The Pluto fourth quarter 2021 public update

Hey there,

Welcome to another quarterly Pluto update. As always, this follows on from our Quarterly Board Meeting, which was held on the 15th December 2021.

Having launched key parts of our product roadmap, weathered the (ongoing) COVID storm, and observing evolving cultural and tech trends, we’re now more convinced than ever at the size of the opportunity ahead of us and that we have the right team and foundations to seize this.

Communities with a shared passion need and want a dedicated platform that provides them with some utility and a community. The cycling obsessed have Strava, music lovers have Spotify, and creatives have Pinterest. But the travel obsessed have nothing alike. This is the gap Pluto is filling. To build the platform for the travel obsessed. And, if you haven't checked out our iOS app already, please do!

If you only have a few minutes, you can read the exec summary below. Otherwise, we hope you enjoy the full update. As you read through, keep an eye out for the occasional request for investor help.

All the best,
Alex and Harry


Exec summary and highlights

Things worth shouting about from the last 3 months

The product's performance continues to improve.

  • Month-on-month retention, now at 60% is up 10% from the end of the last quarter.
  • Week 4 retention is in the top 15% of US and UK travel apps.
  • On-going weekly usage, with 4.5 engaged sessions per month — up from 3 in the first quarter of this year.
  • Our user activation rate continues to rise, currently at 34% — a 14% improvement in the last month alone.
  • We've seen a 31% increase in the number of items (131,000 total) and a 33% increase in the number of Pinboards (20,000 total) created in the last quarter.

COVID update — the number of international trips, and travel generally, is still down ~60%, compared with 2019. The fact that we're seeing good retention and engagement during a pandemic, highlights the opportunity for our product's usage metrics for when our audience's travel frequency returns to normal.

We're still seeing encouraging organic growth.

  • We welcomed almost 4,000 new users this quarter — with over 50% of them coming from non-paid channels.
  • Our average cost per install and per user fell by over 30% in the last quarter.

We launched personalised recommendations — powered by machine learning and our existing community's travel plans. This is the most significant new feature to launch in the app in over 18 months.

  • In the early usage data, we're already seeing our user activation rates triple when users interact with and save recommendations we've provided them.

Big things planned for the next 3 months

Releasing personalised recommendations across a number of other areas in our app.

  • Launching a huge upgrade to our search functionality, making it intelligent and personalised.
  • Kicking off our seed round in February, going after a VC-led raise of around £1m.

📢 Shareholder ask: If you know of any suitable VCs or investors that you think would be interested in participating in our seed round, then please introduce them to [email protected]


Business priorities

1) Strengthen product-market fit

Our main focus is improving retention and engagement.

2) Continue growing efficiently

Our focus here is maintaining strong, organic, word-of-mouth-driven growth through the product's in-built sharing mechanisms. We also want to continue to achieve low acquisition costs through our paid marketing channels. With stronger product-market fit, we will invest more focus, time and money into growth.

3) Progress towards becoming a socially responsible business

As a B Corp, we want to continue building a business we're proud of. Our focus remains on promoting sustainable and mindful travel as well as improving diversity in the travel industry. We'll also continue to support a number of charities, like TreeSisters and Color in Tech.


Product

With the launch of personalised recommendations, we've made the biggest change to our travel planning tool since launch. It's been a frequently requested feature, that's already showing signs of having a significant impact on key metrics. The rest of our time has been taking up making gradual refinements to the existing product. And it's encouraging to see positive product performance — particularly with retention, engagement, and activation — despite the turbulent travel environment.

Performance and future roadmap

Product performance

  • Month-on-month retention continued to improve, at 60% in November. Up from 54% at the end of August.
  • Furthermore, our week 4 (W4) retention is in the top 15% of US and UK travel apps. And our day 30 (D30) retention is also twice the average travel or lifestyle app.
  • 30-day engagement remains high, showing weekly usage — at 4.5 engaged sessions per month — across the whole quarter. Up from 3 in the first quarter of this year.
  • Our user activation rate continues to rise, currently at 34% — a 14% improvement in the last month alone.
  • 20,000 Pinboards have now been created in the app — a 33% increase from last quarter.
  • 131,000 items have been added to date — a 31% increase from last quarter.

The number of international trips, and travel generally, is still down ~60%, compared with 2019. The fact that we're seeing good retention and engagement in the midst of a pandemic, highlights the opportunity for our product's usage metrics for when our audience's travel frequency returns to normal.

Product milestones — key features we've released in the past 3 months

  • Personalised recommendations of things to do — central to the enhancement of the 'Explore' part of the app, we're now providing recommendations of things to do based on users' interests, their app usage and the trips they're planning. The recommendations come from the existing community's 20,000 trips already planned. In the early usage data, we're already seeing our user activation rates triple when users interact with and save recommendations we've provided them.
  • Streamlining the journey of adding multiple items at a time — the more items a new user adds to a Pinboard, the more likely they are to be retained. So we made some small, but impactful changes to this journey — by introducing an "Add another item" button — to make it easier to add a second item after the first is added.
  • Optimised the onboarding journey — being the journey that every new user goes through, we ran an A/B test to determine the best layout for the initial onboarding screens. Seeing as this is such an important journey, we have a backlog of experiments lined up in an attempt to decrease drop-off and increase activation rates.

Roadmap – upcoming big features over the next 6 months:

  • Personalised recommendations within each Pinboard — users will be able to browse a list of recommendations for each destination they're planning a trip to.
  • Smart search — when users search for a destination, they'll be served a feed of recommendations utilising the recommendation engine we mentioned above.
  • Day planner — easily create an itinerary for a trip within the app, to help you plan the time you have away in more detail.

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.

What our community is saying

We're continually talking to members of our community to learn about how they're using the app, what they like, and what needs to be improved. Here are a couple of quotes from happy travellers over the past month.

"It's like Pinterest, but for travel" — Matthew, App Store Review
"Awesome app for planning our holiday! there were lots of things I look for - but until now, I haven’t seen them all in one place. The app is very easy to use. You can also save ideas and places to eat. And also it served you up inspiration from the app’s recommendations. Top marks!" — Renwmcas, App Store Review
"When visiting a new location, I check on Pluto for genuine and local recommendations. You get to discover new places and locations and the story behind them. Once you find something you like, just save it to your pinboard and continue with your travel planning. Pluto supports your travel excitement!" — greta100, App Store Review


Growth & marketing

We continued to see consistent new user growth even though the last 3 months haven't shown a significant change in the travel environment. However, airlines and travel companies remain bullish for 2022.

Over the last 3 months, we have welcomed over 3,500 new users. With half of these users joining organically from non-paid channels. At the end of November, we had just over 18,000 users in total.

Our average cost per install and per user — blended and paid — fell over 30% in the last quarter.

Content & brand updates

We're continuing to use our Instagram page to engage existing and new members of our audience, communicating our brand's offering and values, along with providing practical advice and inspiration. Here are a few of our best performing posts from the last 3 months:

Marketing site update

We gave the Pluto homepage a refresh to reflect the introduction of personalised recommendations, and the gradual refinement of our brand over time. We sharpened our messaging to better reflect the latest version of our proposition, in addition to focusing even more on the pain points that we're solving. We also refined the general look and feel of the site to ensure we're always communicating the Pluto brand in a charismatic and distinct way.

We're always testing different variants of the site, so you might see the layout below or a slightly different one when you check it out!

New section of our website highlighting personalised recommendations.


Finances

Investment

Looking into the next quarter, we'll be starting to raise our Seed round. Where we'll be looking to raise a VC led round in excess of £1m.

And as the round shapes up, with commitments from new investors, we'll reach out to our existing investors to open up the opportunity for them to invest further in Pluto.


People & culture

Commitment to Net Zero

As part of being a responsible business, we made our public commitment to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030. This commitment includes our current emissions and our approach for reducing them over time. We will also use our influence to help travellers reduce their carbon emissions, considering the negative impact this has on the planet. As part of our commitment, we'll publicly report on our carbon emissions on an annual basis. Read the full post here.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

We continue to track various DEI metrics within the business as well as following up on all the actions we outlined in our public pledge.

Some of the key DEI metrics that we'll continue to publicly report on:

  • Team diversity — With no new hires, the team is still 100% male and 0% are from an ethnic minority background. This is something we'll address as the company scales and hires new team members.
  • Diverse and inclusive content and product development — Our content contributors are 57% female and 17% from an ethnic minority background. In the last 3 months, our user research participants were 72% female and 45% from an ethnic minority background.
  • Participant diversity in event panels — We didn't participate in any large panel events over the last 3 months and didn't turn any down either.

Recruiting & retaining

We haven't made any hires this quarter and don't plan to for the next quarter either, until after our next fundraise.

Ben, the growth marketer in our team, decided to leave the company in September. Their reasons were their personal circumstances and not a reflection on Pluto. We've filled this role with an experienced paid marketing freelancer until we hire someone new after our next fundraise.

Therefore, our attrition rate for the last 12 months is 25%. Compared to an industry average of 28% for high growth startups.

We continue to provide dedicated training time and budget to cover professional learning and education on antiracism, diversity and inclusion.

You can always see our full team here.

Pay transparency [No change]

As a B Corp, we'll continue to report on the ratio of our highest-paid worker to our lowest-paid worker. The best B Corp companies achieve between 1x to 5x for this ratio.

Pluto's low to high pay ratio = 1.3xNovember 2021

Although we're a small business, we're happy with where this ratio is now. The challenge will be keeping it low as the company scales and hires more.


That's everything — thanks for reading this far! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with Alex or Harry.

And if you want even more:

Alex and Harry
Pluto co-founders


Founders

Founders

The two co-founders of Pluto, Alex & Harry.