The Pluto first quarter 2021 update
Welcome to another Pluto quarterly update. As always, this follows on from our Quarterly Board Meeting, which was held on the 11th March 2021.
If you only have a few minutes, you can read the exec summary below, otherwise, we hope you enjoy the full update.
And if you want even more:
- You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram
- Keep an eye on our blog for regular informal updates
Exec summary and highlights
Important things that have happened in the last 3 months:
- Kicked off our fundraising round with new and existing investors, with over £200k committed already
- Increased our users by 2.3x compared with the previous 3 months, with now over 7,000 users in the Pluto community
- Over 5,000 trips have been created in the last 5 months, with over 20,000 items added
- Released new socially-driven features like content recommendations from our community
- Launched our Booking.com partnership, allowing users to easily access hotels from our app to then book on Booking.com afterwards
- We've maintained a 5-star review on the App Store, with incredible reviews like "Best travel app available. No contest."
- Reduced our cost per user acquisition by 45%
So, what's happening for Pluto in the next 3 months?
- Launch and close our second Seedrs crowdfunding campaign
- Continue to refine our core proposition, releasing new hero features including a map view, the ability to add a photo or checklist to a Pinboard and labels to items
- Redesign the 'Discovery' part of our proposition, providing more travel inspiration and social features to increase engagement
- Start to take advantage of the increasing demand in domestic and international travel
We probably can't tell you anything you don't already know. But the progress with the UK vaccine rollout is something to be grateful for and positive about. In addition, the government's announcement of their plan out of lockdown was met with very positive responses from the travel industry. We quickly saw the effects on the industry:
- BBC - "Holiday bookings surge after lockdown exit plans"
- Independent - "Summer travel bookings surge by 600% as sun-starved Britons plan holidays"
- Telegraph - "Up to 90 per cent of UK summer holiday options sold out"
Board meeting attendees
- Alex Rainey, CEO & Co-founder
- Harry Williams, CPO & Co-founder
- Duncan McIntyre, Board advisor & Investor
Below are the core objectives for the business over the next year. Naturally, there is some dependence on the travel environment bouncing back later this year.
1) Continue improving product-market fit
We want to drive up some key metrics in the business around:
- Retention and engagement
- Virality and users inviting other users
- Increasing revenue per user
2) Grow quickly and efficiently
We want to continue achieving strong growth (30% MoM new user growth) but also drive down our acquisition costs through optimisation to existing growth channels, and launching new growth channels.
3) Progress towards becoming a socially responsible business
We want to continue building a business we're proud of, so we'll be focused on:
- Becoming a certified B Corp
- Continue working towards team diversity targets (50% female, 20% BAME)
- Consistently achieve content creator diversity targets (50% female, 20% BAME)
- Continue charity contributions to the Travel Foundation and Color in Tech
Below we'll dive into all of these areas and more in detail. Enjoy!
Alex Rainey and Harry Williams
You can always see our full team here.
We haven't made any hires this quarter and don't plan to for the next quarter either. We are continuing to make use of the furlough scheme to allow team members to work part-time where necessary whilst international travel recovers.
Developing and retaining
Even as the pandemic continues longer than anyone expected, the team remains happy, optimistic and motivated.
We haven't lost any of our team in the past quarter, therefore our attrition rate for the last 9 months is 0%. Compared to an industry average of 25% for high growth startups.
We continue to provide dedicated training time and budget to cover professional learning and education on antiracism, diversity and inclusion.
We continue to work fully remotely and discuss the situation regularly with the team. Productivity has remained the same since going fully virtual, with some parts of the business even operating more productively. We will continue to assess the future office situation in late 2021.
Diversity and inclusion
We continue to track various D&I metrics within the business as well as following up on all the actions we outlined in our public pledge. A number of other travel startups have also signed up to this pledge.
Some of the key D&I metrics that we'll continue to publicly report on:
- Team diversity (no change) — Due to no new hires, the team is still 100% male and 0% BAME. This is something we will address with any new hires and remains an extremely high priority action.
- Diverse and inclusive content — Our content contributors are 53% female and 11% BAME.
- Diversity in event panels/discussions — We participated in one event where there wasn't a diverse group of founders presenting and we didn't participate in another event because of the same reason.
Product: Quality, challenges, roadmap etc.
- We've been pleasantly surprised by the product usage — despite the pandemic — with nearly 3,000 new users in the past 3 months. We've learnt that it's providing a great way to get excited about and plan future trips once the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
- We've further refined our 'test and learn cycle' — we have efficient and effective processes to collect quantitative and qualitative that provides insights into how people are using our product. This enables us to focus our efforts and refining the product to eliminate issues and enhance the value we're delivering.
- We're frequently conducting interviews with the people using the app to help us learn what we need to improve, and their feedback has been very positive — check out their soundbites below.
"I have dreamt of this app before I found it..."
"I've literally been telling everyone about Pluto."
- Determining causality of product usage patterns — some KPIs aren't progressing as we'd like, and it's difficult to know whether this is the product or more likely, the result of the current travel environment.
- Reduced development speed (ongoing since last OKR period) — in light of the continued challenging environment, our development team is smaller than normal. Although this has only reduced our speed slightly, it has provided an additional incentive to prioritise the most essential improvements that will impact our KPIs.
Product milestones and roadmap
Milestones — we've launched lots of new features — and made improvements — to our travel planner product, including:
- Booking.com accommodation integration.
- Apple login — used by 60% of users since it was launched.
- Item recommendations — so users can see suggestions on things to do from our featured Pinboards.
- Streamlined the onboarding process — which dramatically improved the proportion of new users who create a Pinboard.
- A 'Getting started checklist' — to help users get more value out of the product, more quickly.
Roadmap – upcoming features over the next quarter:
- Share any item to a Pinboard from anywhere on your phone — this will make it even easier to add stuff to your Pinboard. We hypothesise it will increase engagement with our product and enhance the value for the user.
- View your items on a map — this will make it easier to plan your time whilst you're away.
- Upload a document or photo to your Pinboard — a frequently requested feature that further delivers on our promise of providing a single home for all of your travel plans.
- Add a checklist to your Pinboard — users were asking for this to help them keep track of things like what to pack, and what to prepare for a trip.
- Add labels to your items — this will provide the ability to further organise the items you have on a Pinboard. Users can adapt the labels to suit a variety of use cases, for example: marking the day they'd like to visit a place or marking a place as 'visited'.
You can always view our roadmap here. This is where the public can view what we have planned, vote on their favourite features and suggest new ones.
During the past 3 months — and moving into the next — we've been working on redesigning the 'Explore' part of the app, which is where we provide inspiration in the form of community created Pinboards.
The objectives of this work are:
- Provide an opportunity for individuals to document and showcase themselves and their trips.
- Improve the scope and experience of discovering where to visit and what you'd like to do there.
- Introduce ways to stimulate engagement between community members.
- Create a proposition that engages people and delivers value on a weekly basis, even when you're not travelling.
We believe these improvements will enable us to further differentiate our product from competitors, and ensure regular and long-term engagement with our audience.
This strategy can be summarised by the idea of "come for the tool, stay for the network". Whereby the core planning features of our product will bring people in, and the new social and community features we're working on will mean people stick around. Check out the slide from our latest investment deck to see how this will work.
Technical product performance
There have been no major or minor outages of our platform over the last 3 months.
Customer satisfaction, complaints and regulatory considerations
We've been blown away by the customer reviews we continue to receive. Here are a few of our favourites from the last 3 months.
We've had no new official complaints to date. And we're continuing to meet all our compliance requirements with the FCA, so nothing new to report here.
Sales and growth: traction, marketing, revenue, etc.
We've continued to see strong growth over the last 3 months despite the pandemic. This is all being driven out of the changes made to the product over the last 6 months. January was the only outlier due to extended lockdown and lack of certainty around travel.
Direct to consumer marketing
We're still being cautious with any increases in paid marketing. We'll continue to monitor our acquisition costs carefully as travel re-bounds. And when the time is right, we will start to increase our budgets and spend caps.
Some highlights from the last 3 months:
- 45% reduction in our Cost per Acquisition (CPA)
- 50% increase in the proportion of users that come from organic and non-paid sources. This is strong evidence that our customer acquisition is becoming increasingly efficient
- 65% reduction in Apple search ad costs. Further signs of product improvements and continued marketing optimisations having a positive impact on acquisition costs
Finances: Cash flow, runway, investment, etc.
Current cash balance, burn and runway
The business is still in a comfortable financial position. Our monthly expenditure continues to remain significantly lower than last year and we will retain this level of spend until things start to return to normal. We'll continue to make use of government support schemes and loans where appropriate.
Investment and fundraising
We're fundraising again and are about to launch our second crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. This new funding round will allow us to continue investing in our product and our growth. Please keep an eye on your emails for more information about the crowdfund. Over £250K has been committed so far by existing and new investors.
The crowdfund is expected to go live around mid to late March. So just a few weeks away!
Since our last fundraise (September 2019) we've achieved a lot despite the pandemic and renewed focus on travel planning and discovery are helping us to grow faster and faster. As a short summary, since our last fundraise, we:
- Accelerated our product strategy during the pandemic to become "the home of all your travel plans"
- Sold over £115k of travel insurance, a 3.5x increase
- Increased our user base 5.5x to over 7,000 users
- Increased our insurance margins by 3x
Brand - managing and building our profile and reputation
At the beginning of this year, we conducted a brand planning exercise to ensure the way we're positioning and communicating our brand remains contextually and culturally relevant to our audience.
Although the core of the brand remains the same, we set out a brand strategy centred around the idea of "Escapism" where Pluto helps you escape the bad stuff so you're free to make the most of every part of your travel experience.
This resulted in a new brand tagline — "Where travel lovers go to escape" — a few updates to how we talk about our product and a refined visual identity, some of which you'll see below.
We continue to focus our effort on publishing content on our Instagram page with the objectives of maintaining brand presence, growing brand awareness, converting followers to users, and connecting with travel lovers within our community.
During the past 3 months, our following has increased by 9% and we're continually hitting our target engagement metrics. Check out a selection of our recent posts below.
And if you're not already, give us a follow!
Thanks for reading if you got this far. If you ever have any questions, please just let me (Alex) know.
Alex and Harry