We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Michael Becker”, CEO of the New York – USA based start-up “GeoSure”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
GeoSure is a global travel information firm which provides critical decision support to the worldwide travel community. Powered by advanced predictive analytics, GeoSure’s first product is a GPS enabled iOs app which delivers our exclusive, personalized “threat temperature” and crowd-sourced reporting capability for anyone, anytime, anywhere. The app provides a simple, fast and accurate way for users to gauge the level of vulnerability to physical harm, theft, political abuse, and health related risks at unfamiliar destinations anywhere in the world, down to the street level, real-time.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
GeoSure was founded in 2013 after a year of careful market research, planning and competitive landscape analysis. The company is still nascent stage with a recently introduced iOs app (available free in the App Store) but with aggressive development plans and highly receptive market reaction, we believe rapid expansion is inevitable in the near term.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
The business model is ‘freemium’, metadata sales and subscription based. We expect to always offer a highly useful and functional, highly appealing free version to worldwide users and user groups. Feedback and input from user groups has revealed opportunities to develop even more technically enhanced features for which GeoSure will charge a nominal fee. Metadata sales in the near term and longer term products along with subscription and licensing fees for other information products. In addition, hyper-local advertising model opportunities are available in subsequent product iterations.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Primarily through Columbia Business School in NYC. Other team members came through long established, well trusted relationships. Michael Becker – CEO, Dr. Donald Pardew – Chief Scientific Officer, Jeff Johnson – Senior Technical, Adam Hanft – Marketing & Brand Strategist, Richard Mastoloni – Finance & Operations, David Rogers – Strategy & Innovation, Kimberley Person – Women Travelers and Study Abroad Programs, Lucas HanftSenior Marketing Advisor, Caterina Sparacino Data Collection Analyst.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
GeoSure delivers specific threat temperatures (personalized risk scores) in five categories for all major cities in the world (over 3,200). Exclusive threat temperatures are derived using a vast array of data sources and predictive analytics, not just organizational judgments. Customized threat scores based upon personal characteristics, travel habits and level of experience. In addition, users report travel experiences and share them with other members of the worldwide GeoSure community. Updated, ongoing threat assessments for specific, granular locations, right down to the neighborhood and street level further distinguishes GeoSure from other information apps.
Existing travel safety and security sources are largely narrative. GeoSure creates “context” meaning a user can gauge his/her threat level on a scale from 1-99. This numerical value gives the users context not available to most travelers and puts risk in a perspective more easily understood. GeoSure also shares user submitted reports from on the ground users for the community.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
User growth, market receptivity organizational support from users groups around the world has been nothing short of thrilling and far beyond our expectation. Albeit from a small base, we have had rapid adoption from across all market segments, travel & tourism, education and study abroad, human rights, insurance and financial services. To our knowledge, GeoSure is the first firm to launch a travel information app for the world-wide travel community combining predictive analytics, advanced data sourcing and collection processes and crowdsourcing to give users improved decision making ability. And we’ve offered it for users, free.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
There are several, excellent travel safety and security information apps including ISOS, Smart Travelers, Global Secure, Safe To Go, Safe Trip and others. Most offer very helpful information such as embassy, hospital, local authorities, current events and help links. At GeoSure, our goal was to offer a highly differentiated product and feature set to distinguish amongst the competitive landscape. By utilizing advanced technologies such as predictive analytics and data collection processes, GeoSure can deliver what no other services can do: personalized context and real-time, highly granular information from “boots on the ground”.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
We had technical issues, beta testing delays and unanticipated resubmits which delayed launch for several months beyond our original plans. Although we carefully studied the market and researched consumer desires for travel insight and information, we were offering something that had not been done before: personalized, contextualized, highly granular information. Despite the markedly increased utility of GeoSure’s information and customized detail, users unaccustomed to new ways of evaluating and assessing threats required education. Taking the time to explain our product user utility, use case bandits differentiation has been both rewarding and ultimately greatly to our benefit. Once users (and user groups) understand our product, they immediately recognize the value, and refer it to their peers and constituents.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Although we can’t say for certain what others know or don’t know,we would never possess the hubris to assume the competitive field (nor those external to the industry) is unaware of emerging technologies and novel scientific applications to travel safety information. But we believe the travel information industry is ripe for disruption. By leveraging a unique combination of sophisticated algorithms, big data and technology, GeoSure can deliver personalized, highly accurate travel risk assessments, while reducing search costs and information rents to near zero. Narrative is important. But numbers (data) provide precision and can be analyzed to predict trends.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
First, by maintaining our competitive and differentiated featureset advantage – and rapidly building on that edge. Second, offering consistently improved, higher quality products at vastly reduced costs for the market. Third, the market for travel is burgeoning, to 3.9B passengers by 2017 according to IATA. Fourth, due to the ubiquitous use and growth of worldwide mobile device use very much plays to our advantage, and five, the trend of on-demand – using your phone to control your life, we believe is vital. We believe the ability to demand the service or product one wants, real-time, to better control one’s life, is durable and will expand.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
GeoSure has several additional products in the development pipeline, new market segments and user group opportunities as a natural outgrowth of our current base capabilities. Ultimately, GeoSure is an information and media company. Unfortunately, that’s about all we can publically disclose at this point.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
GeoSure’s ‘secret sauce’ is Dr. Donald Pardew, a statistician with extensive experience using big data predictive analytics to model risk for virtually every economic sector, especially travel and tourism applications. Dr. Pardew has many years of experience developing risk models specifically for the travel industry, one of the larger and fastest growing global industries. Michael Becker is an experienced entrepreneur and investor with a background in security consulting. Sensing market demand trends for personalized travel risk assessments, coupled with the ability to develop efficient, precise tools utilizing advanced technologies and data collection methods, we saw an opportunity to dramatically increase the accuracy and power of information while simultaneously reducing the cost of traditional travel security information services. GeoSure was born.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Geo-political events are escalating, technological change is rapidly accelerating, consumers are demanding better and faster functionality delivered to their handsets every day. Actors who are aware and can adapt to these trends, provide leading edge technical solutions at vastly reduced costs, and will succeed. Conversations with hundreds of travelers and different user types have elucidated what features and capabilities the market demands. “Me too” commodity service and information providers with high fixed cost businesses without some kind of technical or informational advantage, will fail.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
GeoSure’s overwhelming focus is product development and UX improvement. Because technology is so critical to our long term strategy, it necessarily will be our biggest challenge to implement timely and efficiently. Marketing, branding and awareness closely follow product development. As a startup, GeoSure is not unaware of the vital importance of effective exposure and development of brand equity. This requires time, capital and knowledgeable staff.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
GeoSure offers a highly attractive customer value proposition. GeoSurecollects, processes and analyzes information from hundreds of data sets and sources globally, and delivers it to users handsets, everywhere around the world, free. A portion of the information we provide is available to anyone who wants to hunt for it, but GeoSure does the heavy lifting, a significant convenience for the user. Another, larger portion of the information is proprietary and not available unless users download the app and use GeoSure’s services. Creating an optimal user experience is of paramount importance to GeoSure.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Social media, PR, referrals, direct marketing and relationships. We utilize traditional marketing methods such as SEO/SEM and in the near future, once we build in different platforms such as Android, launch foreign language versions and partner with organizations offering complementary services.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Individual travelers, citizens and organizations with traveling constituents. User groups include global travel & tourism, international education, study abroad programs, human rights and women’s rights, insurance, private banking, financial services and media concerns. Ultimately, global economic development arms of cities and countries hoping to expand and help develop tourism and travel in their countries will be adopters, too.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
GeoSure is active in social media, user group referrals, public relations and media initiatives, and direct marketing. Users are intrigued by the uniqueness of the offering, and we find for more and more users, especially outside of the US, when traveling to less familiar destinations, having a better understanding of what to expect i.e. “context”, is highly appealing. Users also want to know what others are saying about destinations. Sharing experiences, contributing to the benefit of the community, is very motivating.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
We’ve received terrific reception from every target segment. I think that’s because nearly everyone wants to have a simple, accurate way to assess their surroundings, familiar or less familiar, when traveling. Userssay they like to know what others are reporting, they want to be able to contribute to our community by reporting themselves, and they find the personalization phenomenal. Most people say “Oh, it’s like Waze for the travel market” and many have said, “I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before.” We’re obviously flattered by these observations.
Most people are amazed by the customization of the service – GeoSure personalizes users threat temperatures based on their profile. Attributes such as nationality, gender, travel experience, languages, travel habits, when statistically modeled can be used to indicate higher – or lower – likelihood of unwanted events across several categories. Users say they have never seen this personalization before and that it’s incredibly useful. They say the ‘context’ is highly unique and helpful. For example, travelers can read narrative about the general security climate in any country in the world. But by providing a value or a number (threat temp from 1-99), users immediately grasp a clearer perspective of how that narrative may relate to their experience.
20. How are you going to scale?
In our view, scales directly related to product upgrades, increased functionality, accelerated marketing and branding campaigns and new product introductions. We believe ultimately the wired, mobile world will want the convenience of accessibility – and demand to know everything, including their vulnerabilities in less familiar environments in the case of travel, and for citizens in environments with unstable conditions. Technologies such as GeoSure will become standard services just as personal financial, health, quantified self and other apps have become commonly accepted applications designed to improve life experiences and personal efficiency.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Customized communication systems is probably the most requested feature. We’re fortunate to have a large, highly loyal community of dedicated advocates who provide qualitative research opinions on design, content and functionality. Feed forward, from all our market segments contribute valuable insight on product direction so GeoSure can deliver optimal solutions.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes. As a worldwide app for global travelers and citizens, internationalization has been a fundamental part of our strategy from day one. Accomplishing internationalization requires talent, technology, data, partners, complementors and capital. We have put in place many of these initiatives, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Additional languages, increased data collection capabilities and strengthened technology are on the drawing board to support GeoSure’s aggressive international expansion efforts.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
GeoSure is an information company, ultimately. The technical foundation we’re building allows for several applications for growth across new products and new market segmentsranging from travel & tourism to financial services. We also have several ideas for separate but highly complementary business lines and products using our core technical foundation of big data, data collection, algorithms and analytical expertise. Through careful strategic analysis and thorough evaluation of market needs as well as trends, we believe we can ultimately create three to four additional companies under the existing GeoSure umbrella, employing technical specialists in the top 15 to 20 markets around the world.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Yes. GeoSure is looking for developers, data collection specialists, content managers, country specialists, social media expertise, and sales and marketing professionals for travel and tourism, university study abroad and international education, insurance and women and human rights market segments.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Yes. Partnering opportunities across the travel & tourism value chain, international education, insurance value chain, accelerators, complementors are critical for efficient GeoSure distribution and exposure initiatives. GeoSure is also interested in capital opportunities from angels and VC’s to help support development initiatives and marketing. GeoSure has a carefully crafted, strategic revenue model which we believe will offer a not-insignificant profitability ramp and valuation increase in the near term. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Make sure your product, service or concept is unique, differentiated and has a strong value proposition. It can’t be a “me too” business.The ability to pivot, changing strategies is okay and in some cases, the best method of survival. If a particular strategy or product is just not working, then change that strategy. Find a different path to customers and monetization.Your early partners, employees and advisors must be committed to the business.You must be certain the people you bring aboard have integrity and abide by their word.Anyone will work for a paycheck. As the founding entrepreneur, it is your duty to ensure that your employees, partners and board members are principled, experienced in startups, understand their fiduciary obligations, and put the company’s interests ahead of their own interests.