This is a follow up story for RatePunk. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello again, startuppers! I’m Justin Albertynas and I’m one of the founders of a travel-tech startup, a browser extension named RatePunk. Back when I first wrote about Ratepunk for Starter Story (you can read about our very start here), we only had our most basic feature - price comparison for different booking websites live & for free, available on all major web browsers.
We have grown quite a bit and introduced many new exciting features, which I will be talking about here. We’re also branching out to offer not only B2C but B2B services too.
We focus on everyone interested in travel and traveling cheaper, smarter, and easier. We want to level the playing field for all travelers so that nobody gets abused by any shady business practices that are quite common in this industry nowadays
Currently, Ratepunk’s revenue is around $50.000/month. And we can proudly say that we’ve grown from 500+ users to 100k+ users! Our users booked 40.000 hotels, with savings ranging from 5% to 79% from the initial price of the hotel.
This is our user growth over the year;
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
New features, extension growth
- RATESCORE - the official RatePunk hotel rating. It takes ratings from all major websites & calculates the final one, so you know the most accurate one without any research. It pops up in the list of hotels so you can compare them in between, just like this:
- Launched “Airbnb price negotiation feature.” If you didn't know, booking prices on Airbnb can be negotiated with the host. We made that even more accessible and easy by eliminating the need to directly craft a message and just let the user type in the price that suits them, which then gets sent to the host where the host can either accept or deny it.
- Price tracking - track the price of your booking and get notified if the price changes, so you can rebook the same room for cheaper
- Safety index around the property to show users if the area around their hotel is safe or not.
- Our latest feature - Word Cloud. You can see what people are talking about regarding the property. It can either be bad or good. For example, if people are saying that the service is good, you will see a green “Service” word in the word cloud tab of the extension.
- And also we added a hotel quality graph that’s based on how the hotel’s quality has changed over time.
Here’s how Ratepunk’s extension is looking now, compared to how it used to look a year ago:
- RatePunk CASHBACK lets users earn reward points towards cashback on eligible hotel bookings. After booking by participating providers with the RatePunk browser extension, our users get a chance to earn points on their purchases.
Every user gets ten free coins just for joining the RatePunk cashback: 5 for creating an account and another 5 for activating it. When a benchmark of 100 coins is reached, the $10 cashback can be redeemed.
Our team doubled in size this year! We decided that we needed a TikTok presence with the app just around the corner, so we decided to hire a Tiktok content creator. We also hired a new Junior PR Specialist, HR Manager, Digital Marketing Manager, Junior Frontend Developer, junior UX/UI designer, a new Node Developer, Full-Stack Developer, Junior Developer, and Digital Marketing Specialist.
Be infectious with your passion when building your team. Look for people who are going to be as obsessed with your product as you are.
In our pursuit of effective PR strategies, we embarked on a pitching marathon for our startup. Initially, the results were underwhelming until a turning point in April 2023 when we secured 19 articles with around 1.5 billion combined monthly traffic.
Our success can be attributed to a mix of our own strategies and invaluable teaching session from NordVPN's press manager, who inspired and motivated us. Rather than cold selling, we focused on providing value to journalists by responding to specific quote requests through platforms like Qwoted, Terkel.io.
And using automated platforms, like Woodpecker, for our cold emailing campaigns. This got us mentioned in the most popular publications in the world (The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Nasdaq, CNN, etc.) We learned the importance of making connections, researching journalists' interests, and being quotable and personable in our pitches. Moreover, leveraging Linkedin and using ChatGPT for information gathering further contributed to our PR growth.
While not every pitch gets published, seeking relevant topics and maintaining a persistent attitude are crucial elements of our approach. As a travel hacking app, we prioritize travel-related queries, and this targeted strategy has significantly contributed to our rising success in securing mentions and increasing traffic through PR efforts. Here are our ‘mentioned in press stats’ since we started using all these different platforms.
- 2023 April - 19 Articles, around 1,5B combined traffic in all the publications.
- 2023 May - 46 Articles, around 6,1B combined monthly traffic in all the publications.
- 2023 June - 96 Articles, around 9,8B combined monthly traffic in all the publications.
Events are the best places to confirm if your startup is relevant to the industry. During the Digital Travel Connect event, we had meetings with Expedia, Travelzoo, Thomas Cook, and other big brand associates about RatePunk. We said, "Our mission is to break the monopoly," and I cannot express in words the emotion, but hearing just positive replies about our mission made it clear - I will get RatePunk to flourish.
Ratepunk attended these events:
- MIT Global Startup Workshop - Pitch Battle
- Digital Travel Connect 2023 Dragon's Den
- Local presentations: Travel Tech Vilnius 2023, Travel Tech Adventure Lithuania 2023
We’ve had a big breakthrough with SEO too. Currently, we’re raking in around 250,000 impressions and 8,000 clicks/month for our blog, which has been a big influence on our traffic. Right now, we’re writing around 4-5 blog posts/week. Trial and failure is the name of the game with blog posts, as you never know what will be a hit and what will get absolutely 0 impressions.
As of this day, our most popular blog posts are “Elon Musk Hotel in Mars - TRUE or FALSE (with IMAGES)”, “Countries that start with D (2023) | Ratepunk,” and “10 Longest Bridges in the World 2023 | Ratepunk”.
Have a look at our last 12 months' blog performance:
NEW SOCIAL MEDIA
We talked last year that TikTok didn’t quite work out for us, but in the end, we decided to give it a proper try by hiring a new Tiktok content creator at the start of the summer of 2023, and we reached one thousand followers in two of our accounts in just a month with 0 ads. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we’re sure that Ratepunk is gonna go viral on Tiktok pretty soon. We have some crazy ideas planned.
We’ve also started to push our Pinterest presence, and over the last month(which was our first active month), we had 110K organic impressions of our content. Pinterest is a pretty good platform to increase traffic to your blogs and build a general “mood board” for your business.
The key to Pinterest (and actually almost all social media content is consistency). Quantity goes over quality in this context. You have to try everything until you hit that golden vein. The most important part of getting all those impressions on Pinterest for free is uploading at least five pins a day around 6 pm-10 pm. If you do this, it doesn’t even really matter if your content is good or not. You will get there either way, just with consistency.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
One of our biggest challenges was getting SEO right. When we decided to get our blog post back from the dead, we started writing way more than before and tracking the performance. These were our main problems (keep in mind this is months of writing and testing what works and what doesn’t).
- We couldn’t get what the keyword system was.
- We didn’t try to change the headlines & notice the traffic tendencies after.
- We didn’t jump on trends on time - most often came in late.
- We wrote about any topic that came to mind & was travel-related.
- We relied too much on quality & not quantity. One blog post per day is not enough.
The funny thing is, at Ratepunk, we turn around the saying - “What worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future.” We actually tend to give up on things that seemingly don’t work and bring them back months and months later with real success (look at Pinterest, Blog, Tiktok).
Another bigger mistake I’ve made is exclusively focusing/obsessing on just growing as fast as possible. Strictly focusing on numbers such as revenue and customers is not the best tactic in the long run. It can even become addictive and hit you off the track in creating a solution your customers need, which is your way to success. Put your energy on the values, team, user experience, etc. - these features of quality will reward with increasing numbers with time.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
One cool personal update is that I have become a way more adaptable and resilient entrepreneur, ready to face any challenge head-on. I now understand the power of engaging with my audience on social media, and my ability to experiment with different marketing strategies has greatly improved.
Another good decision I made was shifting a big part of my time and focusing on building a diverse team with varied skill sets, enabling us to be more agile and versatile in our approach.
One big missed opportunity was not having a proper tracking system, which made it difficult to identify the sources of a significant portion of our installs. This lack of data hindered our ability to make informed decisions and optimize our strategies effectively for a few months when things started kicking off.
I developed quite a few helpful habits, such as not being afraid to ask for advice and being open to feedback from others. Establishing healthy communication channels was key - every team has daily 15-minute meetings, weekly 1-hour team meetings, and then we have a big weekly 1-hour meeting where every employee joins and talks about their week and plans for the next week.
This was probably our biggest breakthrough communication-wise. The importance of teamwork, transparency, and taking breaks to avoid burnout are lessons I now apply diligently. Overall, my experiences have made me a better entrepreneur, ready to tackle any future startup challenges with confidence and determination.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
As a leader of a chaotic startup, I don’t have a clear 5-year plan. With my first few products, I had a very strict plan on how I'll proceed - every aspect with all steps included. I can't say it was bad, but it did give me less space to improvise and sometimes take decisions that were a bit risky but most probably could have brought more benefits. I will never know now, and that's the problem of holding on to a plan too much.
But if we’re speaking about the vision: It’s to become a worldwide used, known, and trusted ultimate travel app. From booking your hotels, flights, and renting cars as cheaply as possible to implementing AI to negotiate Airbnb prices for you (one of our upcoming features) and informing you about the scams and peculiarities of the destination you’re planning to go to - I want Ratepunk to have it all!
Right now, we’re well on our way to launching our mobile app, which will be very interesting as it will start to generate a whole new source of traffic through the mobile app stores. This has been a long time coming, but it’s almost finally here, and I am super excited. It’s gonna become easier to advertise on many of the social media platforms since advertising a web extension for a mobile user is not the best thing to do, but we won’t have to worry about that anymore!
Another big upcoming feature, and the only one in the world, I might add, is ChatGPT AirBnb price negotiation. We’re gonna make the Airbnb price negotiation feature even better - we're working on integrating chatGPT into the Airbnb negotiation feature for it to negotiate with the host on the user's behalf directly.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
The best book I’ve read this year is by far "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace". It’s a book that focuses on empowering organizations by fostering a culture of appreciation among employees. The book emphasizes the importance of recognizing and encouraging people in the workplace to improve morale, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. The book talks about the five languages of love but converts them to a workplace setting. It’s a must for anyone that seeks to maintain a constant state of high morale and love for the workplace in your employees. The insights and tips I’ve learned from it had a huge impact on building the team I have now.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Lex Fridman podcasts, and I think it’s the best podcast for people seeking to ignite their intellectual curiosity. Lex is incredibly well-spoken and easy to listen to, even when tackling the most complex and intricate topics. He does research about the guest he invites and asks all the right questions.
Another important podcast is the 20Growth podcast. It has been a source of many great PR and business-related tips. Harry Stebbings brings in great speakers and asks great questions which provide great insights you will hardly find somewhere else. Great great great. I recommend this podcast to my whole team constantly and now I recommend it to the whole Starter Story community!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
As I said in the first Starter story article, I’m quite bad at inspirational speeches, but I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last year, so here are some essential tips.
Having a startup is chaotic and challenging, the situation is extremely fluid and always open for change. It is extremely important to stay flexible and embrace adaptability.
While quality is essential, don’t hesitate to pivot if needed. For example, if you’ve launched a new ads campaign with new creatives and it’s not working immediately - just turn it off and try again with new creatives and strategies. Don’t get attached to things like this, and don’t get emotional - trust the statistics. TEST TEST and TEST again.
Another huge tip is to be infectious with your passion when building your team. Look for people who are going to be as obsessed with your product as you are. This is probably the coolest thing about working at Ratepunk - the team I’ve built.
If you’d ask any of my employees what is the best thing about working here - most of them will say it’s the team (the other best thing is the free wine, probably, haha). I’ve built this team with a unique approach to hiring newcomers - we don’t care about your CV. We look at the person and immediately ask to complete a practical assignment.
The biggest mistake I notice other people make while building a startup is, of course, the lack of persistence and giving up to early. Entrepreneurship is challenging, and setbacks are common. Giving up too quickly when facing obstacles will prevent entrepreneurs from reaching their full potential. Persistence and resilience are key qualities needed to overcome challenges and achieve success.
Don’t dwell on mistakes, but fix them and don’t make them again. Maintain this philosophy even when it’s not you who is making a mistake but your team. This helps maintain constant improvement among your team and greatly raises morale.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Justin Albertynas LinkedIn (I post insights about the travel industry, startups, company culture, and memes)
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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