An exclusive with… Rob Deeming, Head of Strategic Projects at Gilt Groupe and Managing Director, Jetsetter UK

   

Here in Europe we all know Gilt as a successful designer fashion eCommerce business but in the US you have been translating this model across other verticals, and in 2010 launched a travel equivalent called “Jetsetter”. Can you explain why you have done this and how Jetsetter works?

In 2010, Gilt had already grown rapidly and had developed a large member base of passionate shoppers. We started to ask ourselves (and those shoppers) what else they might be interested in buying from Gilt. Travel was consistently the top reply we heard.

Jetsetter began in much the same way as Gilt, selling luxury products, in this case hotel rooms, at a significant discount, in a range of daily, members-only, limited time ‘flash sales’.

As a proposition to our vendors (hotels), Jetsetter has some key differences to Gilt. There are some incredible properties in the world, but many struggle to reach the right audience, relying on traditional methods like a visiting journalist, or attracting influential guests. By working with Jetsetter, great hotels find themselves promoted on our site, and in our communications with members, which in turn drives bookings and awareness of their product.

 

Both the online travel and daily deals spaces are very busy. How do you differentiate Jetsetter UK from the competition in both areas?

There are many, many ways Jetsetter UK is differentiated, but I would particularly highlight three. Jetsetter UK curates the very best hotels around the world, which means that the deals that customers find on our site are at hotels that we feel strongly are the very best-in-class. In the same way, we invest heavily in our editorial process, commissioning many of the world’s best travel writers to visit and review the properties you will see on the site – we never feature a hotel we have not personally verified.

Finally, and more mechanically, many of the new wave of daily deal sites are really selling coupons for travel; customers need to contact the hotel after making their purchase to (hopefully) book dates. At Jetsetter, we are selling actual hotel stays – customers book the dates they want right there on the site, just like they would with a regular online travel agency.

 

What markets is Jetsetter currently in and what are your plans for expansion?

Travel is an inherently global product, and Jetsetter trips can be booked from anywhere in the world. Even before we launched the Jetsetter UK site, 20% of bookings made on Jetsetter where made by customers outside the US. We launched our UK site in September, and we already have a sales team based in Asia managing our hotel relationships there.

Our major focus for the next couple of quarters is growing the UK operation, but we are always considering other geographies – both emerging, and established.


The daily deals business model has come in for some criticism recently. How does the Jetsetter model add value to both the individual consumer and the business customer long term?

For our consumers, what you see is what you get. We feel passionately about the hotels we curate, and we know that our members will be blown-away by the travel experiences we provide. Our hotel partners know how great our members are too, and will often go out of their way to do something a bit extra for customers that book through Jetsetter, all of which adds up to a better experience for our customers to enjoy.

From a hotel perspective, as I mentioned before, we help hotels reach a high quality audience with a passion for travel. And we generate significant bookings for them too, which of course is a big plus for our partners.

 

Can you tell us more about Gilt’s future strategy and how Jetsetter fits in to the portfolio?

Gilt continues to grow aggressively in the US, and like Jetsetter, is actively looking at further international expansion. We recently launched international shipping, meaning that customers from over 90 countries around the world can now access the amazing deals on Gilt. Gilt is looking very closely at Europe at the moment, and the continued success of Jetsetter here in the UK is only going to support those aspirations.

 

Businesses like Gilt and Groupon are achieving staggering valuations and the market is awash with speculation on whether you will IPO in 2012. What is your take on this and what do you see as the pros and cons of floating?

That speculation seems to grow every day, and we have been open about the fact that an IPO is certainly an option Gilt will consider in 2012. The key is getting the timing right, and we will make sure not to jump before the business is genuinely ready.

The pros and cons of floating for Gilt are much the same as they are for other online businesses – a capital injection and increased public awareness are great upsides, but increased scrutiny is something that needs to be carefully considered. The fluctuations in Groupon’s share price since their floatation are testament to that.

You have been spearheading a lot of Gilt’s international expansion plans. What are the major challenges of launching a business like Gilt in Europe? In particular how do you go about building your team?

This is not a new business for Europe, and there are many players who are doing a great job in specific countries – Privalia in Spain and Vente Privee in France – are good examples. But we feel our positioning is differentiated, and we are yet to see any truly successful businesses operating at the luxury end of the spectrum in the same way that Gilt does. Clearly that creates an opportunity for us to expand.

Building the team in Europe has been a fantastic process, and I am lucky to have put together an extremely high calibre team at Jetsetter in the UK. In the technology and travel industries, the Jetsetter brand has genuine cache, and I think my team are just plain excited to be attempting to replicate the success that Jetsetter has seen in the US with a new audience here in the UK and Europe.


 What is it like to work at Jetsetter and at Gilt? What type of company culture are you keen to foster?

It’s a fascinating business to be a part of – even given the rapid growth, Kevin, Susan and the management team have done a remarkable job of maintaining a passionate and committed culture and a team with a desire to keep pushing the boundaries.

Last week Gilt ran a sale with Virgin America to let one customer charter an entire plane to fly any route, anywhere within the US. Thrown into the deal was the chance to permanently name the plane with a moniker of your choosing, painted right there on the fuselage, for time eternal. All for the princely sum of $60,000. That deal sold in under an hour, which is pretty extraordinary if you think about it what it takes to fill the 146 seats. Being a part of a business that can pull off deals like that makes Gilt an incredibly exciting place to work.

 

Outside of your own market, what do you think is the hottest emerging trend or technology right now?

My tip for the next big thing is social shopping. The early pioneers in this space are rapidly discovering that retailers can dramatically increase the chances of a customer making a purchase if they can engage that customer’s friends, and voices they trust, in the selling process. Businesses like Svpply and Pinterest in the US are at the absolute forefront of the space, and are generating purchase conversion rates that would make even the most successful online retailer cry with jealousy.

I think we will see successful standalone businesses in this space, but more importantly, I believe we will see this new approach to selling have a dramatic impact on the way that every online retailer sells products.

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