One of the reservation technology vendors in attendance was Peek, the startup founded in San Francisco five years ago. We sat with Peek CEO Ruzwana Bashir to discuss the journey since starting the company, what lessons she’s learned, and how technology is rapidly shifting the way tour operators do business.
The video is below, followed by the transcript.
Ruzwana: My name’s Ruzwana Bashir. I’m the CEO of Peek.com. And we are a platform that helps tour and activity operators to be able to grow their business. So we have our Peek Pro tools that help operators to get online bookings and to run their business through their mobile phone.
And then we also have a marketplace for consumers to come where you can come and find great things to do. Whether you’re at home or you’re traveling, you’re able to find fun things to spend your time doing and hopefully create great memories.
Nick: So it’s been four years?
Ruzwana: Five years! The time flies when you’re having fun. It does.
Nick: And I’m starting to realize things get better with age. What have you learned? You moved from the consumer side to B2B tools to suppliers. How is that balance going, and what did you learn in that process?
Ruzwana: The biggest thing that we’ve learned is, if you’re a small business, one of the biggest issues we have today, it’s actually that your customers are all coming in line.
So when the consumer is looking for a fun thing to do or maybe they already know that they’re pretty passionate about horseback riding and they want to do this in any place. Their finding and looking online.
A lot of the businesses that we work with certainly have really struggled to make that transition online. So what I’m realizing is that we, as a company, have this incredible opportunity to help. Small businesses to be able to make this transition online.
Ruzwana: The average consumer wants to book an activity in a few hours. And if you talk to most tour operators, they actually still function in a lot of spreadsheets and phone calls. And so really enabling the whole space to come online by providing underlying software that takes the pain out of it.
So if you’re a business, and you’re doing dolphin tours, you do it because that’s what you’re passionate about and that’s what you enjoy. You’re not doing it because you want to administratively figure out how to do great online booking or seamlessly communicate with your customers or frankly be able to have a streamlined experience when somebody comes to your tour.
All of these things that that kind of technology can help with is what we’re in charge of doing. So we built really innovative solutions that are best in class in this market to really help our businesses make this transition and actually grow their business.
One of the cool things by investing and putting all brains together to be able to build great tools for these businesses is that they are seeing great improvements. Some of our operators are actually here at this conference because they had such great success.
The average business, when they move on to our platform, is seeing about a 30 percent increase in bookings versus using other software tools or if they weren’t using anything at all.
Or with our homegrown system, it’s up to 50 percent increases in online booking. So we’re really tackling the things that matter the most: how can I grow my business, how can I put more money in my pocket, and how can I make sure my customers have an awesome time.
We’ve collected about 250,000 ratings for the tours on our platform. And the average rating is 4.8 stars. So we’re helping businesses who already do a great job, to do an even better job. I’m really proud of that. Because when you think about it, how many places do you go where there are that many ratings that are so high.
And so you know, Peek.com and Peek Pro have really helped businesses provide excellent service. So that’s really exciting and we’re helping people grow the bookings.
Nick: Say someone who doesn’t have any mobile tools, so they’re coming in and you basically have to educate them on digital distribution. Do you have to focus on education, is that something you guys think of?
Ruzwana: Yes absolutely. We think of ourselves as a really awesome technology partner for somebody who wants to do a great job on their tours and doesn’t want to spend all the time manually entering bookings, e-mailing customers to confirm bookings. And doesn’t want to spend all their day in spreadsheets, figuring out who’s going on which tour. And so we do that for the merchant.
Ruzwana: But as time has gone, we’ve also realized there’s all this business intelligence that we can provide our businesses. So every week we’re sending e-mails with really interesting data points for the business.
So what is your capacity utilizing like? Are there tours that are underperforming? How are you performing against other people in this geography or market? How should you think about it? Is there a guide or specific guide is doing really really well and getting better reviews than the people that aren’t doing as well?
What we’re doing is taking away a lot of the day-to-day administrative hassles for businesses, so they can start thinking more strategically. For example, you’re using our point-of-sale solution when people arrive at your boat tour. Well, now because we’ve managed to cut the time in half that somebody takes to get on the boat, you can now send another boat out. And you can now make more revenue you’re doing that and you’ve saved people spending 20 minutes in line into more like five to 10 minutes in line.
It’s things like that which are actually quite tangible, practical solutions to problems that businesses and customers have. That’s really where we see ourselves creating the most value.
Nick: It seems very competitive, this business. You know, a lot of reservation platforms, suppliers being offered lots of technology. Wat is the process that they need to go through, what would you recommend to those evaluating vendors. What makes for a good vendor?
Ruzwana: We work with thousands of businesses. We’ve gotten an opportunity to spend a lot of time with them. We do lots and lots of site visits. My co-founder, who’s our CTO, did 35 site visits all across the country, meeting tour operators. So we actually make a big effort to really understand all the businesses and what they need.
The number one things that we hear are: I want to grow my revenue because it’s really important for me. I’m spending a lot of money, perhaps, owning all these bikes or sending out guides. I want to make sure that I’m growing revenue. I want to save time. And save save money. Because I’m spending hours and hours running my business. And I want to deliver great customer experience.
So when we talk to businesses, those are the three things that recommend that they look at. Is this going to be a tool that’s going to help you grow your revenues? Is it going to save you time and money? And are you going to deliver a better customer experience because of that?
Some businesses may have slightly different needs, but they all really care about those three factors. That’s what I would recommend if you’re a small business looking at tour operator software. That’s what matters. That’s why the technology matters.
Ruzwana: We have the largest product team out of anyone in this space. We’ve done the most work on the technology side, and I think that’s really because we see ourselves as a technology company first nice and foremost. As a result we actually care about technology solutions to all of three of those problems.
And do consistently, when people are moving off other platforms, they see big improvements in bookings online. A lot of that’s because we’ve invested in tools like an abandoned shopping cart feature, bundling, optimizing booking flows.
It’s not stuff that as a tour operator I should be thinking about it but we have a whole customer experience that’s only thinking about that so our operators can benefit.
We’ve seen big improvements in what we’ve been able to do to businesses once they start using it. And I think that’s really important for people to care about because you can do the best job possible. But if your online reservation system isn’t helping you convert everyone against your Web site, it kind of doesn’t matter that you spend all that money on marketing. If the vendor is not helping you think through your marketing, then they’re also not doing a good job.
And also how do you make your guides lives easier? Being a guide is a tough job. There’s lots of people turning up, and you want to make sure every customer has a great experience. So anything that helps make that guide’s life easier make makes a difference. Those variables I care about.
Nick: Revenue management has been coming up. I’ve had several discussions about dynamic pricing. I’ve kind of nibbled around it but I haven’t quite realized the similarities to other segments, and maybe it is time for this to be a very serious effort. How do you feel about dynamic pricing and how are you using it?
Ruzwana: We were the first company in this space that started using dynamic pricing. And it’s one of the things that I credit our team to being very innovative around bringing new features.
So we were the first company to introduce ratings and helping the operators get a gauge of how they’re performing. We were the first company to do waivers and digitize waivers in this space. So we’ve actually been quite ahead of the curve in terms of bringing innovative features.
One of the advantages of being in Silicon Valley is your neighbors are doing cool things, and companies that you know are doing things in other spaces. The founder of Square and Twitter, Jack Dorsey, is one of the early investors in Peek, and so we learn a lot from some of the things they were doing for small businesses.
It’s not all necessarily just us but we were able to benefit from this ecosystem around stuff that works. Dynamic pricing is something that absolutely a lot of operators are using.
Almost half of the operators now take advantage of the fact that they have dynamic pricing tools so that they can actually optimize pricing around the day of the week, the availability of what they have, how everybody else in that market is doing. And so we provide them with software that allows them to be able to do that. We’ve been doing that for a long time and we’ve had you know merchants have great success using that.
Ruzwana: I think part of it’s education. Hey look, you can you can actually change your prices and you should be comfortable doing it. It’s been happening in concerts and events. In fact, in the concert and events space, typically when a business starts doing dynamic pricing, they will see a 20 percent uplift in an in profitability.
And so that’s really what we’ve been educating operators around. is It doesn’t sound like this matters that much but you are able to increase profitability.
It’s actually why we do a lot of business intelligence around things like capacity utilization and performance of different tour. We’ve got the most advanced reporting system in the industry. We did that because we realized that actually in this space the operators haven’t had at their fingertips information about how the business is performing on all the different areas they could look at it.
Dynamic pricing is one of them. But there were a few others that we also help the merchant think about which is the capacity utilization of each tour, the tours that they might not have thought about doing but are becoming new and popular tours, things that are trending. We provide all that information for the merchants and they can make educated decisions about how they grow their business and what they do strategically
Nick: So all that business intelligence is stuff that they never really had. What percentage of the merchants are doing dynamic pricing?
Ruzwana: About half. We educate merchants, we do consultation to help them. And also some things that are just generally you know how can you grow your business. How do you think about your online marketing, how do you think about SEO. So we definitely as a company educate, we do webinars, we do one-on-ones.
Our job actually is is to get away from it being complicated and make it really easy. And so one thing that we’ve always kind of perceived is that our tools should be easy enough for a 16 year old nephew and be able to use everything and get it, all the way through to an established owner operator who’s been doing this for many years.
When we talk about business intelligence, it’s all really beautifully and easily displayed with outputs on the stuff that matters the most. You shouldn’t be bombarded by information. We should make it easy for you. And so that’s what we do. We design really beautiful and easy to use reports, pulling out the two or three things that we think are the most important.
For example, your business and your mobile bookings from a mobile Web site are much lower than they are normally. We tell you that so you know that you might have an issue with your site when it comes to mobile optimization, you should do something about that.
You don’t figure that out. We pointed out to you. We say hey this is the average that we see and this is what yours is. We think you should look into that. So instead of giving people lots of information they have to dissect. Our job is to give you data points around things that you might be doing differently, that might be good or bad, and pointed out to you so you can use that information in a strategic and thoughtful way.
Nick: And less scary. Not everyone want’s all It’s all that information.
Ruzwana: It’s the opposite. It’s not about more information. It’s about more useful information that you can actually tangibly use. And so that’s what we focus on.
I’m sure if you grabbed one of our operators and started talking to them here, they say my job is made easier by Peek. I’ve got more bookings than I had last year, in a tangibly different way. And that’s really good. And that’s what I want. We should be hopefully stepping into the background so the business can shine. 4.8 stars on average for 250,000 ratings, that’s a lot, right?
Our businesses are able to shine because we’re doing all of their administrative nitty gritty.
Nick: So five years in. You’ve got the tools, everything seems to be coming together. Do you have a next step, is there anything that you’re focusing on?
Ruzwana: We are so excited about the space because, you know, even the fact that there’s a conference here. It’s just showing you that the space is coming into its own. It’s 110 billion dollar global market. It’s one that really hasn’t made this transition online. And so when you think about restaurants that came online with OpenTable, it was almost 15 years ago. And a lot of other pieces the travel, whether it’s hotels or airlines, have been online for a long time.
This is really the moment that this space can come into its own, and really help consumers book. There’s just so much you can do to help consumers spend their time in more fulfilling ways.
So when I look at the future of Peek, our mission is to connect the world through experiences. And a lot of what we’ve been able to do is really connect those experiences to the world today. A lot of those businesses were not online in meaningful ways. You couldn’t book very easily, you had to make lots of phone calls.
Connecting those experiences to the world we’re making that first really important step. And there’s a lot more to it. When you look at this market, and the number of operators that there are, there are so many that still haven’t been able to make that transition. So we’re going to continue to do that, and we’re going to continue to help consumers find great things to do.
So the larger that we get, we have thousands of thousands of experiences that range from like the classic famous activities in a place all the way to do we two things that are more unusual. Things that might be actually more for somebody who’s a local or someone who wants to get to understand the food scene.
Really what we’re trying to do is help everybody spend their time more fulfilling ways. And that’s for the the operator, in actually doing tours that help them deliver great experiences to thesumers, and for the consumers to spend their time doing things that are more fun. Experiences make you happier than buying products, so let’s make it easier for people to do that.
The example I always think about this space is Uber. People always used to say, oh but it’s just replacing the taxi market. In San Francisco, Uber is five times as large as the San Francisco taxi market. So it’s much bigger than that. If you can help these companies come online, if you can help new businesses emerge that weren’t there before, then you completely change the way that we spend our free time.
Our generation especially, we want to spend our money on how we spend our lives. And so that means that more and more people are going towards experiences. So let’s get more businesses emerging, let’s help businesses grow, and let’s make sure that we spend our time things that are more fun.
Nick: So definitely more growth ahead for tours and activities. We’re not anywhere near peak.
Ruzwana: Not at all. Market growth is quite large. So I feel like we’re at the tip of the iceberg.