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…
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.
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?