Archive for ‘February 27th, 2013’

3 Days in New York, Day Three

By Jacob Aldridge

The city that never sleeps also means an early morning rise and shine, but only for a good reason: we’re going to be on TV!

Maybe.

Today’s Experience

If you really, really want to feature on the Today Show - win a hotdog eating contest or similar. Otherwise, arrive early.

If you really, really want to feature on the Today Show – win a hotdog eating contest or similar. Otherwise, arrive early.

There’s every excuse for more American coffee this morning, as we find ourselves outside Rockefeller Plaza in the early morning. The Today Show is a New York institution – while the telecast starts at 7am, we’re here just after 6am and we are far from the first people here. Quirky signs (and comfortable shoes) abound. We’re all hoping to find ourselves in the background of this program, broadcast coast to coast in the States and also across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Philippines…honestly, we’re also a little star-struck just being this close to Al Roker!

We make it to the first weather segment – and then it’s time for bagels. As we wander down Fifth Avenue, admiring the commuters because it’s still too early for most tourists, the choice of an easy breakfast location is easy. We turn left onto the famed 42nd Street … and find ourselves in the food court of Grand Central Station! Bagel in one hand, fresh coffee in the other, we stand as a group inside the main concourse.

Just trying to take it in.

An amazing photograph inside Grand Central Station's Main Concourse. Grand Central Station is strictly called Grand Central Terminal.

Immense. Photo by Diliff, CC License

Can you believe in the late 1960s multiple plans were drawn up to demolish this cavernous space and replace it with a tower block? Jackie O was among the more famous New York personalities to rail against it, referring to New York’s “proud monuments … and beauty to inspire our children”.

Empire State of Mind

Few places in the world are more beautiful and inspiring than this, atop the Empire State Building. Two days ago we climbed 30 Rock during the evening; now is an opportunity to see the New York vistas in full daylight (although the cold weather up here doesn’t make it feel like full daylight!).

Walking around the observation deck is made all the more impressive by having had two day’s experience walking around the New York streets below – we can see where we crossed Central Park; up Fifth Avenue all the way to Tiffany’s; across to the Brooklyn Bridge; and down past 1 World Trade Centre to (just, in the distance) The Statue of Liberty.

Balloons flying over Central Park. View from the Empire State Building.

Balloons flying over Central Park.

View of Downtown New York from the Empire State Building

You can always go – Down town! (Wait, we went yesterday.)

From here we can also look down at Midtown – Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Greenwich Village, where our feet will take us next.

Empire State Building shadow, as seen from the observation deck.

A Shadow of Itself.

Just as we prepare to depart, there’s a final moment to take in this majestic spot. From An Affair To Remember to Chuck standing gilted in Season 3 of Gossip Girl, the top of the Empire State Building holds a place in our cultural heart. And here we are!

Living the High Line

New York’s most famous mode of transport has to be its subway system (though we’ll admit the yellow cab – WATCH OUT! there’s another one about to take you out as you cross the street! – is more iconic).  Imagine our surprise to learn that among the most popular tourist (and, on weekends, local) destinations is an abandoned stretch of above ground rail!

Walking the High Line.

The narrow gauge can make this crowded on weekends.

The High Line was built for rail, mostly freight, just before the Great Depression. At the time, it eliminated 105 street-level rail crossings in the growing city, but as rail was replaced by road and Manhattan industry was replaced by proto-Hipsters (we called them Baby Boomers back then), the line grew seldom used. There were moves to tear it down in the 1980s, but over the past 15 years it has increasingly been re-crafted as a meandering path of greenery above the hustle and bustle of the naked city.

Where else would you get this view along one of New York’s numbered Avenues?

There are seats here as well, on the High Line so you can watch many New York minutes pass by.

There are seats here as well, so you can watch many New York minutes pass by.

We can see why the High Line is popular with city lunchers – and as we descend, we stumble into the equally-popular Chelsea Market. I’m going to struggle to choose between a ‘Hale and Hearty Soup’ combination lunch, or the offerings at Amy’s Bread – are you just eyeing off Elini’s New York Cookies??

Shopping, Eating, Sex and the City

There’s an Anthropologie store at the far end of Chelsea Market, and it sets the scene as we wander into New York’s Meatpacking district. We have an afternoon of wandering ahead of us, and with the funky bars only just opening it’s the boutique shops that can’t help but grab our attention. Who would have thought some of the world’s best brands – Ted Baker! Kate Spade! – would be clamouring for space in one of the 250 former slaughterhouses?

To give a focus to our wandering, we decide to head for another New York institution: Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street. Having now walked more than two dozen blocks, all of a sudden our senses are confused: New York’s famous grid system, created by the Commissioners 1811 Plan, is thrown out of whack in Greenwich Village – by 1811 this area was already a popular holiday spot for New Yorkers living downtown, and the existing streets clashed with the Grid Plan here. We double back on ourselves. Eventually.

We know we’re back on track when we see a small square with park benches full of people eating cupcakes … and across the road, a queue out the door of this – the original Magnolia Bakery location. We’ll let you in on a little secret – the cupcakes are famous, but the banana pudding is the real star. If you (or your fear of a sugar coma) limit you to just one thing, definitely choose the banana pudding. (I’ll let you have a taste of my Red Velvet cupcake.)

Banana Pudding or Banana Custard? When it's from Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker St, who cares!

This is my banana pudding face.

A favourite of Sex and the City fans after it featured in Season 2, many of the same fans fail to realise that just around the corner … onto Perry Street … we can actually photograph ourselves in front of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment!

If SATC is not your style, let’s head a few blocks further south to the corner of Bedford and Grove, where we can look up to the Friends apartment building. Don’t get caught up on which apartment is Monica’s – in the early series they were living in the top floor of a six storey walk-up, but later on they definitely had an upstairs neighbour! Strange things happen in the big city.

The Friends Apartment, Bedford and Grove New York City

Don’t even ask about the balcony. Photo by Rob Young, CC License

Soho, Noho and Bye-Bye NYC!

Powered by a cupcake and custard high, our feet are immune to pain as we walk into the final afternoon of our 3 days in New York. The districts of Soho, Noho, and Nolita provide a contrast of styles and moods – before venturing through these neighbourhoods (and Steve was right on day one, this is a city best seen on foot) we had imagined Manhattan to be a homogeneous city dominated by commercial property. In truth, and our first glimpse at the top of Central Park made this clear, this is a bigger city than we ever could have imagined, and the neighbourhoods really are distinct – and each worth exploring.

Greenwich Village Streets, New York

Doesn’t look like a cliche of New York, does it?

Indeed, with 3 days in New York, we’ve not had a chance to venture far afield – uptown above 100th, across to The Bronx, or Queens, or out to Brooklyn. And changing ferries on Staten Island doesn’t count. So we’ve barely scratched the surface of only one Borough!

Our final New York dinner is back on Greenwich Avenue, at the newly opened and already cool Rosemary’s. A ‘no reservation’ policy means we are rewarded for arriving early (we blame our evening flight for not being fashionably late), and the reward is an eclectic combination of flavours that are best shared as a group … and with whichever wine the server suggests – they’re all the same price at $40 / bottle or $10 / glass.

It’s going to take something impressive to better our 3 days in New York. And as we head to the airport for our very short flight, we have a suspicion that upstate there might just be something sizeable enough.

The Empire State Building, at night, with an American Flag

Now Spreading the Sad News – We’re Leaving Today…

Want to go? Need to know!

  • There are no tickets to the Today Show – finding yourself on TV is a combination of good planning (arriving well before 7am, and preparing a sign so you are ‘ushered’ into a prime position for the outside crosses) and good luck.
  • Tickets for the Empire State Building start at just $25, which gains you entry to the 86th Floor main deck. Buy online in advance to skip the ticket queues, and review options for the 102nd Floor top deck and express ticket add-ons that allow you to skip additional queues for the lifts. (Or just go early in the morning, the best time of day to climb the Empire State Building.)
  • Magnolia Bakery is a definite draw for tourists – we wanted to see where it all began, but to do so we have ignored the locations near our apartment on the Upper West Side, and this morning at Grand Central Terminal (when it was definitely bagel o’clock).
  • Residents have chained off access to the stoop of Carrie’s apartment, and many Sex and the City Tours New York have stopped visiting here on their request. This is understandable – and please, no repeating the drunk nighttime rantings of recovering alcoholic Patrick Casey in Season 2.
  • New York Taxis have a fixed fare of $52 to JFK Airport from anywhere on Manhattan. During peak hours (roughly 7am to 7pm), it’s probably more reliable to take the train out from Penn Station to Jamaica Station, and change there for the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) to JFK. For our evening flight, the taxi made perfect sense.

OK New Yorkers and New York fans – what were the most amazing things we missed in our 3 Days in New York. We’ll definitely be back! Let us know in the comments below, or come start a discussion on our Facebook page.

Disappointment with 1,110% Growth

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Experience

If you read our first month’s review posts (Part 1 and Part 2) you’ll know that EveryDaydream Holiday is a travel entertainment startup – we craft a travel story so real it feels like your own endless vacation, and deliver it to your inbox five days a week.

We’ve also made a commitment to document the process of building this travel startup into a viable and thriving business, and to do so in the open.

Why we are sharing all of this information with you? Because we love articles that peer under the hood (open the kimono?) of other web businesses – and based on the outstanding feedback you sent us after our Month 1 posts, it seems like you do too.

Based on great feedback from swombat last month, we aim to make this month’s communication more directly useful to other startups: it’s still not “3 things we did that changed our business so you can too”, but we’re sharing our experience so you can learn from it rather than going alone yourself.

Our biggest lesson so far?

Write these posts for your business. We have learnt so much reviewing the data, so our advice is to do it for yourself (even if you don’t publish it).

Disappointment with Unique Visitors up 1,110.12%

We were “reasonably” happy with Month 1’s 919 unique visitors.

In Month 2 we had 11,121 unique visitors. Our disappointment comes from the fact that almost all of that traffic was focused on one article and one day.

EveryDaydream Holiday - Month 2 Traffic Data for our travel startup

EveryDaydream Holiday – Month 2 Traffic Data

The post that caused the spike was part two of last month’s analysis – which we affectionately call our “200 Hours Effort” post. It hit the front page of Hacker News just before midnight Sydney time (breakfast time in Silicon Valley) – and created an unbelievable day of excitement for us both. The highlight was being mentioned in the Wall Street Journal ‘Startup Must Reads’, mostly because our families have no idea what Hacker News is.

Even now, one month later, we’re still working through the great ideas and feedback we received from “200 Hours Effort” – on HN, Twitter, and by direct emails from fellow travel startups. Thank you all so much, and please feel free to keep coming with constructive criticism (or love notes!).

The problem, though, is that when you remove that one post, our site traffic was fairly steady. And since that one post is not our core product – it was about our business, not one of the amazing travel experiences we’ve published – it’s not something that will create a sustainable reputation in our target market.

This problem was exacerbated by the immediate consequences that a well-shared article has on a new site’s traffic – namely, that it gave us a temporary traffic boost. And we didn’t appreciate how temporary it was.

When we ignore the enormousness of the spike, you can see the minimal long term benefit we received.

When we ignore the enormousness of the spike, you can see the minimal long term benefit we received.

Here’s the same data, with the big spike removed. On close inspection you can see that, for the week afterwards, average traffic was at a level well above our previous averages. The primary change was a benefit in our Google rankings, with the resulting traffic increase. This was reflected in subscriber numbers – the immediate result of the big traffic day was a 50% increase in subscriber numbers, and we were now getting 2-3 subscribers a day – not earth-shattering, but a jump for us. However we treated both of those results as a new normal. They weren’t.

And so as a result, our focus shifted away from traffic generation to almost exclusively creating our daily content. And when both traffic and subscriber momentum dipped in the second half of the month, we weren’t prepared.

It’s fair to say that following this we had two down energy weeks – we’re living proof of what Marc Andreesen calls “incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed”; and we’re definitely experiencing pg’s startup curve (which I’ve written about before).

We were unprepared for the dip, and our expectations were busted. We ended the month with some great raw numbers – traffic and subscribers way up; but not with the most important and intangible metric – momentum.

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • When you’re a new site, one post well shared will have an immediate impact on your search engine experience
  • There will also be lingering benefits to your site-wide traffic, but these won’t last
  • Identify the fundamentals – for us, content, traffic, subscriber numbers and engagement – and never fall for the temptation to ignore one of these, even for a little while

WHAT NEXT FOR TRAFFIC?

Dow Jones Chart 1985 to 2009

Here’s a graph of the Dow Jones from 1985 to 2009. That small blip on the left hand side is the 1987 stock market crash. At the time, it was devastating – like, throw yourself out a window devastating. In hindsight, it’s so ‘small’ I usually have to draw people’s attention to it [I run events, some of which incorporate these charts, as part of my business coaching company].

Why the Stock Market analogy? Well our intent is to make that traffic spike, which currently dominates our landscape, as negligible in our graph as the 1987 crash is in this graph. Early in Month 3, we’re on our way – there are now other days that appear on the graph as something other than a blue line along the bottom. We want Month 3 to be larger, more consistent, and more engergising to us as founders.

CONTENT EXPERIENCE

I had to do some data dumping for analysis – you can skip these lists and go straight to the points below, but I thought it worthwhile sharing so other sites can have some comparable data about traffic.

Here is a top 5 list of our most engaging daily newsletters from this month – the metric we use to measure engagement is Opened Click Through Rate;

  1. Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong. (29.17%)
  2. Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice. (23.81%)
  3. Minus 35° Celsius. Time for a swim (20.55%)
  4. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (19.72%)
  5. Zen and the Art of Painting a Pavilion in Gold Leaf (18.60%)

Here’s a list of our top daily destination travel posts, by pageviews of all time;

  1. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (1979)
  2. Houston, We Have No Problem (301)
  3. Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice. (150)
  4. Parading the New Orleans Mardi Gras (147)
  5. Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong. (136)

And here are the top 5 posts as landing pages from search engine traffic

  1. Guatemala to Belize City Bus Ride (16)
  2. Teotihuacan Pyramid Tour, Mexico City (10)
  3. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (8)
  4. Parading the New Orleans Mardi Gras (8)
  5. From Glico Neon to Geisha Style (6)

We were interested to see the similarities and the differences in these lists.

Volcanoes are Fun?

Volcanoes are Fun? Photo by Oisin Prendiville, CC License

We published 21 posts this month, and 10 are included in at least one of these lists. What do they have in common, and what sets them apart from the others (including our 5-state southern USA roadtrip)?

Well the data is small, so rather than drawing a conclusion let me put forward my hypothesis around this:

  • ‘Off the beaten track’ style content is rewarded.

We heard this in our pre-launch survey: when we asked “Which type of destinations do you want to see most”, 59% said ‘off the beaten track’ and 56% said ‘every country in the world’ (respondents could choose 3 options).

I believe this is being supported in our data – unusual destinations are being opened, shared externally, and we also rank higher for those less-popular (read: less-competitive) destination phrases.

The challenge is applying this to our ‘Calendar of Awesome’, which is now planned neatly in advance (see Revenue, below). This currently includes a proper trip through Europe via New York City – is Copenhagen going to be considered unusual enough to garner traffic? Is the global popularity of New York going to compensate for the lack of uniqueness that another ‘3 days in New York‘ article will conjure? Time – and the data created in that time – will tell.

And, of course, the old chestnut – what is off the beaten path is subjective. Osaka and Kyoto are exotic destinations … unless you live in Tokyo.

I want to touch briefly on community stuff and social media, as a driver for traffic and as a reward for producing engaging content. When you remove the “200 Hours Effort” post and just look at our core content, there really wasn’t much social data to speak of this month. This was a revelation to us exposed by this analysis, as we had thought social media was contributing more than it turns out it was! So far in Month 3, our traffic efforts have been focused on social media with a big impact.

(This is the perfect time to mention the weekly ‘Where in the World?’ quiz on our Facebook page, for example.)

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • If you produce lots of content, it pays to examine the lots of data created.
  • Create hypotheses, not conclusions, and then test them. This data may look completely different next month.
  • Recognise the value of meta-posts (those about the business) for traffic – and recognise the difference in the traffic.

WHAT NEXT FOR CONTENT?

  • Next, we get to test the hypothesis about off the beaten track. We’re not yet ready to commit fully to only delivering on this – we may find that London and New York are engaging for completely different reasons.
  • Looking forward, there are a higher proportion of near-future locations that I’ve been to previously – we shall see if that helps me create better itineraries or more engaging prose / photos.
  • Creating some more meta-content, but with a greater focus on our target market. About 0.5% of the Hacker News readers last month ended up subscribing to our daily travel emails – we suspect that rate will be much higher if the traffic spikes come from a travel-related site, not Startup News.

REVENUE EXPERIENCE

Last month’s title hook was “How we Turned 200 Hours Effort Into Zero Revenue“. We can’t steal that again, because we’ve actually earned this month a whopping … $6.62.

Our first Amazon affiliate sale - the 21st Century equivalent to framing your first paycheque.

Our first Amazon affiliate sale – the 21st Century equivalent to framing your first paycheque.

  • All from Amazon affiliate fees
    (If you click this link and buy something we get a commission)
  • All (well, both) sales were initiated by the “200 Hours Effort” traffic spike; no purchases were travel related.

Our intent was for the Amazon affiliate program to be temporary (or, more specifically, for the Amazon ads on our homepage and emails to be temporary; specific product links might remain with affiliate codes). And here we are this month still featuring them, and having added World Nomads Travel Insurance to the mix (worth noting – that’s a genuine recommendation based on our personal experience using them).

We applied to a travel specific affiliate network, and were not accepted (based, we understand, on the age of our site). We have been accepted into Lonely Planet’s program, and will be rolling that out (final research going to plan) this month. (Again, we actually use and recommend Lonely Planet guides, and would do so regardless of the affiliate agreement.)

But affiliate advertising was never our business model, and work is underway behind the scenes to build our direct advertising program.

We believe there’s an opportunity connecting small businesses (like a local restaurant or boutique hotel) with travellers early in the travel inspiration process. It’s great for a restaurant owner to be on someone’s short list based on TripAdvisor ratings; but how much more powerful is it for them to be part of the reason someone is inspired to visit a destination?

Part of the delay in launching this program is ethical discussions between us as co-founders. This is becoming more difficult to resolve when you look at the business models for content-led businesses like The Atlantic and BuzzFeed. There, content as simply entertainment has seen examples of them opting not to distinguish between advertising from editorial.

As a content entertainment site, where do we sit in that spectrum? To what extent will we allow advertising to impact content?

More on that when decisions have been finalised, but it’s looking like a filter around improving the quality of our content and adding utility to the reader. EveryDaydream Holiday is not a site for your traditional ‘reach and frequency’ marketing dollars – nor are we going to feature Scientology Beach Resorts simply because we’ve been paid to do so.

I mentioned previously our ‘Calendar of Awesome’. This maps out our itinerary for the future – currently just over 3 months in advance (a goal identified in last month’s post, now met). A key benefit of this is being able to approach or respond to advertisers well in advance – creating time for conversation and personalisation.

(For returning readers who want to know, our content creation is not yet far ahead of our publishing schedule – a key risk for our daily email business model.)

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • We knew, but in case you aren’t aware, that part of why affiliate programs make poor revenue models is the minimum thresholds that must be reached before they pay out. So while we’ve “made” $6.62, in reality we won’t see that money until we reach the $150 threshold with Amazon.
  • Put more time aside than you are currently planning to, to implement your revenue plans. Unless you’re well-funded and part of a land grab for customers, progress in this area is a key part of maintaining your energy and momentum.

WHAT NEXT FOR REVENUE?

  • We could do ‘more of the same’ – there’s definitely more we can do to integrate useful affiliate links into our content.
  • But we believe our opportunity remains with the larger-value direct advertising. Expect next month to see a specific page for Advertising with EveryDaydream Holiday and maybe (depending on speed of conversion) some data in the revenue section around sales in this sphere.
  • Content creation revenue (eg, producing an ebook from our detailed series of posts about New Zealand) remains part of our future plans – we create travel entertainment, why not find a way to package it such that people will see more value and purchase that?

Want to be involved?

  • We want your thoughts, and I’m sure other readers here and on Hacker News would benefit as well.
  • If you do “Love to Travel More Than You Love to Work”, consider subscribing to our free daily newsletter or Liking our Facebook page.
  • And if you have any specific questions about your business, and you think our experience might help, please let us know – my email is jacob@everydaydreamholiday.com.
  • Lastly, keep an eye out for part two, which will be a more thorough analysis of our email marketing efforts based not just on Month 2 but our first 50 email campaigns! (This link will go live when the article does.)
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