Profitable From Day 1 — Interview with Dr. Daniel Quadt GuideGecko Founder

by Jason -- February 8, 2011

Dr. Daniel Quadt vividly remembers when the idea for GuideGecko hit him. He was in Penang, Malaysia watching all of the locals heading to their favorite lunch places and he thought if they could somehow write all of their local knowledge down, help travelers and get paid for it, it would be a win-win scenario. A short while after, he launched GuideGecko as the place to find travel guide books. GuideGecko is the place to purchase your standard published guide books (Lonely Planet, Insider’s, etc.) as well as guide books written and uploaded by independent authors. If you’re looking for a place to publish your own travel guide book, check them out as well. You can now even publish your own iPhone app through their website.

In the following interview Daniel and I discuss how GuideGecko was profitable from the first day they launched and how he’s been able to grow the site primarily through public relations — getting into publications such as “The Washington Post” and “The Boston Globe”.

You can listen to the mp3 of the interview by downloading it, using the player below to listen to it, or reading the transcript.

Dr. Daniel Quadt GuideGecko Interview (Click to listen)

If you have any additional questions for Daniel or feedback on the interview, let me know by leaving a comment below.

Jason: I’d like to start with just a background question, if you don’t mind telling me a little bit about yourself, and your background pre-Guide Gecko days.

Daniel: Alright, I actually have a PhD in Operations Management and I studied in Germany so you can’t really translate it, but it’s something similar to Information Systems. And then I came to Singapore about five years ago, and about three years I founded the Guide Gecko.

Jason: Great. What brought you originally to Singapore?

Daniel:  I was working in the field operations, management operations and such. So it was not really related to what I am doing now in terms of travel, but it was definitely related to the technical side of things, to develop a website or to develop a system, and so I started Guide Gecko because I love to travel and so I combined my knowledge and the technical fields with the love of travel.

Jason: What was the inspiration for the actual idea for Guide Gecko?

Daniel: I remember very well, on a street in Penang. Have you been to Malaysia?

Jason: No, we missed Malaysia.

Daniel: Alright, I was Penang and we were walking along the streets and I was thinking, “So where do we go and eat now?” And it was so obvious there were lots of people running around, it was lunch time,  and they all knew where they were going to eat, and they all knew the good places and I was thinking, “Well, if there was any way that we could pause at this moment and just ask them. If there was any way that they could actually share their knowledge, and help travelers, and at the same time make money for it, that would be great.”

That’s basically the start of the idea for Guide Gecko, to build a product that allows people who have this knowledge to share their knowledge and earn money from it. Plus, you know there are lots of sites where you can put in your tips basically for free, and what happens is that most of these tips, or many, let’s say, are actually written by the owners of the place, so I wanted to create something where the person who shares his knowledge, puts in a little bit more effort, and creates something that is of high quality, but then also get something back for it. The easiest way to pay him back for it, is to pay him what it’s worth, so pay him some money.

Jason: Was it just you at the beginning?

Daniel: In one sense, yes, in the first two months it was just me, but then immediately I got a developer on-board, so we have basically been two right from the start.

Jason: So do you consider him one of your co-founders?

Daniel: No, he’s not a co-founder, but he has been with us for three years now, so he knows everything inside and out.

Jason: How did you find him?

Daniel: That was actually by accident. A friend referred him.

Jason: Great. And, he also is local there?

Daniel: Yes, he is.

Jason: You originally built the site yourself, using that previous knowledge that you had?

Daniel: Yes. We built everything from scratch.

Jason: How did you fund the company initially?

Daniel: Well, first of all, it’s bootstrapped. On the other hand, as soon as we went online, we generate revenue, because we would sell these guides, so it’s not like a startup that is out there that doesn’t make any money. In the beginning we made money in basically the first day we went online, with the first order taken.

Jason: Why did you decide to keep the company in Singapore and not move to the Silicon Valley or somewhere similar?

Daniel : Good question its basically because I like Singapore. Now, Singapore is a great place to travel. As I said earlier I wanted to combine what I do for living with my love for travel. Singapore is definitely great you can easily go to Malaysia there’s a lot of low cost airlines that you can fly to destinations even further away. So that was probably the main reason. On the other hand Singapore is also developing quite rapidly to become some can say the Silicon Valley of south-east Asia. It’s definitely not there yet, but it’s quite good here. There are some networks that are growing here and so on.

Jason : Great. Switching gears then just a little bit. Talking about building up the site initially, how did you initially recruit your guide book writers? What was the content that you went live with when you did?

Daniel : When we started we actually took, I call them commercially available guide books, that’s Lonely Planet, Inside Guides , Rough Guides and I have to be careful that I mention all of them to not make anyone angry, we started with these ones so people came to Guide Gecko basically to buy one of these guide books at a very low cost and then we approached writers around the world to publish their own guide books and what we do is list these independent guide books together with the commercially available guide books. People come to our site to let’s say search for the Lonely Planet Malaysia, they might find this guide book written by independent author on traveling with kids in Malaysia and if you are doing, traveling with kids you might buy that one instead or you might buy that one if it’s on top especially if its available for download or if it’s an iPhone app or something that you can get immediately so that you don’t have to wait until its ship to you.

And that’s one of the major services that we offer to writers that if you write your guide book and you put it on your own site, if you have a well going site then it’s nice you will probably sell few items but if you just have written the guide book and no real website to support it, you can probably put it up there but you will not be able to sell that many. The point is that people come to us to search for guide books and that where you find your guide books. And by guide books I don’t only means the printed books  I also mean PDF’s, iPhone apps, e-books. Now we even allow writers to create their own website on Guide Gecko then we share the revenue that comes from the ads.

Jason: Interesting. How did you find those initial guide book writers ?

Daniel : Mainly through public relations and through social networks. We issued a couple of press releases which have been well picked up and we also became quite active in certain groups and forums and just introducing the service, giving tips and help and answering other questions.

Jason : Were there any sites in particular that did well for you?

Daniel: I would say it’s varied, I cannot really say these do pretty well because there often we exchanges like this that you have same people on different forums and groups. We just tried to put our website there and talk to the people and show them that we are there and not just there for day but there for a long time and there to help them. So, it’s hard to say well this site is working and this site is not working because we tend to see the same people and then you don’t know from where they are coming from. They are coming from anywhere.

Jason : Yes, good point I also saw you do some contest around guide book writing. There was “win a trip to Frankfurt was that a recent contest that you ran?

Daniel: Actually, that’s a very good point, that was very successful I think. We ran that just recently in October because the book fair’s in October. The Frankfurt book fair is the largest book fair in the world. It is really amazing when you go there, everyone is there. There are Guidebook publishers that I had never heard of and also, of course, all the big names, and so it’s very good to establish contacts with all the people. And what we do is, we have this writing contest and we ran it for a second time now, the second year. The winner of the contest, we fly him over to Frankfurt so he can meet and mingle with all these other publishers and pitch his ideas and just get a feeling for the whole industry.

Jason: Great. And you received a lot of submissions and believe that the contest was a success, had a positive ROI?

Daniel: Yeah, we don’t really measure it in terms of ROI. We did receive a lot of submissions, yes. But it was also successful for the winner. It’s not the kind of contest where you say, “Let’s win a trip to Hawaii” and be happy there. It’s definitely a contest that is a professional contest where, if you just want to write something about your last holiday and then go and maybe sell it a few times, then probably this contest is not for you. But if you are serious about becoming a professional travel writer then this is a really big thing for you to go to this Frankfurt book fair because, actually, you wouldn’t even be able to do it you couldn’t just go to Frankfurt and say, “Hello, here I am, may I please come in?” You would need to have some invitation to get in there and so on. So, this year’s winner was a writer and tour guide from Sicily and I think it was very good for her to walk around there and pitch her books to the different publishers and I think she got some very good leads.

Jason: Wow. That’s really cool.

Daniel: Yeah, I think it was quite successful.

Jason: It’s a very different type of contest. It’s interesting that you would come up with something like that because I imagine it would be much easier to kind of throw out, like you said, the free trip to Hawaii but bringing somebody to the book fair is very interesting. It’s different.

Daniel: Yeah, we also have to maybe mention we also displayed there the three winning projects, we display on the booth there and this year we actually cooperated with Inside Guides. You probably know it, Inside Guide Books. We display the books on their booths, so the people around the fair, they see these top three titles and the winner will be going over there to walk around and meet publishers.

Jason: Very cool. Did you say, is this a specific travel book fair or is this a general publisher book fair?

Daniel: No, this is a general publisher book fair but since it’s the most important in the world, everyone is there so all the travel publishers are there. All the ones that I mentioned earlier.

And they actually do have a travel section so travel is definitely quite large. There’s probably a whole hall that’s dedicated to travel. It’s maybe split up into two or three halls, but overall it would be one hall that you would say that was just travel publishers.

Jason: Great. I wanted to go back to one point you made. When you initially launched the website, you said you were able to provide the Lonely Planet and you mentioned a couple of other names, the guidebooks at a very low cost. Did you approach these companies directly? How did you provide that, those books and content?

Daniel: We mainly worked with distributors so there, we act like any other book store. We get the books from distributors and then we sell them to end customers.

Jason: And these were brand new books?

Daniel: Yes, yes. They are brand new books. We now also have a section where you can actually sell your used books but we have all the new books as well.

Jason: Very interesting. And you ship them worldwide or just Asia? How does that work?

Daniel: Yes, we actually ship worldwide and we have free shipping in Singapore, UK and US.

Jason: So going on to the other side now.   How did you find your first 100 customers, your travelers?
Daniel:  Probably again through public relations or through PR.  We had some very good press and probably even more than that through search engine optimization, so through search engines.

Jason:  One of my questions was around the press that you get because I notice on your website, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Boston Globe a very impressive list of names.  I am just wondering if you had any secrets or tips.  How did you get published in such big publications?

Daniel:  My tip would be to write good press releases and then probably I had a head start because my wife was working in PR so that probably had something to do with it.

Jason:  I think that is definitely  helpful.  So what constitutes a good press release?

Daniel:  Oh you should ask her what she thought about now.  Well, I think it should be very well structured.  You must make clear what your message is and you must have a good angle.  You must ask yourself, “Why should a journalist write about that?  Why would he want to write about it?” He’s  probably not so interested in “hello my site XYZ has just launched”.  It’s maybe of minor interest to him, but how could your site help his audience? That could be an angle.

Jason:  Great, I think that’s a great tip. Thank you.  So it’s getting close to half past the hour and I do want to be respectful of your time.  Let’s do two more questions.  I wanted to ask you what advice would you give to a new entrepreneur that is interested in travel?

Daniel:  I think that’s pretty much related to the last point, search engine optimization.   I think when you are running a travel website you have to look into search engines and how you can get visitors through search engines.

Jason:  Do you have any tips or are you focusing on specific destinations? Any tips around SEO?

Daniel:  Yes definitely.  Focus on a certain area and get good content.  Then hook up with people so maybe you can do a blog exchange or link exchange or write guest posts which are relevant.  I wouldn’t do it just for the search engines.  If you can find sites which are similar to what you are doing or maybe related to what you are doing.  Say you are writing something on budget travel to Malaysia and there is another site that talks about budget travel to Singapore, maybe you can exchange links.  This is helpful for your users for sure because many people travel from Singapore to Malaysia and back. So focus on a certain area and then find other websites that might be interested in working together with you.

Jason:  Great then my last question, what’s coming next for Guide Gecko?

Daniel:  We have just launched a whole new bunch of services which I just mentioned briefly before.  So there’s the iPhone app, the Kindle e-book, and the website. The ebooks actually work on all kinds of readers, the Barnes and Noble reader, the Sony reader, and so on. We are now mainly working on these new services, these new digital publishing formats.  We invite authors to write iPhone apps with us, to write Kindle e-books with us, to create websites with us.  So the next step for us would probably be, since we just launched this a couple months ago, to get the message out to writers.

Jason: PR again, I assume?

Daniel: Yes, using PR, using search engines. Again, as I said earlier, going to the networks and spreading the message there. When somebody asks me, I will explain to them about the new service. But we haven’t really broadcasted the message yet. We’ve been focusing on fine tuning our apps and ebooks. And now is the time that we have to start that.

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One Response to “Profitable From Day 1 — Interview with Dr. Daniel Quadt GuideGecko Founder”

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