Where Are You Now. WAYN. We’re talking the fastest growing lifestyle social media site in the world. Last year, in March, the site tallied up 4.5 million site visits a month. This year, that has grown to an extraordinary 23 million visitors a month. Launched in 2006, www.wayn.com began with 45 000 users. Now they have 19 million.
Described as a “travel and lifestyle social network”, WAYN operates 193 countries. Visitors share experiences, keep track of friends, meet new people and log their trips. When the site first started in 2006 it was mainly used for messaging, blogging and posting photos and video. But over the years WAYN has evolved into a multi-layered, highly social and engaging platform for travellers.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Jerome Touze and Peter Ward, co-CEOs of the social network, to find out more about the phenomenon of WAYN.
What was the strategy that underpinned this extraordinary growth?
We attribute this growth to a renewed sense of focus and an ongoing drive to understand what our users want when engaging with the site, we have spent a lot of time looking at ways to improve the product and simplify the user’s experience. Recent new product developments include elements that make it easier for users to add destinations and activities, meet like-minded people, invite friends, share pictures and trip-tips and experiences. Overall these developments have shifted the site into being more travel and lifestyle focused, more engaging and more contextualised.
Do you advertise yourselves or is word of mouth a key driver of your success?
We have never spent any money on advertising to date and our growth has only been the result of effective viral marketing/word of mouth marketing. This is the beauty of Social Media. With a highly engaging platform, users will spread the word and tell their friends to connect. Today, having access to the Facebook, Twitter and Gmail API, to name but a few, make such connections even easier.
WAYN generates up to 12 000 registrations a day purely from word of mouth marketing. We however do not exclude potential advertising opportunities in future and will also invest more towards PR. We see the latter as one of the ways in which we can grow further and reinforce the brand.
What do users want when they engage with the site? What major points does your feedback highlight?
WAYN users come to our platform to engage with other users because they want to meet and make new friends around the world based on similar destinations and or activities they share. Users engage a lot with photo content on the site which generates millions of engagement points each month such as rates and comments. But messaging remains a core engagement facet of the site.
We are currently in the processing of adding further services which will provide even more reasons for our users to engage around points of interest and each destination around the world such as ‘live Questions and Answers’
What started this idea, how did you come up with the concept?
I came up with the idea while on the Pacific Highway 101 in the US with friends and thought it would be cool to be able to know where your mates are and connect with them. I then approached Peter Ward (co-founder) who had been doing a summer entrepreneurship course at LBS, Pete thought it was a great idea and could see the value. We immediately brought in our other friend, Mike Lines, who is the tech brain and we started spending weekends and evenings over the next few months working on it.
What is your advertising model and how do you sustain it?
Advertisers are, unsurprisingly, companies in the travel space, such as travel companies and tourism boards. But the site also attracts advertisers in the non-travel space, such as lifestyle companies and financial services firms, keen to get to WAYN’s users. WAYN can offer advertisers detailed information about its users: where they want to travel, what they want to do, what they enjoy, and more – there are more than 100,000 data points collected each day. As such, we can present unrivalled advertising opportunities such as knowing how many travellers from a particular city will be travelling next to month to say…Paris, and who have an interest in X activities. We can also provide such targeting by demographics, rendering the advertising opportunities very relevant and highly targeted.
What is your favourite road trip music when you’re travelling?
I am more of a classic music person – but Pete is more trendy than I so guess his would vary 😉
Do you have any print media partners such as travel and lifestyle magazines or are you purely online?
We are purely online at the moment.
You say you’re “adapting the structure of the site according to the user’s journey”. Can you unpack that concept a little further?
WAYN is working on growing traffic and building the site into a much more complete travel experience. A big part of the plan involves relaunching user profiles so they are more focused on shared experiences. They are also refining the engagement so that it’s easier to share social recommendations.
Mobile growth is also on the cards. We plan to increase the number of apps that offer a social travel element. We want to help our users on the discovery side with things like where they want to go and what they should do. This includes points of interest and encouraging users to share where they’ve been and their experiences.
Do you both have your own presence on the site? Log your travels etc?
Of course! As founders, we each have our respective profile but Peter and I also have a common Founder’s profile which we use to communicate with our users: you can access our profile here: http://www.wayn.com/profiles/12094916
Where do most of your users come from, and what are those stats for the different countries?
The top 10 countries represent 50% of our traffic. Visitors come primarily from the UK, the US, France, Germany, India, the United Arab Emirates and Canada, as well as other countries in the Middle East. We are rapidly growing in emerging markets such as India, where we currently have over three million visitors each month
Jerome, why did you choose to base yourself in Cape Town?
I moved to Cape Town to set up a branch as one of our biggest clients is South African Tourism. It was a great opportunity to build on existing relationships. South Africa is a fast growing market and a gateway to an emerging world; we’re hugely excited to have the opportunity to grow WAYN in South Africa but to also this presence to further develop other markets in Africa, Middle East and India. We are in the fact in the process of assessing further physical presence in those regions.
What are the challenges of working from here with an international site?
South Africa is a market that represents an important part of our advertising market share and as such, being based here presents more opportunities than challenges – however, having been here for four months already, it is clear that being in South Africa present certain challenges such as having access to fast broadband internet (this is a common issue which is hopefully going to be addressed soon), the speed of decision making is certainly slower than what we experience in the UK or the US and the level of bureaucracy one has to deal with generally in Africa.
And the benefits?
However, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Cape Town is growing hub for most entrepreneurial ventures and many creative digital agencies. Many large advertising agencies have their base here in Cape Town such as Ogilvy, Acceleration Media, TBWA, to name but a few. The entrepreneurial eco system is certainly flourishing compared to what it used to be a few years ago thanks to proactive initiatives such as Silicon Cape / 27 Diner / Heavy Chef etc.
Cape Town is a small city but it is also easy to meet the core ‘actors’ in the market place. Everyone knows each other and this is a good thing when it comes to setting up meetings and getting work done as one can have access to resources rather effectively. Additionally, the ecommerce industry is booming here in SA: the likes of Amazon and Rocket Internet coming to create opportunities is testament of the appetite companies have for the South African market. There are many other benefits, but to me, being on same time zone as Europe and being able to go back to our HQ in London each month on an overnight flight, makes a massive difference!
What is the point of the ‘invisible’ option?
This gives the option to users of browsing other user’s profiles in private without them knowing that you are looking at such profile: whether an advertising brand or another user of the community. This is a privacy enhancement feature.
Who are your main competitors and what makes you different?
WAYN does not really have any direct competition. To some degree, sites like Trip Advisor, Expedia and Lastminute.com, that offer travel advice, reviews and sales are competitors so we do want to challenge them. But we already have a real competitive advantage when it comes to our positioning in the Social vertical.
Smaller start-ups, such as Gogobot or Virtual Tourist, recently bought by Trip Advisor, do not have sufficient scale to challenge WAYN, which now receives eight million unique visitors per month.
Why the VIP status? What is different about it?
We re-launched our premium subscription service earlier this year, which gives users a “turbo-boost upgrade”. Premium users can see who else has viewed their profile, and can feature at the top of search results. Since launching at the start of 2012, the service has grown around 14 per cent month on month, which has also boosted WAYN’s revenues.
How many employees do you have in how many countries?
WAYN employs 49 people, split between London and Szczecin in Poland and myself in Cape Town. There are 13 London-based team members who look after WAYN’s front-of-house operations, including sales and product. Szczecin’s 35 employees look after all of the company’s back office including development, testing and quality assurance, administration, account management, marketing support, project management, human resources and accounting. By far the larger portion of the business operation happens in in Szczecin. It is a lot more cost-effective for us to have operations in Poland so it gives us a competitive advantage.
What is your annual turnover, ballpark?
WAYN should generate circa R45-million in this FY and aiming to achieve the R65-million in our next financial year end. WAYN has seen revenues and profits doubling every year since 2010.