Wanderlust Society started as a twinkle in my eye on a road trip to the Washington Coast. I thought, “this is a great trip and was easy to take from Seattle. I’ll bet my friends are taking great trips too. I’d love to have access to their itineraries as well.”
We started with the premise that in order to get real trip recommendations from people like you, we’d need to have a tool where people do their real trip planning. Our team hailed from Amazon’s Personalization team which was in charge of the Recommendations engine that algorithmically generated recommendations based off of real purchase data, clickstream and list activity. The personalized content on Amazon is some of the best performing content on Amazon. We hoped to achieve that level of recommendations for travel planning via Wanderlust Society.
But Amazon already has massive customer data. We started with zero. We wanted to tackle the issue that too much data already exists in travel planning. What is needed is real, trustworthy data created by people you trust, not a third party like Trip Advisor that was trying to up-sell on merchandise where they receive a higher margin.
Our team was really small, just Andrej Gregov as head of product, Jeff Topham as our developer and me, as design, social media, branding, business development, content creator, usability tester and anything else that came up. With our limited resources we had to design and deploy wisely. We didn’t want to overbuild, so our plan was to launch extremely iteratively.
We would wireframe, prototype and cut graphics for Jeff to build. I would find friends to do non-scientific usability tests on. We also used Full Story where we could watch video clips of users on our site to try and gauge where we thought users were having difficulty or success. There were always the question of “keep moving forward?” or “fix existing usability issues?” We opted for a mix of both. Jason Fried had a great quote in his book, “Rework.” He suggests that if you are building out an entire house, sketch the whole house out first. Don’t start tiling the kitchen until you know where the bathroom is going to be. We tried to take this approach and keep moving forward. I’m not sure if this was the best decision, or if we should have constrained our scope even further. We had hairy audacious goals and a small team to achieve them.