ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - April 2000
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Issue Highlight - Hard Measures for Human Values
--- We have now made the stock market our primary measure of well-being. It is the lead story on the news, it stares me in the face at the top of my home page. It peers at me from the lower right hand corner of my TV screen...

In This Issue...
Looking For Adventure
Healing Blue Cross And Blue Shield
Applying The Magic Of Disney
When Teams Are Destructive

Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Briefcases
Diary of a Shutdown

Looking For Adventure
Internet Startup Leads the Way to Your Next One

--Long gone are the days when a family vacation consisted of packing up the station wagon and driving to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

--Today you're more likely to see the neighbors loading their SUV with gear to raft down the Amazon, go climbing in Nepal or trek through the Australian outback. Travelers seeking the adventure of a lifetime are pointing and clicking their way to Adventureseek.com. Launched in December of 1999, the San Francisco-based Adventureseek.com, started by two adventure-seeking consultants in Boston, is redefining the active travel marketplace with their one-stop travel experience.

--Adventureseek.com is an online marketplace for travelers to get ideas, share information, research articles, compare tour operators and purchase trips and gear. In fact, Adventureseek.com is the first Internet company to bring all the needs of active travelers under one roof,it is fulfilling the needs of one of the fastest growing segments in the travel industry by creating a portal that brings together active travelers and a broad array of adventure providers offering trips all over the world.

--Created for adventurers by adventurers, the team at Adventureseek.com certainly knows what they are talking about when it comes to active travel. Accomplishments of founding team members include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, backpacking across six continents, multiple marathon runners and just about every other sport under the sun (and water). In addition to rigorous outdoor pursuits, this team features some of the best and brightest in the world of Internet startups.

--News for a Change Associate Editor Sarah Cogan recently spoke with Michael McColl, director of marketing, about the fast-paced world of dot-com startups, team building, a different customer experience and sustaining quality in cyberspace.

--Read how this startup is growing in the new economy through unique team-building exercises and maintains a 100 percent employee retention. Be sure to read next month's issue of News for a Change when we interview Allan Cohen, senior vice president of innovation and practice development at zefer.com, an Internet consulting group that helps clients create innovative strategies and implement adaptive business models that thrive in the Internet economy.

-- Cohen is also a featured speaker at AQP's "People and the New Economy 2," June 27-28, San Francisco, Calif. Joining Cohen will be Peter Block, Christopher Locke, co-author, "The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual." For more information call 1-800-733-3310 or visit the conference Web site at www.peoplenewecon.org.

NFC: What is Adventureseek.com?
McColl: Adventureseek.com is a Web site that enables people to seek unique experiences and to explore the world. It was started by Pete Wheelen and Jeff Kinder, consultants at Boston Consulting Group. Everyone was asking them about their travels; they were considered experts in travel. Pete and Jeff had not traveled in years, so their information was not current. They thought there was be a better way. They ended up developing Adventureseek.com as a better way to plan active and adventure travel.

NFC: How did you get involved?
McColl: I was introduced to the founders by some of my colleagues in the world of travel publishing. At the time they needed someone who was good at Internet marketing and also knew the travel field. I was a good fit.

NFC: How significant was the Internet when you were in college? Vice President Gore probably made his statements about the information superhighway, but could you have dreamed that you would be launching something like this?
McColl: I graduated from college in 1992. When I was in college we just started to use e-mail, but it wasn't that common and systems were pretty clumsy. I don't think I realized until the mid-90s that this was a more efficient way to do business, at least for a lot of different kinds of business. Some of the scalability and the 24-7 nature of the Internet make it an extremely efficient way to go.

NFC: In the fast-paced world of dot.com startups, how do you sustain quality?
McColl: I think the first step for us has been to hire really good people. If you hire smart people who know their jobs well, they are able to move quickly on projects and maintain high levels of quality. At Adventureseek.com, I think the organizational structure is very flat. The people that are most in touch with the actual implementation of a given project are also the people that know the most about it. They have the responsibility for the project.

NFC: When you were launching, you must have hit some roadblocks. Was it an issue to wait a little bit longer to launch to ensure quality?
McColl: We maintained our commitment to launch the Beta site at the time we had promised. However, we did maintain password protection for a little bit longer than we expected. We did this until we felt the quality of the site was high enough that it met our standards and was ready for public consumption.

NFC: From when Pete and Jeff started this idea, how long did it take to launch?
McColl: The inception was in 1998 and it took until the end of 1999 to actually launch the site. It was surprisingly fast from when we raised our initial round of funding in December of 1999. It was really only a matter of a few months before we moved forward and had a live site up on the Internet. It was incredibly fast.

NFC: Were your other Internet projects fast-paced or was it a slower process?
McColl: Actually, I think Adventureseek.com has moved faster than any of my other projects. LinkExchange and MyPoints certainly moved very fast, but it seems like the speed of movement in the Internet space is faster everyday.

NFC: How does Adventureseek.com work as a team? Are you just one big team?
McColl: Generally speaking, we divide things into functional areas. I have the marketing team and am responsible for making people aware of Adventureseek.com. There is an outfitter team that is in charge of bringing together the companies that offer all the different trips. Then, a technical team makes it all possible. A site development team helps us plan and plot out what features will be on the site and really determine what consumers want. Each of these teams actually overlaps and works together with each of the other teams.

NFC: What does your team do to develop close ties and to learn better ways to work together?
McColl: First, we are in the Internet space, so we are together a lot. We work together a lot of long hours, but we do also spend time together outside of work hours. We are an adventure travel company. We have gone on mountain biking rides, where we have taken a weekend, together as a team, and gone off to do that. We did a ROPES course together, which was a lot of fun. We ran off to one of our co-worker's wedding just before launch. Virtually every member of the team went up to Seattle for this wedding, just because we were that closely bonded with each other as a team. Two weeks from now, we are going rafting together on the Tuolumne, which is a pretty wild river out here in California. In August, we are going to climb Mt. Rainier together.

NFC: One of the biggest issues facing all companies is customer service. A lot of that is voice-to-voice interaction. That voice is gone on the Internet. How do you ensure and practice good customer service?
McColl: Good customer service is an important challenge for us; I think one of the first things we do is keep it simple. We make the Web site relatively simple for customers to use. When they get there, it is obvious what they can do and what the site offers them. I think it is the most critical part. Thinking through the whole customer buying process from start to finish is critical in terms of helping to decide what features to offer at which point in the buying process.

NFC: What is your customer process? When a customer comes to your site, how do they navigate it? What are they looking at? They don't have a brochure in front of them, they don't' have a travel agent on the line...how do they buy your product?
McColl: They may not even be ready to buy when they come to our site. The customer buying process for an adventure traveler is one big circle. If you think of it on a clock: 12:00 is the starting point. They are brainstorming where they might want to go. Maybe by 3:00, they might have decided on an activity they really want to do. They really want to go mountain biking; they really want to go whitewater rafting. Or, they decide on a destination they really want. Then, they start researching that particular activity or destination.

--By 6:00, they have decided to search for a particular activity at a particular destination. For example, they want to go trekking in Nepal or something like that. Only then, by letting them compare specific trips against other specific trips can they decide what they really want. Do they want the backpacker-oriented, budget trip or do they want the salon, white tablecloths and gourmet approach.

--Finally, by about 9:00, we help them narrow it down to exactly what they want. At that point, they can reserve the trip online. If they have very particular questions they want to ask, they can call directly and be connected straight to the outfitter. Even at that point, they go on their trip. When they get back, they will want to share their experiences with other people. They may want to share photographs; there are a number of post trip publications that we want to be a part of. Sharing about your trek to Nepal brings you back to 12:00 of the circle where you start brainstorming about your next trip.

NFC: What do you see the next challenge being for Adventureseek.com?
McColl: I think the challenges are really two-fold: One is really to get our company established in the minds of customers, so that people who are thinking about adventure travel think of us first. In a very crowded Internet marketplace, it is a challenge to get people to remember you and why you are different. Internally, I think the challenge is to maintain this really positive, really team oriented culture of our company in the middle of hyper-growth. Our company has tripled in size since I joined in August. It is likely to expand dramatically again in the near future. Making sure we bring in the right people and keeping the style of this team continuing as we grow, is a huge challenge.

NFC: It has to be hard to find good employees. Is it hard to find people who are familiar with the content of Adventureseek and the Internet at the same time?
McColl: What they say about the employment market is somewhat true. It is hard to find good people. They already have a job in the Internet space. Because of what we do, because we have a product that is easy to be passionate about, people that are interested in adventure travel seem to be interested in working with us. I think it has been easier for us to recruit than it would be for most Internet companies. Everyone on the team shares a passion for travel and active pursuits. That is one of the things that help us with retention as well. We have not had a single person leave; I think it is because we have a work environment here that is amazingly positive. Your co-workers understand when you desperately want to run off and go mountain biking for a weekend. Everyone shares that here.

NFC: A lot of service and manufacturing companies are starting to break through on the Internet. How can they learn from you and vice-versa?
McColl: I think it is likely, from my personal vision of how the Internet is going to develop, that over time, Internet-only companies are going to pick up more and more offline presence. Any offline companies that haven't yet developed an Internet presence will have to develop one. In the end, a few years from now, all businesses will be hybrid businesses; both online and offline. If you are a traditional manufacturer or traditional business without an online component, the sooner you develop a smart online component, the better. Following the examples of market leaders is a great way to jump-start. Don't make all the mistakes by starting from scratch. Look at how Amazon developed their Web site, look how they set things up. Look at eBay-what is eBay doing that makes them so successful?

NFC: Do you see your competitors in the adventure vacation arena doing that?
McColl: I think you will see it there as well. I think that in almost every space. Again it is hard to predict the future and the timing in every space. Eventually, I think that even in the adventure travel space you will see a combination of online and offline opportunities. Certainly you have it here now, our users can choose to either book their trip by e-mail or book their trip by picking up the phone and calling the outfitter directly.

NFC: As a group working such long hours, how do you keep your edge over your competitors?
McColl: One, by really loving what you do and two, by making sure you continue to do the things outside of your work life that you love to do. For those of us here, we try to get out and take short trips here and there. We get out and do the things we like to do. Someone might be going mountain climbing this weekend. The whole company is going whitewater rafting in two weeks. When we come back from one of those trips, we are excited to get back to work.

NFC: What are you reading now?
McColl: "The Beach" and Chris Baker's "Cuba Handbook." Chris Baker is a pretty well known travel writer and he wrote a guidebook to Cuba and I am hoping to get over there pretty soon.

NFC: Where do you find your inspiration?
McColl: There is something compelling about building a company from scratch. I think we have the opportunity to provide something that most people with a passion for active travel, most people like us, will really find exciting and useful. We are creating it ourselves without much guidance, in terms of people before us showing us how to do it. We have to make it up ourselves; it is very exciting to be one of the pioneers in this part of travel.

 

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