Why not update an app that has been downloaded by millions of iPad users since it first launched and has successfully maintained its almost perfect five-star rating? Here is a little bit of context.
We created TRVL when iPad just launched, because we wanted to start a magazine for serious travelers who are curious about the world – a magazine that they would love. We were so passionate about our project, and so frustrated with the legacy software we had to use, that we decided to build our own publishing software from scratch. When it relaunched with our own software, TRVL was exactly what we wanted it to be – 100% optimized for iOS and offering a great user experience to match its great content.
And so, almost without realizing it, we became a software company rather than a publisher. We turned our software into a full-blown mobile publishing platform called Prss that launched in New York in October 2013. This was around the same time that TRVL received its last software update in the App store. Next thing we knew, Apple acquired Prss and we were all working in Cupertino as the first team on the ground to help build the Apple News App.
TRVL carried on, but without a team of developers to support it. And without any revenue, either. We had always been underwhelmed by the business models out there, and, with Prss giving us a new focus, we simply didn’t try to monetize TRVL.
I worked at Apple for 18 months. In September 2015, after we shipped Apple News, I returned from Cupertino. By then, the world of digital publishing had changed dramatically. Newsstand no longer existed. Flipboard was on its way out. Facebook’s instant articles had launched, as had Apple News, and paid content as a business model for digital publications was officially dead.
Sadly, the online magazine didn’t survive either.
TRVL might be the last manifestation of the hope that once possessed us all when the iPad was invented – i.e. that it was possible to publish online magazines to rival or even better print magazines both in popularity and revenue. But that’s not what happened. The launch of Newsstand – built to support legacy publishers – was the first sign that things were going wrong. Downloading a 500MB magazine that was nothing more than a PDF of the print version wasn’t a good experience. This wasn't why people had bought an iPad.
So, while TRVL as a digital magazine didn’t seem to have much of a future, we decided that the premises that TRVL was built on most definitely did. They had to be at the core of whatever we decided to do next. So we listed them:
1) We are travelers first
2) We focus on creating value
3) We build our own solutions
TRVL provides inspiration about where to go next and which new destinations to put on your bucket list. It is a trusted source. But inspiration is only the first of many steps in the so-called customer journey, and my dream has always been for TRVL to become part of every step – from inspiring, to booking, to actually traveling, and then to saving and sharing your experiences with other travelers.
We built a traveler-to-traveler (T2T) booking platform that empowers everyone to act like a travel agent. Travelers can help one another by curating the perfect trip, and earn money at the same time. We will shortly introduce Local Experts – TRVL agents with deep knowledge about a particular destination – to our website, to help you plan and book your next trip.
So far, we’re seeing the number of bookings and sign-ups double each month, and it’s hitting all the industry trends:
1) Sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb)
2) Local Experience (Airbnb, Google Trips)
3) Storytelling (the missing link)
4) Desktop to mobile
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the travel industry will move back to the model of customers visiting a travel agent – an online travel agent, that is.
But TRVL is still a publisher. We turned TRVL from a magazine into a media company. With close to a million subscribers, TRVL is big on Apple News. We publish 4-5 stories a day and post them on Facebook, Twitter, Apple News, TRVL.com, and our newsletter. But the app was a problem because it was running on the software we built in 2013. It crashed a lot. So we rebuilt it from the ground up. It won’t crash anymore, and new stories with amazing photography will be published every day. For free of course. It will look different because we had to replace the old software. It is not a “digital magazine” anymore, so it might take our users some time to get used to it.
Soon, the app will be available for the iPhone, too. It has been on our roadmap since we started back in 2010, and now it is finally going to happen! And there's more. In the future it will also host TRVL's booking platform.