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How to Market a New Travel Business with Yann Barbarroux

Posted by Greg Smith on October 29, 2020 at 10:49 AM

Marketing In The Travel Industry

Ever have issues with flight cancellation? We all have! It can be a real pain and sometimes there's just nothing you can do about it, right? Well, that might not be entirely true.

Recently, our CEO sat down with Yann Barbarouxx, Co-Founder & Head of Analytics of Flyion, a service designed to help travelers get compensated in case of flight delays and cancellations. In this blog, Hollywood Branded examines how to market a travel business, even during COVID-19 - from the advice and expertise of Flyion's Yann Barbarouxx.


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A Little More About Yann

Yann Barbarouxx is a CEO and co-founder. And head of analytics of Flyion. A service designed to help travelers get compensated in case of flight delays and cancellations. With a master of science focused in computer engineering, and over 15 years of experience in capital markets, risk management and finance technology. Yann found a way to leverage blockchain as a solution. Knowing that 70% of delayed flights remain unclaimed or never get reimbursed to travelers. The platform Yann created helps travelers, including business travelers by leveraging cutting edge technology, to trim costs and bring simplicity to the process.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Answer: So my story is interesting. I grew up studying in France. So this engineering school in Paris, master degree early 2000. And that was the dot com bubble as you probably remember. None of us is a millennial here, so we know those crisis. That's why we're not too freaked out about what's going on. And at that point unfortunately, I was still in my twenties and I was freaking out. And I was kind of giving up on finding a job out of school. Even though it's a pretty good school. And at that point it was kind of sign up to go to an MBA. I wanted to continue just education. So to get past the first wave of layoffs and the crisis.

And I was signed up in another business school in Paris. So I was kind of saying not a job until probably 2003, 2004. And then weirdly enough I received an email from my dads. And my dad is someone that I considered trustworthy obviously. And at that point, obviously the state of the internet was different. But the email was saying, "Forward this email to 10 of your friends, and you can receive a Nokia cell phone for free." So now AKA a scam or a spam or whatever you want to call it. But at that point I'm like, "That seems legit. My dad is a trustworthy guy. So I'm going to just do it." And I went ahead and sent. Then one of my friends was in New York and he was doing an internship.

And next thing I know this guy Adrian said, "Well, excuse me, can you remind me the field of study that you're actually graduating right now? Isn't it internet and computer security." I was like, "Yeah, why are you asking me?" He's like, "This is a span. What are you doing with this?" I'm like, "I apologize Adrian. And I didn't mean to just flood your inbox. This is just something my dad sent."

Anyway, long story short, he said, "Well I accept your apology." And by the way, there's this one guy Nick is leaving in one month and they're trying to replace him. Why don't you send your resume? And that's how I get my first job in New York by spamming people randomly. And getting accepted into a new world in a new country that I didn't know at all. It's a weird turn of events.

So that was my entry point in US. And in 2003, I essentially started my first job at Wall Street in New York and I never left. So 17 years and counting and it's a pleasure. I love this country, I love this city. I live in Brooklyn now. To get a little more focus on your podcasts, your conversation. I've been navigating between finance, capital markets and technology the past 17 years. So both skill set that I have. I also enjoy the tremendous turmoil of 2008. Obviously that was also an interesting part of history to be involved in. But long story short, about three years ago my now co-founder Sebastian, who's also a schoolmate. Who's just joined innovation group in the West Coast is married to a girl from Texas.

So he's also in US after all these years. And he said, "You should be interested in blockchain." So cryptos, digital assets and blockchain is the future of finance. You have both technology and finance. He said, "What the hell are you doing now?" And I agreed with him. I said, "This is a wake up call. I got to deep into it. I need to understand what it is." It took me quite a while. I don't know how much you know about it. It's counterintuitive. It's very shady, at times it's very opaque. But it has a tremendous amount of innovation and disruptions power. And I get seduced to it. And then we started out by doing a lot of advisory market research. So it was all about trying to understand where the most value of cryptos. And blockchain can be brought to the general public mainstream.

We started out by currency trading, or automobile supply chain management, or healthcare records. Try to avoid duplication of records and digital identity. All these good stuff, which are very frankly amazing use cases for the blockchain. And then we stumbled upon this insurance automation. And that's what I've been working on since last year. Again, I don't need to spend minutes on my start-ups. But this is essentially what led me to be interested in more deep tech variety of product development, and also a new market, a new clientele. Which is absolutely fascinating because the amount of innovation you see in the technology. Actually translates in how the grand market is actually perceiving with technology in your product.

And this huge amount of education that attached to trying to sell the great economic value. The great efficiency value of a deep tech product for your average Joe or average Jane. And that's been a challenge, but that's been extremely fascinating.


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Question: And so how are you getting the word out? How are you sharing that you have this new venture that is driven by blockchain? That is a solution product that helps protect you and your wallet. How are you sharing that with the world right now? Besides podcasts like this?

Answer: Exactly, so I'm going to address the elephant in the room first. COVID is front and center. And actually today you want to see the silver lining when it presents itself, right? The V-shape recovery plus the better employment numbers. And the great reaction in the stock market. We got to take it when you present itself, I think it's a good sign that we're getting to a better stage. It's going to take some time no doubt. But we want to think that we passed maybe the worst of it. And traveling industry up until 24 hours ago was the lame duck of the whole story. That was essentially, some people would say, "Travel was not going to go back ever.", "Travel is never going to go back to even a normal operation. It's going to take five years."

All these narrative of being extremely pessimistic about travel and especially flying has been quite a bit of a drawback from my endeavor. And also any travel tech company in my situation. Even the mature travel company have been suffering and bleeding quite a lot. So working with COVID has been the main headache. And also the main challenge that we've been taking. So now going to my startups... And again not trying to sell it so much. But we believe that right now it's a great time to reflect on two things. The first one is the user experience. The traveler has been extremely frustrated and disappointed about airlines, airport disruptions, insurance binge. Not there when they need it the most. Being kept in the dark. Trying to enforce legal action in order to avoid paying back the clients.

This is where people stand right now. In total vague and total dark. And they did attach numbers to it, they said two to three billion. Maybe it's going to end up 10 billion loss for the Olympics. And they're most likely not going to be covered. And then they had insurances placed. Business interruption insurance. This is something in place, this is standard. They're going to get a way of not paying back. So I'm saying this whole client experience either a retail client or corporate clients has been terrible. And the second one is essentially take a step back. Trying to reflect and saying, "There might be other solution that we need to explore now."

And technology's here with the buzz words, machine learning, automation through blockchain and whatnot. This is not just an exercise of trying to be fancy with the best product design. It's about finding the best efficiency for the clients, saving the best possible speeds for a refund. And people are just going to be open to it now. They're going to be saying, "We need a new normal, this is not the same normal as it was for many of these things." Then how about the product offering? We want to see new stuff. And this has been on top of our heads the whole time. And quite honestly I've been staying as positive. I've been staying optimistic.

I think this is almost like the best time for me to attack the markets. It's very ironic, but in the age of COVID new ideas are going to be crystallizing, if they're good enough. Some people are going to be suffering. There's no doubt. Some businesses are going to be dying. And this is just like a normal cycle of the economy. And this is a very harsh one. This is very difficult. I think that we're going to have... We can have better stuff coming out of the end of the tunnel.


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Question: When did you actually launch Flyion. When did you start pushing it? When was it packaged to, "We're ready for customers?"

Answer: So the beta version is live since last month. So it's a pretty early kind of introduction to the product for the client. So we have a beta community that's very excited. People see the value right away. So in order to get that on the marketing and potential mistakes. In my testimony, I can witness everything that I did wrong.

I've been helped by this wonderful woman Bambi Weevil. She's our marketing advisor. And we've been working around the clock and it's very interesting. So many ways we tried to create a formal, to create some traction, to create some excitement. So like we're starting off by building a narrative messaging. Sort of content marketing back in December and January. And when we kind of iron out whatever we want to offer, which is 50% saving, get paid immediately. That kind of stuff. I think it was very clear that this an obvious client value. And we blasted using automation tool.

EngageBay, which is a pretty decent tool. I don't even know all of them. But it allowed us to actually reach out to 11,000. I mean, to me it's a lot because I'm not used to... So I think anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000. Since start should be sizeable in terms of the outreach. And we had abysmal conversion rate. I think it was less than 100 or something. So you're thinking way under 1%. And that was painful because we had to just scrub and find manually. And go on LinkedIn and go on those conference website to find speakers at conference. We went the route of blockchain users being our first target audience. And everything was manual. It takes weeks to collect the email distribution list. And when you're happy with the target, then you blast and you got nothing.

And then you obviously blame everything. And so now we have an obvious culprit being COVID. But at that point it was not severe enough. So we had only ourselves to blame I guess. And all that was very instructive. We learned a lot. I guess volume doesn't solve much in marketing. Content marketing is probably more than half the battle. Maybe 80% of it of trying to refine, to tweak the messaging. To simplify the language. To get the right words, so people just register. And print in their brain that's something they might be interested to spend more than three seconds. On their attention span or something like that. So that's very tough. I'm an engineer, for me transacting and executing is just a given.

So I have like a market to deal with. I'm not naturally a salesperson. So having to convince people that my product is amazing was like, "Why do I need to do that?" And it's actually the toughest challenge I've been facing so far.


Question: We've had a number of different guests who've come on and they have done a really good job of explaining it. But could you dive in? And you started doing it before and you gave a glimpse of it. But what is your view? How do you think... How would you explain how blockchain works?

Answer: So the first stage of using blockchain and there's many of them. But the way that it came across as a low hanging fruit is essentially the streamlining of the claim refund. So insurance refund never happens the way you want. And there's many reasons for it. Let's take my story for a second. I was traveling to Denver to see my co-founder Sebastian. He lives there now. And I was on the tarmac for four hours at LaGuardia. And the reason being the bathroom lights was blinking. The lights in the toilet was blinking. The protocol, the pilot is not allowed to actually take off. Do you think I got refunded for it? Obviously not.

And the mere thinking about going online, pick up the phone and spending hours on the phone. Following up for weeks and months to hopefully get a reimbursement was just too much work. Forget about it. So how blockchain works is it does three things. The first one, it detects flight time automatically. Thanks to the API technology. Second, it's activates the legal policy automatically. Because now you can simplify the terms. 45 minutes you're good, 46 minutes you're delayed. So therefore the policy can activate at 46 minutes. And third it refunds money directly to your wallet. The three things which are the three pillars of blockchain automations.

And work literally in 15 minutes and maybe in five years from now, it's going to be in one minute. Because the technologies could be much more mature. And for that reason we're going from an average of six weeks claim insurance refund, to literally few minutes. So that's a tremendous amount of time-saved and also cost savings. It's as much as 85% cost savings. And with 85% cost savings on the operation, we essentially reward the client with better pricing. So that's what we do. And obviously with this could be some profit margin for us. But the first goal is to give the best value to the client.

Let's say you fly to Miami in August with hurricane season. And then all of a sudden it might be a little more expensive. Or you fly to Chicago in the middle of the winter or February. And obviously snow storms can be a problem. But your average flights is going to be covered regardless. And they're all covered, but they have a little bit of a pricing fluctuation in terms of protection premium. Depending on where you're going.

But that being said, we don't have to be attached to the airlines. We don't have to be attached to the airport. We view more of an economic value reward to the clients. So everything is calculated and calibrated based on the risk that you're taking within your fights. And is agnostic of the destination of the airlines essentially.


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Question: So are there any other points of advice you want to give on blockchain? I want to make sure that we share how people can sign up. So that we can try to get you some more users. Because I think that would be something that people should at least be testing out. But any last words on blockchain and technology and advice there?

Answer: It's a very good question. First, appreciate that you offered for me to share my website. So my website is flyion.io. So you can find on the landing page and then you can sign up. And to that point it's going to sound pretty ironic. The product is not crypto friendly. Because we wanted to make it so transparent that people don't think that we have a Bitcoin business on the back of it. So when you sign up, you can pay with your credit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay. It's not about crypto. The technology is the automation of everything I discussed.

Then it brings to my point, my second question being what kind of advice I would give to people that would be interested. Or would want to actually launch a product or a seminar or other use cases. I think blockchains was extremely trendy, buzzwordy 2017, 2018. And unfortunately we suffered the malfunction of a bunch of clowns. And I'm not including myself in this bucket. I think there was definitely some people that were doing that for the trend, for the buzz and to scam money. There's no doubt about it. They were all arrested and the bleeding stopped. So there's absolutely no malfunction about startup project using blockchain at the moment.

And what I would advise is trying to be genuine. More of a bottom up approach. Trying to find a real life use case that you want to resolve. You want to find a frustration, a pain point maybe in the healthcare industry. Where you think the information doesn't circulate as fast as you want. Maybe the number of beds at Mount Sinai or Beth Israel. Or whatever hospitals where it could have been shared in a snap using blockchain information shared, didn't happen. This is very bad because people were dying, people were sick, and all of the sudden that legitimized blockchain usage.

If you come from the top down, you're saying, "Well I know I'm going to be doing some blockchain stuff. I just need to find my product fit." And then you're going kind of a counter waves. You're not doing the right thing. Using the blockchain as a buzz word in order to get funded. In order to get your product marketed, is just an old story and now it doesn't work. So it's a waste of time.


Check Out The Podcast!

Yann has SO MUCH of great information from his experience in marketing the world of travel and mastery of blockchain, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from his advice and expertise!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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Topics: Business Advice, Podcast Interviews