For this month’s Nestoria interview we speak with internet entrepreneur Stoycho Vlaykov, co-founder of newly launched lifestyle/travel site 60by80. Prior to starting 60by80 Stoycho founded M Telecom, a Bulgarian mobile content provider he later sold to Velti Plc. Before that he headed up business development for Yahoo! Europe’s mobile efforts and worked at Austrian mobile operator Connect Austria (now part of Orange). He’s originally from Bulgaria and studied in Austria.
1. Tell us about 60by80 and the niche it serves? What do you see as the market opportunity here and how are you meeting it?
60by80 is an online travel guide service for the modern gay traveller. The market opportunity is easy to see - according to one official study UK gay people spent GBP 4.8bn on travel and related services in 2008. The Montreal Tourist Board has data showing that the annual gay parade celebrations are the second largest revenue generating event for the city after the Formula 1 weekend.
So we are focusing on serving this high end gay consumer segment - worth over $500 billion in disposable income by some measures. And we believe that it is probably one of the most undermarketed consumer groups because it’s difficult to identify, reach and keep satisfied. These are consumers who have high disposable income, travel frequently for business and leisure and are likely to read The Economist, Vanity Fair or Wallpaper as much as purely gay media.
It’s a group that can be frustratingly difficult to target, but we believe that travel content is its common denominator. Our audience travels at least 3 times a year (some do easily 10 trips per year). When it comes to destination choices and service requirements, this segment has very high yet similar needs and that’s where 60by80 comes into the picture: providing high quality, up-to-date travel information not exclusively gay but written specifically with that audience in mind. For the users it’s a much needed and missed product, and for brands, marketers and travel businesses, it’s a tremendously attractive opportunity to connect with this audience in a targeted way.
2. The online travel space is obviously very crowded. How do you plan on standing out?
The travel space is crowded but there is no quality global service, created specifically for our target segment. Big sites treat content for gay travellers as an afterthought. And local gay sites can be difficult to find or sometimes in the local language. We believe that providing one trusted and up-to-date source of travel information is something badly needed by professional gay men who have increasingly busy lifestyles.
To get there, we’re investing heavily in creating original quality content, we will extend coverage to 20 cities over 12 months plus we will have regular contributions from both famous people showcasing their own city or their preferred destinations and holiday activities. And we have a few surprises for our members, like special offers, competitions and sweepstakes from selected hotel, airline or frequent traveler program partners plus special blog features on things like spa and yoga holidays, horse riding and adventure weekends.
3. You’re someone who has seen the full spectrum of the European internet: you’ve successfully launched a consumer brand in eastern Europe, you’ve worked for a major American internet brand, and now you’re doing a start up in London. How would you say the European internet scene has evolved, particularly in eastern Europe?
A few years ago, most of the internet start-ups in Eastern Europe were of the “copy-paste” type, i.e. ideas which worked in the West were transplanted and modified to local tastes and market conditions. Despite of this the road for internet entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe was still very rocky, simply because of the very low internet penetration rates and the virtually non-existing access to initial capital. People not only needed to come up with a viable idea, but implement it and bring it to market and often turn a profit practically on their own.
However lately there has been a resurgence in activity. Online advertising is becoming a viable business model as international firms shift part of their ad spending online also in Eastern Europe. Internet access and telecom infrastructure are rapidly improving. Plus there is a rising interest and investment by venture funds, driven by successful exit stories in the internet space in Eastern Europe. Some sectors, like e-commerce or online travel are still in their infancy because of the very limited penetration of credit cards or electronic payment systems. However local social media start-ups are successfully, cornering niche markets and are being much more aggressive in usage of the mobile internet and payment options. The real problem for local companies remains how to bring a successful local product idea to regional or global markets.
4. You have a lot of mobile experience, having worked for an operator and a mobile focused consumer service company. Has the mobile internet finally arrived? What’s next?
This is just the start. The mobile phone has literally transformed the lives of billions of people by allowing instant calls and text messaging around the globe. Now its being used for always-on communication and entertainment in the developed world. In the future it will become a major financial tool for payments, storing cash and why not credit balances. It will help us control our house, car and even health. Lets just hope it does not take over our live completely.
Many thanks Stoycho. While we don’t offer Nestoria users the glamour that they might find on 60by80, we can relate to the challenge of building a business to focus on one particular thing. Best of luck. For those interested in learning more about 60by80 I recommend subscribing to their travel blog.
past Nestoria interviews: Mark Keating, Jason Trost, Christopher Parker.