!! You can find the rest of the CEO Today interviews at Social Media interviews category.