Interview with Jason Demant of Unanchor.com
What is Unanchor.com?
We sell specialized travel guides directed towards travelers that want to get a local experience. They want to get around the city and places themselves, and they want to get off the beaten path. There are itineraries that take you through step by step of what you want to do throughout your day.
What was the inspiration for beginning Unanchor.com?
A couple years back, my now wife and I quit our jobs, sold all of our stuff and we traveled around Asia for a year and Unanchor was the product I was always looking for but could never find. I wanted to know where to go and how to get around and it just was a frustrating process. We were moving around seeing the city so often and trying to figure out how to do that. I got interested in entrepreneurship and decided to try my hand at building the product myself. So, I taught myself how to code, launched the first version and I guess they say the rest is history!
What does Unanchor offer that is different than guidebooks or other travel resources?
The main thing that we focus on that differentiates us from a Lonely Planet or Frommer’s or something like that a local is writing the guides. A lot of (travel guide companies) will send a writer to a destination and have them travel all around and write about it, and that’s fine but it’s not a local that’s lived in the city for many years. We also focus on being “turn key”, to use a buzzword. Everything that you need is in the itinerary. It is like Start your trip at 9 am here. Check this out. take this bus to your next place. So, you don’t have to do additional research beyond using our guides. You have everything right in the itinerary.
If someone wants to write an itinerary for Unanchor.com, what is the process for that?
We have a very small application process on our site. You fill out your name, email, the city you want to write about, and your approach to the itinerary. So, are you writing for families? First-timers? Whatever it is, tell us a little bit about that and why you are an expert on that city. After applying, we want to make sure you’ve done some writing before. We get a lot of people that (apply) and English may not be their first language. We want to make sure that your English is on a good enough level that people can follow it. After that, we say go for it! We have an editor now who helps out with the whole process–someone to read over the itinerary, someone to offer suggestions. If you need help building the maps for the itinerary we’ve got an editor that helps writers with the entire process.
How many itinerary writers do you have now?
I have no idea! I haven’t looked in quite a while. We probably have somewhere around 100, 150?
Can you give me some examples of an Unanchor itinerary?
We cover most major cities around the world now. Some of our most popular ones are San Francisco– I actually wrote it! — and it’s a 2-day itinerary. Basically, if it’s your first time in the city it’s a good way to see some of the tourist sites but also do some of the off-the-beaten path type stuff which is really what Unanchor does best. Sydney, Australia is a very popular one. We have a 3-day itinerary, again the same idea. You want to see some of the touristy stuff plus a lot of the off-the-beaten path stuff. Seoul, Korea we have a really good one. Florence – a really great ex-pat lives there and did an awesome job. Paris, we’ve got a popular one. So, many of the popular tourist destinations. But we’ve also got random ones like if you are going to Columbus, Ohio for an Ohio football game, you have a really great itinerary that tells you what to do before and after the game.
Excellent! What challenges have you encountered in starting Unanchor.com or running the site?
So many! Where to start? I guess the two biggest challenges are figuring out where to get the content and then how to sell the content. I thought it was going to be very easy to get writers to write for the site, with all the travel bloggers out there I was like, yeah, an opportunity to talk about something they love and make some money. Way wrong. It took a long time and a lot of experimenting but we finally figured out how to pitch it to writers. Expats were a really good source for writers. We had to figure out which websites we could use to find writers. After that, it was about how to sell them. The two biggest ways that have worked for us is Google and SEO* traffic. We don’t try to do it on purpose, it’s just kind of lucky! The other thing is selling our itineraries. The big one has been Amazon Kindle and making e-books from our itineraries. Amazon has been a good partner for us. It’s just a good place to sell travel guides and I think our guides are very unique in particular.
*Search Engine Optimization
Are there any locations that you would particularly like to see represented on Unanchor that are not yet? Maybe regions that are underrepresented?
Adding more Asian itineraries would be good. Our Seoul and Tokyo (itineraries) do pretty well. I’d love to have additional ones for Thailand and Vietnam. That whole South East Asia path… to get more itineraries from there would be good. We don’t have one for Jakarta yet, that would be a good one to have. But, anyone with a unique view a city is what we really want. Even San Francisco, I’ve covered it but would love to have a different type of approach. Maybe, San Francisco for families or San Francisco for foodies!
What’s next for Unanchor.com?
Mostly what we are focusing on these days are adding cities and adding unique approaches to those cities. We really want to make the experience for our travelers better and have better maps. We don’t know when but at some point we are definitely going to need an app, iPhone and Android probably. Eventually we want the knowledge of the writer to be all in the itinerary on the app and have your phone be your travel guide. So it guides you around and your phone always knows where you are and it has the maps so it can say “check out this building across the street” because it knows you are near it and then it pops up the information that the writer wants you to know. That’s the long-term vision!
Thanks very much!