InBed.me Changes Name To WeHostels And Scores 120% Increase In SignUps
Traveling on the cheap, especially when you’re young, usually means more than a couple of stays in hostels. The experience can be amazing, exposing you to interesting people from around the world and creating instant, strong friendships. But if you end up in the wrong place, a hostel can completely ruin your trip.
Diego Saez-Gil launched Wehostels (formerly InBed.me) in December 2011 to help people connect before they land in a new city or country and hopefully get rid of those bad hostel experiences. Previously just a website, Wehostel is about to launch an awesome mobile app that will combine social media networking with hostel booking, all from your smartphone.
Diego chatted with me from his top secret lakeside house in the countryside outside of Bogota, Colombia, where he has sequestered his seven person tech team for a month of what he calls “hacking immersion.” From 7 am until 12 at night these dudes are plugging away with no distractions to work on bringing you the best product possible.
Let’s start with the basics. What was your initial funding for the website?
Initially I started with my credit card and savings that I had. At some point we got some angel money from two investors from Argentina: Ariel Arrieta, founder of Digital Ventures (sold to FOX) and NXTP Labs, and Alec Oxenford, founder of DeRemate, DineroMail and OLX.
They gave me money very early. We didn’t even have a company at this point. The just wired me money to my personal account out of trust because we’d been building a personal relationship over time. They loved the idea and they wired me money, $75,000, with which we went and built a product.
Then this year we raised our first round of $1.2 million dollars from investors and entrepreneurs who made their own money and are interested in investing and mentoring.
Excellent! Do you want to talk a little bit about what Wehostels is?
Wehostels is a social networking site for hostel travelers. It’s basically a community of young travels that like to make friends when they travel. We started with this very simple idea that with the social web—with Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare—you have a lot of information that can be shared with people who are traveling and that we as a company could actually show the different travelers who else was going to be in the hostel so that they could start connecting. With the social information we could show whether you have friends or interests or places in common and this information could be used as an icebreaker to start a conversation with the people that you’re going to be sharing accommodations with and make friends before you arrive to your destination.
Secondly, one important thing that we’re developing is, in July we’re launching our first iPhone app. Then the whole website is designed for mobile in that you access the website through a mobile device. The design of the website is soft and nice and you can have a very nice experience through your mobile.
This is something that the traditional companies don’t have.
We’ve observed that young travelers are increasingly traveling with mobile devices instead of laptops. Now your phone is your computer and you can do booking, you can make friends, you can do everything from your mobile device. We want to take advantage of this big shift.
I saw you guys changed your name recently. What prompted that?
Yeah we did. Our first name was InBed.me and we thought it was kind of a funny, catchy name but then we realized that people were, um, misinterpreting the name.
Thinking it was a sexual thing?
Yeah, exactly. (laughs) The beauty of the web is you can test everything so we put two websites— InBed.me and the other one, Wehostels—and we tested the conversions, etc. We saw a huge incrase in signups, like 120% increase in signups with the new name.
So we said, basically, this is a big change so we decided to go ahead and change it.
We love the new name. We think it really conveys who we are. “We” conveys community and “hostels” are the type of accommodation we provide.
You talk about connecting people to the most social hostels. In my experience there are a lot of different kinds of “social” when it comes to hostels. For example, a party hostel or more a home kind of place. Is that something you guys take into account?
Yeah, absolutely, there’s a wide range of social interactions in the different types of hostels. What we want to do is let the community express that, let the community say, “Yeah, this hostel is more of a crazy party hostel” or whatever.
And then the other thing that we do is that we are aggregating all of the social information of the people who stay in the hostels and then show this information. For example, if a hostel attracts a lot of people who like Bob Marley we can show you that. Based on this kind of social aggregation information about a certain hostel you can get an idea of what kind of hostel it is.
We call this “social relevancy,” which is something you currently don’t have.
I also had a feeling when I was checking out your site that it had a similar vibe to Couchsurfing, just in that it’s about building community and meeting people as you travel. Was that something that you guys took a look at when you were starting?
Yeah, I’m a member of the couchsurfing community. It’s a similar community in the sense that it consists of young, independent travelers who find new relationships when they travel.
The thing with couchsurfing is you can’t book hostels. It’s a community where people can open their couches to other travelers, which is very cool, but many people don’t want to do that. Many people want to stay in a hostel and make friends. We saw the opportunity… They can do the booking, the can see the hostel website, and it’s kind of like the community that Couchsurfing has.
I think Couchsurfing is great but we are a different product.
What’s your best travel story?
My best travel story? Oh, I have a lot…
Okay, maybe not best. How about one that’s good that you’re willing to share on the internet?
Sure! One good story is I was living in Barcelona and I wanted to go to Portugal. What I did was I went and hitchhiked. I took a van all the way to Lisbon then stayed in a hostel in Lisbon and met a lot of friends. It was really crazy because no one hitchhikes in Europe anymore.
It was cool, I made a lot of friends and actually the guy in the van is now my friend on Facebook.
Out of all of the experiences I’ve had I wanted to build something cool to help people make friends.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs who are trying to get a startup going?
Well, this is my second startup. In my first startup we failed to accomplish the things we wanted to accomplish and I think one of the things that I really learned is that you’ve got to build something and put it out there even if it’s not perfect. Make something, put it out there, and with that there’s a way bigger chance that you’re going to get funding and employees and customers.
So my advice is build something and put it out there, even if it’s embarrassing.
My second piece of advice—and this is something I’m learning in this company—is focus. In the beginning you want to do a lot of things but you cannot because there are really limited resources in a startup. You’ve got to focus and say “This is one thing that we’re going to do and we’re going to be the best at this one thing.” For example, we’re switching from web to mobile. We decided we couldn’t do web and mobile and be the best in mobile, so let’s be the best in mobile.