TECHNATION200: Online experience aggregator Truly lets people treat themselves or others to a fancy event or activity. Co-founder Jack Hang tells Toni Sekinah how his startup goes the extra mile to ensure his customers feel great for a day.
People born between 1980 and 1996 feel better about allocating their cash to concerts and social events than physical consumables, according to a study by Harris for Eventbrite.
So, when it was time for Jack Huang, in that millennial category himself, to buy a wedding present for a business school classmate, he wanted to treat the happy couple to a one-off experience they could share and enjoy after coming back from honeymoon.
“I knew they liked to go out, so I called around all the Michelin-starred restaurants in Soho. But none of them could offer what I needed,” he recalls.
So he did what many entrepreneurs would, and built a business to supply what he wanted.
Truly Experiences, the result, is a marketplace for high-end experiences offering its customer base of millennials and high-net-worth individuals a vast array of curated experiences. His customers can use his platform to gift everything from a £50 whisky tasting to a £25,000 getaway to a private Mozambican island.
Huang says his platform could be compared to Harrods or Selfridges if those high-end department stores were to sell not products but experiences, exclusively online. “We’re the only aggregator for high-end hospitality providers,” he says.
Other experiences include deer stalking in Scotland, private chocolate tasting and an escape to Napa Valley in California.
Huang says the 800-plus experiences, supplied by 500 experience providers, cost on average £200 with many in the food and drink space. He says: “Everybody eats, right?”
He says that what makes his company stand out are the extra touches included with every package.
For example, if a customer is having a tasting at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Truly will make sure that the customer gets to meet the chef in the kitchen or they have a bag of beans to take home from a coffee tasting. “It’s the quality element; there’s always some sort of VIP treatment,” says Huang.
Truly also has a concierge team, which can help the customers to find the right experience and personalise it to their specific requirements.
He adds that his customers do not have any stigma attached to them for having bought the gift online, as they do not have to pull out a conspicuous voucher when they turn up to claim their activity or experience. And, there are no time restrictions on when the activity can be done.
Huang says: “The complaint we hear a lot from customers who use other experience providers is they can only do the activity for example on Monday and Tuesday from 2pm to 4pm. That’s how a lot of other companies make their money, by people not redeeming.”
He says Truly is different to other experience providers because, rather than relying on customers not redeeming their gifts to make money, its business model is a revenue share with its suppliers.
“We only generate revenue if we are generating revenue for our suppler partners. We’re like a risk-free acquisition channel for them,” he says.
While Huang says that his business could in theory exist offline, his clever use of data gives it a technological edge.
“One of the key things about our business is our glimpse into data,” he says. “We use data to help our suppliers because we know what price points sell and we are able to see what people are buying.”
He says they can put two products next to each other and track the conversion funnel end-to-end and that gives an insight into the fragmented experience industry.
Huang says the experience space is led by small and medium-sized businesses that specialise in a particular domain, whether that be dining or spas or another area.
“We can actually look across the breadth of the industry and we use that data to advise the suppliers on what they should be creating. We can also use that data to develop our merchandising strategy. We can source better if we know what people want,” he says.
Huang built the first version of the website himself in WordPress in 2010 over one weekend and that “quick and simple” version lasted about year and transacted £600,000 before it was replaced by a “more robust” Magento version. He brought in professional developers to create the second version and a third iteration of the site is in development, being built in Ruby.
Huang has experience in the voucher space, but felt that there was no one looking at the up-market end of it. He set up the business with the view that in any market, you either go high or you go low. “The middle is where you do not want to be,” he says.
Huang and his team of 40 have been vindicated by his company’s growth rate of 200% to 300% year-on-year. The company has also been building on the back of an undisclosed seed round in 2013.
So just what is the most ‘out there’ experience Truly offers? It turns out to be something almost out of this world. Truly is taking bookings for 2017 and 2018 for a journey to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere with Bloon.
A 12-hour journey in a zero-emission spaceship, 22 miles above the Earth’s surface could be yours for a mere £380,000. However, while there have been some inquiries, there is a slight obstacle to this activity.
“No insurance company in the world insures for something like that,” says Huang. “So you’re gong to have to take a risk with that one.”
Jack Huang – CV
Co-founder, Truly Experiences
Chief operating officer and head of business development, Keynoir
(acquired by Time Out)
Co-founder, DealBunch (acquired by Keynoir)
Associate intern, Accel Partners
MBA, London Business School
MS/BS Carnegie Mellon University.