RatePunk · Justin Albertynas

Scaling new heights in travel tech: RatePunk's leap to $400K ARR by simplifying hotel bookings for thrifty travellers

March 20, 2024
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  • Justin Albertynas
  • Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Started in 2022
  • 400K ARR
  • 170K Monthly visitors
  • 20 Employees
  • Initially bootstrapped, later received partial funding
  • ratepunk.com

What's your backstory?

I was born and grew up in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius (now called as the hub of startups even by such publications as TechCrunch).

Before the so-called founder life,  I studied & graduated in Journalism at Vilnius University; during these years, my main focus has been travel writing. I did a lot of research into the technology part of it and always kept up with the latest news in the industry.

While journalism was fun, I felt it was not entirely for me.

Then, encouraged by my long-lasting love for travel, I decided to dive into the travel industry from the inside. I tried more than a few travel-tech products in that decade since we (together with a friend) started it, but now I'm giving all of our energy to RatePunk.

What does your company do and how did you come up with the idea?

RatePunk saves everything! Most importantly - traveler's' nerves ;)

It's no secret that booking websites offer different prices for the same hotels. So, on my trips, I always checked prices on at least a few different booking websites before confirming it - to assure myself I was getting the lowest price. However, the process of checking all the websites was time-consuming, and even when I went to such websites as, for example, Kayak, I hated (really, honestly) - hated the interface I was not familiar with. I decided I wanted to see all the prices in one FAMILIAR and LIKED place. That's exactly why RatePunk pops up on your favourite booking website (so you're enjoying the search in the interface you're familiar with) and shows where it's cheapest to book in seconds.

During the few years of reporting travel content, I’ve read a lot about browser extensions, and their concept in the travel market caught my attention. And that’s when I understood we could make a tool that fills the current travel market gap. And tadaaam, now it's there - very much solving the problem I initially meant to solve and doing much more than I imagined it would!

How did you get your first 10 customers/subscribers?

We generated 390 installs in 2 months with zero money invested in marketing (we expected to have over 10k by that time - but who's counting...).

My main advice would be to think of as many different marketing strategies as possible. Test at least 5 per week and kill them instantly if they don’t perform.

A few marketing campaigns can be left active for longer, hoping they’ll show results in the long term (we did that with SEO and our blog at the beginning), but we got stuck with some for too long (like contacting directories to be included to their TOP lists). Some other things we did:

We’ve been working with social media marketing from the very beginning: we’re active on different channels, and we managed to reach over a few hundred followers & engage the users. This is the best way for us to communicate with potential customers and search for collaborations.

Posts in Facebook groups. The most successful one was written by a Lithuanian travellers group and helped us reach our first three-digit number/day. It gave us the main lesson: referring to Facebook communities & sharing tips with them is one of the best ways to reach our target audience. We started posting on more groups on Facebook. Although many of them name it as an advertisement & disapprove of posting any names, there are plenty of groups where there’s no need to get approval. We did not limit ourselves to the English-speaking audience, so a TIP: spread the word in as many languages as you manage to talk, or Google Translate can translate!

IndieHackers turned out to be a great platform - sharing thoughts & experiences with the community offered new ideas and taught new lessons. It’s helpful to connect with like-minded people & hear their opinions since most of them not only comment on your product but also are open to trying out new things in a scale of areas. Of course, it’s essential to give feedback in return. Joining this community would be my sincerest recommendation for anyone starting a new project.

How did you align your product or service with your target customers' needs?

We were mainly tracking if our users only installed the extension or whether they used it, too. After seeing that almost 70% of the people used RatePunk ACTIVELY - we knew it's working.

One of the biggest challenges we faced with RatePunk, though, was MOBILE TRAFFIC.

The fact that browser extensions can only be used on desktops became our curse (we have very much solved it by now & have an app). The most frequent con named by RatePunk users sounds like, “I don’t always bring my computer once traveling, you know. An app would be way more convenient”.

I believe that it’s a problem that many browser extension creators face. Mobile traffic has wholly taken over the computer version, and we must find ways to attract people to use their laptops when making a reservation. Keeping in mind how easy & popular it is to do this using a smartphone - our goal has been complicated. We’re trying to convert mobile phone users into actual installers when they’re on our website by offering them to get a desktop reminder later. They can leave their email address & get a notification to their inbox.

How did you gain your first 100 customers and what platforms or methods did you use?

Getting featured in media coverage. Reaching out to journalists & offering our pitches showed results: I was interviewed by one of the leading Lithuanian business newspapers & agreed to make another interview focusing on leisure. I also got invited to talk on one of the tech podcasts. It’s been complicated reaching out directly to journalists at the beginning (we didn’t get many replies), but once the installs started growing and we got into the TOPs, we had more argumentation about why the magazines/websites should cover our story. This also led to increasing installs from our home country (since it was a Lithuanian audience).

After trying to work with micro & macro-influencers, we’ve noticed that getting a good price-return of investment ratio is a challenge. So, after searches that took 5 months, we had our first paid collaboration. The platform we picked was YouTube & travel vloggers were our primary focus. The video has reached more than 23k views, which is constantly growing. Although it brought us a pretty significant number of installs (like a 3-digit number), we’ll keep tracking it & only the future can tell if it paid off. However, from the current CPA, the result seems quite promising.

What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?

Later on, influencer marketing proved to be not working. It was simply too expensive, and the outcome was unknown - you could have invested a thousand into an account with hundreds of thousands of followers and gotten 10 installs. You must be very careful with these; picking them also requires a lot of time and can be money wasted.

Another thing that didn't perform was the newsletter. We’ve been collecting users’ email addresses from the beginning, and in May, we started sending out our newsletters. We’re constantly analysing the stats & working on the content to understand the needs of our users better, however, we killed it quite quickly as it wasn't converting at all.

What tools, software, or resources have been crucial in scaling your business?

Paid advertisement (mostly PPC) has brought us the most installs. LinkedIn for networking and connecting with journalists. Indie Hackers for sharing my journey with others and learning from others' mistakes. Or at least trying to, haha. Slack for team communication.

Who do you recommend to follow for business growth insights?

As travel is my main focus, here are a few I'm always keeping an eye on:

Brian Chesky - Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb (his journey from starting Airbnb in his living room to turning it into a global travel platform)

Rafat Ali - Founder and CEO of Skift (a media company that provides news, research, and marketing services for the travel industry). He always shares insights into travel trends, technology, and the future of the sector.

Joanna Lord - CMO at Skyscanner. Her expertise in scaling an online business is great to learn how to grow your presence in the competitive online travel market.

How did you shift from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?

Actually, I just jumped straight into it after my studies, so there was no particular transition. However, a few of the tips that I have are:

- Make sure that your idea is REALLY needed in the market.
- Test, test, test! Don't be scared of trying new approaches and ideas.
- Dedicate a specific number of hours to your hustle. While I'm not usually much of a planner - it helps me with whatever I'm working on.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: listen to instincts! Only you know when to launch and kill a product, and only you will feel when the time is right to transition fully to being a full-time startup owner.

What drives you to do what you do?

My own experiences traveling - all of RatePunk's features (we have 12 of them now) were born from lessons I learned and things I lacked while planning my trips and booking all the hotels.

And the part of owning a startup - I love my team, it's what drives me forward. I can see how we fail and succeed, but we do it all together. So I believe we can do anything.

Any quotes you live by?

No PowerPoint - straight to the point!

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