Buuna is the brainchild of Paul Lin, a 29-year-old travel enthusiast with an extensive background in software engineering and product design.
Due to be released next month, Buuna is a mobile-based travel social network that connects users to each other and to location-based mini reviews and social networking.
Lin talks to StartupSmart about translating his passion for travel into a business model.
What inspired the idea for Buuna?
The Buuna idea was inspired by my love of travel and software. I’ve always loved the idea of entrepreneurship and small software companies.
After studying and living in the San Francisco Bay Area for awhile and seeing what a booming start-up industry they had, I knew I had to “import” that culture back to Australia and start something myself.
Travelling is my other passion. One of the best times in my life was when I backpacked through Asia with Ander MacArthur – the other founder of Buuna – back in our uni days, where we met up with random people in random cities and had the greatest time of our lives.
On the other hand, one of the worst and most miserable experience in my life was when I visited Seattle by myself, alone in the cold and rain with a guidebook and didn’t know what to do or have anyone to see places with.
From this, I realised that travel isn’t all about the places you go – it’s about who you see those places with. Even with the best guidebooks and the best locations, you can still have a horrible time, as I did in Seattle, if you don’t tap into the “social” aspect of travelling.
Putting the two together, I realised that while the start-up industry is charging ahead with location-based services and social networks, the travel industry is still mostly stuck on paper guidebooks from three decades ago.
I believe that if we leverage the power of mobile phones and social networks, we can give our users a better travel experience that more accurately represents the essence of travel – the fun and freedom and people behind each adventure.
How did the name come about?
Buuna is inspired by an Aboriginal word “buna” from the Gupapuynu dialect. It means to “come” or “to arrive”.
We chose this word because meaning wise, we wanted something along the lines of “come together” or “welcome”.
We also wanted a word that was new and start-up-sounding that may have an existing meaning, but can be recognised as a new word and entity by itself. Finally, we wanted something that was uniquely Australian.
It took us a few days going through about 30 different Aboriginal language dictionaries before finding the right sounding word with the right meaning with an enough of a start-up feel to it.
When will Buuna be officially launched?
The iPhone version of the Buuna app will be released in the next month or so and, as with all software, it is always evolving and improving, and we aim to add new features every few weeks. The Android version will be out in 4Q 2011.
How long have you been working on it?
Buuna the registered company has been around for one year and a half. However, we were working on different travel-related projects until March 2011, when we started building the current version of the iPhone app around the concept of “social travel”.
So in short, Buuna the location-based travel social network has been around for four months.
How did you fund the business?
We are currently funding Buuna ourselves through the development phase, but we will be looking for external funding soon in order to expand the business into North America and Europe.
How many staff do you have?
We have six people in total, including Ander and myself. I am in charge of product development, features design and user interface design in addition to other CEO duties.
Ander is in charge of marketing, accounting, legal stuff, and keeping the office running on a day-to-day basis.
We have three engineers. Alexey currently works on our iPhone app, Roy works on the website and our web administration software and Scott, our lead engineer, works on the iPhone, website and Android app.
We also have Matt, our graphic designer, who does all our images, logos, and graphics for the website and software.
How do you plan to promote the business?
As a travel app, our audience is spread out around the world, making traditional forms of marketing like TV, radio and print – which are expensive and only target specific geographical areas – less effective.
Because of this, we have been focusing on online marketing techniques, specifically grassroots promotion through social media.
How will you monetise the site?
Our primary source of income will be from partnership deals we are currently setting with tourist attractions, accommodation providers, restaurants and bars.
Our model is a group deal model similar in concept to Groupon, where the user is rewarded for booking or attending a location with a party of more than one person.
This works well with our core value of social travel since we already have mechanisms in place to initiate new friendships and social groups.
Users will be rewarded with the deals for participating in these social groups, which will further encourage social activities and group formation.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
Our focus right now is 100% on completing the product, enhancing the existing features, and building up the user base so that our users will have the most social and best user experience possible.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
The biggest risk we have is the relatively young nature of the Australian start-up industry.
Unlike the American start-up industry – where there is an established system and network of mentors, support and funding – the Australian start-up industry is more of a do-it-yourself thing.
The biggest risk is that there simply isn’t enough support for entrepreneurs in the start-up ecosystem here for us to make it to the next stage.
Travel networks are becoming increasingly popular, so how do you plan to differentiate yourself in the market?
There are currently two different approaches to travel software. One, “guidebooks on the phone”, which are basically just maps with descriptions of places, often copy and pasted from existing paper guidebooks or from free sources such as Wikitravel.
Their goal is to establish themselves as the experts in the field and then tell the users where to go. They have very weak social components as the software is map and location-based.
The second one is “social networks with a travel niche”, which is simply Facebook or MySpace for travelers.
These are usually social networks competing with Facebook, which focus on maintaining long-term relationships and friendship between travelers rather than building them.
Design-wise, they are the opposite of the first approach and are mostly focused on users and not so much on the locations.
Buuna is neither. We are not trying to be a fully fledged social network in the scale of Facebook or MySpace, and we’re not trying to give the best editorial-driven information about locations.
Buuna is focused on the spontaneous social side of travelling – what people are saying about a place, where people are going, then gathering a group of like-minded travelers and visiting those places with them.
It’s about creating relationships rather than maintaining them, and it’s about what people are actually doing rather than what an editor is saying.
Buuna is a unique product that more accurately reflects the essence of independent travel, and that’s what’s going to differentiate us from our competition.