Steve Kaufer is the energetic founder and CEO of the highly successful TripAdvisor, whose suite of companies attracts nearly 32 million monthly visitors. He also finds time to raise four children and is an active board member for the charitable organization Caring for Carcinoid Foundation (CFCF). Since its inception, CFCF has awarded more than $4.5 million in research grants to leading scientists at renowned institutions.
Under Kaufer’s guidance, TripAdvisor has carved out a defensible and almost monopolistic position when it comes to travel reviews. TripAdvisor, with more than 20 million reviews and opinions, was practicing principals of social media long before it became cachet.
Here’s part two of my conversation with Kaufer, which began here.
Steve Kaufer: Many have covered that we are all inherently social animals, which is true to some extent, but I think one of the real overlooked beauties of social media is the passivity of it. Unlike e-mail that requires a response, with a site like Facebook, friends or relatives can passively observe, and share without having to interrupt someone else.
EQ: It’s my understanding that TripAdvisor has benefited from the explosion of social media.
SK: We’ve had some notable wins in particular on Facebook and YouTube. On Facebook, we launched our Local Picks restaurant reviews and ratings application in the fall of 2007. The application easily enables the sharing of culinary opinions among friends. We were able to grow our offering from less than 100,000 establishments to nearly 500,000 in approximately 15 months. Our Cities I’ve Visited and TravelPod’s Traveler IQ applications have also been successful. Note: Active monthly Facebook users: Cities I’ve Visited — 1,794,279; Traveler IQ — 112,921; Local Picks — 16,218.
EQ: I know that I became addicted to the Traveler IQ application and had a little competition going with my wife and we each had our own respective cheat sheets.
SK: You weren’t alone. We are astonished at the amount of time the users interact with these applications — sometimes hours at a time, which is great brand exposure for TripAdvisor and TravelPod. These three applications I mentioned total about 2 million active monthly users on Facebook. And for the Traveler IQ and Cities I’ve Visited, we take comfort in knowing that we are helping to further the geographical education of our users.
EQ: This is true, I now know where Christmas Island is located (note: off the Northwest of Australia). And, what about YouTube?
SK: On YouTube, we were able to do a short two-minute video with celebrity Rosario Dawson and that has attracted over a million views.
EQ: What has been the secret to your social media success?
SK: I have a sign outside my door that says “Speed Wins.” That is our motto when it comes to social media as well. For every success you see, we’ve had plenty of items that we tested and didn’t work out. You really never know what the next big thing will be. In the Cities I Visited development process, my team estimated it would take four months to build. I put a challenge for us to get it done in four days, and we met that challenge. On the successful YouTube video, we originally launched a similar video with me as the spokesperson and that received an unflattering 1,000 views. It’s apparent that YouTube viewers find Rosario more appealing to listen to than myself.
EQ: Do you see the next step for TripAdvisor to integrate tools like Facebook Connect that will enable users to easily see reviews from their friends along with reviews from people that they don’t know.
SK: Again, it will all come back to the user. If the users find this sort of connection helpful, than, by all means, we will look to integrate such tools to benefit our users. It’s important to note that the comfort of being fully transparent varies from user to user. For some users it’s no problem, while other users don’t want their identity to be known and it may, in fact, affect how they review a particular travel experience if there is a chance it could go massively viral with their name associated with it.
EQ: You were captain of the fencing team at Harvard. Do any of the skills you learned while fencing transfer to your current role?
SK: Not sure how much is transferable, but possibly:
- Needing to anticipate your opponents moves and strategy.
- You need to be nimble.
- The competitive nature and learning what it takes to win.
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