People spend minutes -- some spend hours -- a day scrolling through photo-heavy Instagram feeds of their friends or celebrities in their daily lives. But what if you could go there?
That's the mission behind the new app, OhTell, launching for iOS Tuesday. For CEO and founder Yoni Goldwasser, a Harvard- and MIT-educated biomedical engineering PhD turned pharmaceutical marketer turned consultant, traveling isn't about the inexpensive and popular Airbnb home-sharing option. Goldwasser seeks the glamorous, yet authentic experiences inside hotels.
“We’re trying to help people dream. Some sites play on those [booking] fears. We want to play on that excitement,” Goldwasser said. “Planning a trip shouldn't be a drag. It should be about discovery and excitement. It shouldn't be about reading senseless texts of this hotel or that hotel.”
With OhTell, Goldwasser wants to give other travelers a better glimpse inside these hotels by collecting 15-second videos. He’s not pulling from posts from other social media sites (like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Instead, Goldwasser’s tapped some travel bloggers to submit original videos, and he has curated them into an Instagram-like feed of content on the OhTell app.
“Interesting but hard to execute," Forrester researcher Julie Ask, who focuses on the mobile app industry, wrote in an email. "It's hard to be both a 'creator of content' and the 'connector' in that customers come to you as a destination."
Planning or just dreaming or a future vacation can sometimes be a quick distraction of the workday. OhTell wants to makes that habit more like the passively scrolling experience of Facebook and Instagram on mobile.
Open the OhTell app, and the initial page will be a feed of autoplay videos. Among the dozens of submissions already on the app, there’s a video of a fireworks display at the Four Seasons in London, a yoga class at the Park Hyatt in Maldives and a water slide at the JW Marriott in Thailand. OhTell users can like, comment and share the posts via text message, email and other social networks.
“We’re not focused on the issues [of the hotel]. We’re more focused on exposing you to all the cool stuff that’s out there,” Goldwasser said.
Click on the magnifying class on the upper-right corner, and users can search by “Hotels” or by “People.” Under each hotel listed, videos are divided among categories called “OhYes!,” “Room,” “Food,” “Bar” and “Around.” The people section lists all of OhTell’s contributors, in which users can follow. The app only allows submissions from hand-selected bloggers. The contributors are not paid, but OhTell helps them gain exposure.
“Any travel blogger will tell you that the more links back to their site out there, the better,” Sarah O’Farrell, a 32-year-old Australian travel blogger, wrote via email. “So it is important to reach out for guest opportunities and network.”
O’Farrell, who founded Fit Travels, has been contributing several posts to OhTell. Her submissions include videos from recent stays in Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Becoming A Destination
While OhTell may be focused on inspiring travelers to find new destinations, one hurdle that the startup has to overcome is becoming a destination itself. Currently, OhTell is a bootstrapped project -- as in Goldwasser is funding it with his own money and some help from friends and family rather than taking venture capitalist money or tapping into revenue sources.
But OhTell is beginning to fundraise and boasted plans for possible sources of revenues in the future. For example, the app plans to allow hotel booking and could therefore take a percentage of the profits or charge a fee. The company could also partner with hotels or certain destinations and allow for sponsored or promoted posts, as seen on Twitter, Foursquare and Yelp.
“Our hope is by the end of the year we’ll get more funding, and we’ll be able to afford to build [an Android] version,” Goldwasser said.
OhTell will be constrained not only by the presence of other, more well-known apps like Hotels.com, Booking.com and Expedia but also the phone storage space and attention spans of travelers whose phones may hold Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other time-consuming apps.
“The longer term viable option is to index available photos and videos and make them available to those apps that already have traffic -- like SPG [and] Hotels.com,” Forrester’s Ask said. “Content like this has to get on to Facebook, Yelp, Hotels.com, Expedia, etc. where consumers already spend their time.”