Minube: how to start and grow a successful Spanish business during a recession

How do you start and grow a business in the midst of a huge, global crisis, from one of the countries that was hit hardest by a recession? Spanish travel recommendation site Minube launched in 2007 – a few months before the economic crisis hit Spain right between the eyes.

And it  is thriving, despite the bad economic weather. Today, they have more than 500 000 registered users all around the world, with 30 million users per year and more than 1 million downloads of their app.

Pedro Jareno, Minube cofounder

Minube offers travellers the chance to share interesting spots with others – shops, restaurants, museums, bars, you name it. The difference with TripAdvisor, cofounder Pedro Jareno says, is that while TripAdvisor offers “reviews”. Minube offers “recommendations”. “We wanted to be an online place where you can tell people about great places you visited – like when you meet up with friends and you tell them about the bars and the restaurants you found in a city you just visited.”

The app just launched in the UK. And it started offering a new product: an in app store for user generated guides: users can upload guides and recommendations in Minube and sell them to other users.

In fact, Minube adopted the business model that Tripadvisor initially tried but abandoned. Minube slugged through. “We think we’re more or less what Tripadvisor could be if it had come to the market when we did. The difference is that we’re much more about inspiration than they are. We want people to get inspired, and the way to do that is not with reviews, but more with photos and video.”

“Thanks to mobile, it’s a lot easier to share that than it was when Tripadvisor started. I also think that our product is very much adapted to this time. When you went to New York a few years ago, you might have planned that trip for a while in advance. In the mobile era, people just take their phone to plan what they will do today, this afternoon, now. And we also want to get people from inspiration to transaction: book a hotel, go to a restaurant.”

Minube’s pitch sounds like one of many mobile apps that are available today, but Minube was around long before mobile broke through, and it already secured a user base that many of today’s apps will struggle to reach. In fact, Minube only launched its app in 2011 (it was named “Best App of the year” by Apple Spain, and it also won an app contest in Italy, says Jareno).

“We were pioneers a bit. When we started out, the big social platforms like Facebook were just arriving on the market. The beginning was incredibly hard – like it is for most platforms. We started with a good idea, but certainly not a good product. If you went looking for information on Thailand, you wouldn’t find any.”

The big mistakes they made were mostly about identity of their product, he explains. “We tried to do too many things. One time, we launched a blogging platform inside our site. But it didn’t work. We realised that there are already too many blogging platforms. Also, text is not so inspiring as photo or video, so we concentrated on that. We really try to offer a very quick way to share experiences. And to make sharing easy – our goal is to make sharing in our app as easy and quick asInstagram.”

The first thing Minube concentrated on, Pedro says, was to find their “real users”. “You would think that everyone is a traveller, but that’s not true. Not every traveller will share his experiences. We wanted to find the people who would be really interested in that. So we went looking for travellers all around the world. We went to all the events, meeting with travellers, with journalists, trying to make friends. In fact, we never stopped doing that.”

The tipping point, he says, probably came in 2008. “We thought: we are about travelling, so let’s travel. We went on a world trip and blogged about it. That was a very good move – it got us a lot of attention, even on TV. Nobody had really done that until then. It was really about guerilla marketing, because we had no budget at all. It’s still crucial for us to keep working at the community. Building a community is incredibly hard work. And you have to convince people almost one by one.” In a biblical moment, he says that “we’re still as happy with a new user as we were with the first.”

The secret of building a community is simple: “People want to get some love. They are tired of being a number. People are looking for a bit of love and real friendship. They have to feel the humans behind your brand. So we try to listen to them. The last four years, we booked a stand at the biggest travel show in Madrid, to meet with our users. More than a 1000 of them showed up to talk about their travels. It’s that kind of actions that make people connect to your brand.”

Today, Minube is not only used worldwide, but it is also a business success – it employs about 30 people, most of them in Madrid, and is “break even”. For the future, Jareno is optimistic: “Our timing could have been a lot better, of course. People tell us: if you had started ten years ago, you would be huge. But we figure: we just need to keep working, and be patient, and it will get better in the future.”

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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