The Milestone Interview: Brittany Laughlin, Co-Founder of Travel Startup gtrot (Don’t Miss This)

15 Feb 2011 in Interviews

Today is a monumental day for The X Factor – but I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s turn the clock back a few weeks. In January, I wrote about a problem I saw with the difficulty of planning trips and the gap it represented in the travel startup space. My friend Chris LoRusso sent me a tweet saying that I had to check out a company called gtrot.

Well whatta ya know, gtrot’s Co-Founder Brittany Laughlin had actually left a comment on my post! It was a no-brainer, I simply had to ask her if I could interview her about the startup and her story.

The rest, as they say, is history. Meet Brittany Laughlin, the very first female founder to be interviewed on The X Factor. And what a focused gamer she is. She studied the travel space with painstaking detail until she came across a fascinating startup founded by two Harvard grads, Zach Smith and Robert Corty. That startup was gtrot. After meeting with Zach and exchanging ideas in March 2010, she joined the team as a Co-Founder. Simply speaking, gtrot wants to enable you to enjoy a “way more social” travel experience.

From discussing the thought process behind the positioning of gtrot to offering insightful advice for other aspiring female founders, I mean this: Brittany’s interview is worth every word.

Now, for the rest of the story…

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THE *MILESTONE* INTERVIEW

1.) How did you come up with the idea for gtrot and how has the original idea changed since then?

I’ve always loved traveling. The downside is that traveling requires a lot of trip planning. Like most people, I always start on Google and end up digging through a maze of blogs, trip reviews and booking sites only then to just end up asking my network for advice. The process is a mess.

So what do you do when you see a problem? I drew up a business plan to help fix it. Before launching on my own I looked around to see if anyone else was doing something interesting in this space. Among a handful of tech sites I found gtrot and felt like it had potential to become the business I wanted to build. I met and joined the original founder Zach Smith“>Zach Smith in March 2010. We’ve worked together to build gtrot to what it is today- a socially integrated travel site that helps travelers connect and gain advice from people they trust. [Full story on how I got involved with gtrot: "Huffington Post: Brittany Laughlin at gtrot"]

The original vision was a tool to see where your friends were going and when. Since then we’ve evolved to include a lot more context around your trip: what flights you’re taking and the places you go during your trip. Integration with social streams (Foursquare, Facebook and shortlinks for Twitter) was a big part of the vision. People are already using these mediums to share travel advice but it gets lost in the stream, isn’t organized and still has trouble answering the question ‘Who do I know who’s been here or lives here that I could meet up with or get advice from?’ We wanted to make it easy to share all of that data in a usable format.

2.) According to my research, gtrot is targeting college students. Is it exclusive for students? What compelled you to start off by focusing on the college market?

Gtrot is open to everyone with a strong base in the 18-30 age range of tech-social travelers. gtrot was founded on Harvard’s campus to help students find who was going on spring break, where they were going to meet and how they could meet up. We had huge traction at Harvard, Yale, Brown and BC at first launch.

College travel provides a great use case for gtrot. Bring travel holidays like spring break, fall break, summer break, study abroad and winter break. That means large numbers of people are planning trips and traveling together at the same time. We are continuing outreach on Colleges but are not limited to students. We’ve also seen a huge uptick in usage for large events and conferences like Coachella and SXSW in Austin.

3.) I saw that over the summer, you were having difficulty finding women mentors in the tech world. Since then, what advice have you received for finding the right mentors and what tips might you give to other women entrepreneurs?

I spent a few months getting involved in the New York Tech world before jumping head first into gtrot in April 2010. What you read about is true, there are way more men than women. I had no trouble finding other tech entrepreneurs willing to give advice, share their stories and help make introductions – however, none of them were women. I’ve since found a great group of women in tech through the use of Twitter and groups like 85 Broads, Women 2.0 and NYTM. It was nice to not only hear from women in the same field but sometimes just being able to get advice on what to wear when pitching a live demo. It sounds like a silly question, but when you never see women on stage it’s hard to figure it out what’s the norm.

My advice for women or men looking for mentors in tech, start following major players on Twitter, read blogs, introduce yourself at events. Since the community is relatively connected, people are willing to help out, give advice and introduce you to the type of mentor you’re looking for.

4.) What has been the benefit of integrating Foursquare with gtrot?

In April 2010 there was a huge wave around real-time check-in data. It seemed like a great way to track what you do on trips. How many times do you go to a great restaurant in another city, come back to recommend it to people and forget the name? Foursquare created an easy way to record where you went. We built the capability to group all of your check-ins into your trip so not only could you document the cities you’ve been to, but the places you enjoyed and the people you went with.

A few months later Facebook Places launched which brought real-time check-ins to an even larger user base. We’re working now to add FB Places to our real-time-travel data.

5.) Having graduated from NYU and worked for American Express, I think it’s safe to say you had a lot of options for what to do in your career. Reading about your story though, it seems you were born to be in the travel industry. What is it that drew you to the travel space?

I love to travel so mixing my passion for tech and travel was an obvious choice. I also think travel is one of the most exciting places to work in tech right now. First, travel alone is a sexy industry- city hopping, new food, incredible cultures and world globetrotting are pretty drool-worthy. Second, travel is exciting because there is so much innovation happening within the flight, hotel and tourism industry. I think the way we book, plan and share trips is going to change dramatically over the next few years and we want to be a part of it.

5.5) Without revealing your super-secret world domination plans, what’s next for gtrot?

We’re cranking out a ton of new updates at gtrot HQ! We’re working hard to make it super simple for friends to share trips and tips. We want to help make real-life travel just as social as the web. Check out gtrot to watch us evolve to help make trip sharing super simple.

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Finally, Brittany’s blog is a solid read and is appropriately titled “Likes & Launches“. Many, many, many thanks to Brittany for doing the interview and giving such candid answers.

What do you think it will take for women to breakthrough more widely in technology? If you could offer one piece of feedback about gtrot to Brittany, what would it be?

  • http://brianshaffer.com/ Brian Shaffer

    I just signed up for gtrot based on John’s review. I added my trips, but found quite a few glitches. I know it’s been around awhile, but it felt like it was still very new and buggy. When I tagged friends on trips it duplicated their names up to five times. When I tried adding some cities in Asia, it didn’t find them in the gtrot database – and wouldn’t let me save the trip if it didn’t find one (I swear I’m not lying about the cities gtrot!). While hooking up with foursquare data might be good, I found that it just watered down results. I want to be able to filter by check ins that actually have comments.

    There definitely needs to be some improvements before I use this fulltime.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Shaff brother, thanks for the comment and for checking out gtrot based on the interview. I’m sure they’re pumped to have a web savvy bro like you playing with the product and sharing your feedback.

    Can the cities be added by users? Basically, crowdsource the locations in the similar way that Foursquare lets its users create new locations so the service can spread faster and become more and more useful? This would make sense for gtrot too, I think…

    As for filtering Foursquare checkins by ones that have comments, that may be outside of gtrot’s ability, not sure….is that a Foursquare thing? Not sure gtrot can enable that, you know? But, it also makes a ton of sense RE increasing the utility of gtrot.

    Maybe a serious hustler like yourself would be someone gtrot could use on its team Shaff! Haha. Thanks again for checking it out and for the candid feedback bro, I’m sure it will help Brittany and co. Get at me soon! – john

  • http://www.brittanymlaughlin.com/ Brittany Laughlin

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for checking out the site. We’re pushing new features every other week so there are a few bugs buried in there. I appreciate the feedback and will add to the fix list ASAP. Thanks for helping us make it better.

    I haven’t seen any issues with friend tagging – I’d love to learn more. Could you send me more information via email: brittany [at] gtrot .

    We’re also updating our cities library. Should be live in a matter of weeks. Thanks for the feedback! As for foursquare, we’re just starting to create smart information- Trip Chat is very much in Beta but we have some exciting updates in the pipeline. Long story short, we’re a live, working product but very much growing and responding to user feedback. I really appreciate you taking the time to check it out!

  • eyesparky

    Thanks for posting such an interesting and open interview. Although I am sliding way past your demographic, I will definitely check it out next time I am putting together a big trip. Always fun to encounter new developments to aid the travel obsessed. Cheers!

  • http://www.ryanborn.net ryanborn

    Awesome interview. You’re really hustling man. Glad to see the shout out on Both Sides of the Table. Keep on keeping on man. You’re on a path to greatness.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Mark the recovering serial entrepreneur! Thanks a lot for jumping into the comments man. Did you make a move on starting a new startup yet? Still in England?

    I’m glad you dig the interview, but I can’t take the credit – Brittany absolutely crushed it. It’s not everyday a founder as busy as I imagine she is takes the time to provide such interesting and in-depth answers. Like I wrote, this is an interview I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

    And Mark, you’re deffffff welcome to drop by here anytime hahaha, appreciate your wisdom. Adds to the learning experience I’m trying to cultivate here. Also, I used gtrot when I went to Boston last weekend. Pretty cool, efficient way of just alerting some friends that I was gonna be in Boston, you know? I tagged a bunch of friends there with my trip and basically killed four or five birds with one stone you know. Take care signor and thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Ryan, I don’t need to say anything more than ‘you know how much this means to me’.

    Appreciate the love my man. Sincerely bummed you won’t be at TC Disrupt in NYC this May. Watched your Launch presentation the other day. You dominated, and Sacca was hilarious hahaha. I showed your comment to my dad tonight, told him the story of meeting you and everything. Thanks for the support and encouragement and keeping me posted on everything with AudioMicro and all the hustle you’re involved in.

    Cheers to hustling as hard as possible

    X

  • eyesparky

    John, have to laugh, I had forgotten I had written the ‘recovering serial entrepreneur’ byline until someone hit me up with it on Twitter yesterday. Sounds like a fantastic title for a blog I should get around to writing. Best way I can describe business ventures is that I am standing in the foothills of a vast mountain range, awe inspired by the sheer scale and beauty of what is in front of me, remembering how much I love to climb. Plenty of equipment to pull together and climbing buddies to find yet though ;) .

    Yes, agree that Brittany crushed it (have you been reading @garyvee by any chance?) but have to say too that the energy, passion and enthusiasm you are pumping out is inspiring and infectious. Keep on doing what you do.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Mark, what an analogy man….from the looks of it, you have quite the creative flair for writing. That “Recovering Serial Entrepreneur” blog might an idea worth pursuing…but, my guess is that nothing will be as exciting and challenging as getting back in the arena and starting up something again. Def pulling for you in whatever direction you go.

    Drop me a line anytime if there’s something I can do to help man. My email is: exleyja@gmail.com.

    Gary! DEFINITELY. He’s been a hero of mine since fall 2008. I even had the ‘life highlight’ of getting to meet my hero, back in fall 2009 when he was on his Crush It book tour in NYC. It was the same week as Web 2.0 Expo. He’s shaped a lot of the ways I view the framework of the social web. Are you gonna read his new book “Thank You Economy”? My bro Oscar didn’t sleep for 64 hours and made a site about TYE: http://www.nosleeptillnumberone.com/ . Def worth checking out.

    Mannnnnnnnnnn I’m longwinded haha! Seriously, last sentence….thank you a Ton for that last comment….feels so reassuring reading that…copying and pasting it, sending to my dad haha. Take care my man

  • eyesparky

    John, thank you for the encouragement and I will definitely drop you a line if I need to tap into that enthusiasm ;) . Feel free to do likewise via eyesparky@gmail.com.

    Only recently bumped into the force that is Gary Vaynerchuck (don’t ask, I must have been hiding under a rock for the last few years ;) ) when he was giving a talk at LeWeb. His no nonsense, straight up approach is refreshing and the passion and positive energy coming from him is palpable. So yes, I have his new book on order and can’t wait.

    The ‘No Sleep Till Number One’ campaign was amazing. Just shows what can be achieved with belief and determination. Will definitely be following Oscar on twitter. Cheers and take care.

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Done, Mark. Just added your email to my Gmail contacts. I gotta be honest…ridiculous amounts of energy is just something I was born with. My mom likes to remind me often how ‘we’ve been telling you to slow down since the day you were born’, haha.

    Oh mannn tell me about it though, it’s like a weekly thing that I discover something new to me that’s been ‘around forever’ in the web circles, you know? Whenever you came across Gary, it was definitely a great find. The guy is as hard working and motivating as anyone I’ve ever met. I used to – and still do sometimes – watch his keynote speeches for pure inspiration and jolts of energy. As ambitious he is at talking to like every person out there, he remains as real and downright genuine as any “celebrity”, ever, you know?

    Glad you liked Oscar’s site….wow did he hustle hard on that. Oscar is a super, super, super hard working dude. Def connect with him sometime! He’s in Stockholm speaking at a university about his project this week. Pure hustle. He’s coming to TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC on May 22-25…if for any reason you make it out to NYC for that conference, let us know! Otherwise, I’m realllllllllllllllly hoping to make it to LeWeb this year.

    Meet up someday.

    Take care man! Thanks again for the comments and for putting up with my longlonglonglongwinded comments.

    - john X

  • eyesparky

    Be really good to bump into you at some point. Keep keeping it real ;) .

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Yessir Mark. Yes sir. Looking forward to it.

  • http://www.brittanymlaughlin.com/ Brittany Laughlin

    Mark – Thanks for checking out gtrot and the kind comments. Let me know when you get that blog up and running – ‘getting ready to climb’ is a great way to put it!

    John your are the best reminder and inspiration to chase what you love.

  • http://www.brittanymlaughlin.com/ Brittany Laughlin

    Thanks for checking out the interview. You have a great blog – would love to meetup when I’m out in LA sometime.

  • eyesparky

    Brittany, I will give you a shout when I wander up that hill ;) .

    John, love the new blog design … ready for a barrage of content?

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    Amazing. You’re an emerging legend in my world Brittany. Thanks for the comment

    john X

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    THANK YOU BABY!

    Oh sir. Wait til you see. I have some drafts I can’t WAIT to publish. I don’t intend on having my blog run my life, but trust me…the hustle is being turned up into super high gear.

    Let’s gooooooooooooooooo