I recently was able to talk to Erick Arndt of Timeshare Juice, if you don’t remember he pitched during the interview with Michael Robertson and was the winner of the Bing Perfect Pitch contest. I don’t think you could have asked for a better guest considering Michael’s past of fighting the big established corporations and Erick doing the same. He is going head-to-head against two entrenched timeshare exchange services that wield too much power and make it expensive for the user to trade timeshares.
Two weeks ago Timeshare Juice launched their full release (Bloomberg Bussiness Week) and I had been meaning to contact Erick so this was the perfect opportunity see what he has been up to, needless to say he’s been busy. I had so many question, I started off with 17 and shrunk the list the best I could but I will break this into two pieces.
Q&A with Erick:
Can you start at the beginning and work forward?
We launched (a small invitation only alpha) a month before the TWiST show (Nov. 2009) which consisted of friends and family and quickly learned we needed more users (real timeshare owners and subject matter experts) a lot of the feedback we received was in not knowing the timeshare industry. Later in Jan. we launched an open beta with the primary goal of listening to the users and performance testing. We have now moved on to our full release (5/11/10) and our primary goal is community building.
How are you building your community / customer base, you mentioned Google adwords in the show, how is that working, have you changed direction or found better cost effective marketing?
I reached out to timeshare owners and asked them to take a look, I listened and they began to tell others. I went to blogs, other timeshare communities, YouTube. etc. The scary thing is when you don’t have anyone on the site people are nervous to be the first but we crossed that pretty quickly. The invite only alpha was helpful. When you first launch, you have no SEO-Juice so you have to reach out to people. Adwords has been really helpful. I have learned so much. I watched a great clip with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferris discussing Adwords. What I took from that was that it wasn’t so much a way to spend 10k per month buying words but it was a fantastic learning tool to understand how people search for data in your market niche. Google Analytics: I get the most traffic from “timeshare juice” as a search term. Also we have members in Spain, Australia, quite a few in Israel, Thailand. I wouldn’t know that if it wasn’t for Google Analytics
Your pitch was very good, have you pitched in the past, if not, what is your background, are you in sales?
I spent 8 years in Management Consultant helping Fortune 500 companies implement business applications. The morning of the show I was notified I’d be on, if interested. Obviously, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity but I didn’t have a pitch prepared. I’m new at this so I am constantly trying to learn. I’m always reading at Barnes and Noble and Borders – I’m like furniture there. So if you like the pitch the credit goes to Guy Kawasaki’s book (Art of the Start) and Jason’s show TWiST. Both have really helped me so much. My industry is unique and the story is different than what everyone else is talking about. I knew whoever I pitched would be completely off guard so I knew I had to ground them quickly with the market size and then build them up. I wrote the pitch thinking how I would explain the business to my mom. I started off with a detailed list of points and then started simplifying my message to the point I intentionally left out how I was going to monetize in order to get follow up questions and keep it compelling. From their I practiced 10 – 12 times so I was confident I wouldn’t go beyond 1 minute. One thing that may have helped along the way is Timeshare Juices biggest fan my 10 year old daughter, if she can understand it anyone can. I love when she is selling the idea to her teachers.
You were the winner of the Bing Perfect Pitch contest and the prize was a half day session with Creature, can you tell me about that?
Approximately three weeks ago I traveled up to Seattle and had a 4 hour session with the guys at Creature (Jason, Robson, Clara) they were helpful in refining Timeshare Juice. It was a high energy session where they brought in different people with different areas of expertise to chime in. I furiously took notes to capture all the thoughts and then I went to a pub and dissected it, looking for gold. Clara’s insight on UI and navigation was important, she deserves a raise. Their approach was to help me refine a message for each person that will interact with Timeshare Juice be it a user, journalist or investor. I met with Stefan Weitz of Bing (TWiST #38) and he explained that most startups startout going 100mph with a poor message and a year and a half later they finally refine their message after it’s too late. This was the reason for choosing Creature as the prize.
Do you think the expense if you hadn’t won the contest was worth it?
Have you read “Good to Great” if so, I think this experience will separate Timeshare Juice from the rest and help us become great.
I for one am a fan of your site, I know you are not a designer or developer, would you like to give a shout out to who helped you build such a beautiful site?
I interviewed quite a few companies and people before I selected Antonio Diaz (Artifice Studios). It just clicked for me. He’s young and he’s hungry and he was really excited about the project when we met. We had a really good chemistry when we talked about what we could achieve. Chemistry is really important when taking on a project like this. I had already spent 6-8 months creating a very detailed specs packet so I knew what I wanted. Antonio worked very hard in getting TimeshareJuice to where it’s at. He’s very proud of what he’s created. He deserves big props…and a vacation. I can’t help but give a shout out to my close friend Mike Tejada, he was very helpful on the UI part.
Side note: When I asked Erick this question, his first comment was, “what do you like about it?”. He was seeking feedback which I thought interesting, he did go on to say that the UI was extremely important and he wanted the site to be easy to use. He also mentioned during beta he felt that having an easy to find feedback button allowed the complimenters to actually compliment. He discovered when the feedback link was tough to find all he got back was complaints.
This looks like a good place to stop, in part 2 we cover; what he’s learned so far, his business model, industry response and funding.