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Startup Story: Sam & Marla from Uproute

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Miles Burke

I recently had a chat with Sam Mead and Marla Dillabough who are creating Uproute, a place to write and share your travel stories. Here’s what they said.

//SN: Hey Sam and Marla, tell me a little about what Uproute is all about.

Uproute makes travel recommendations relevant again.

We know that personal recommendations are really important to people when it comes to planning and booking travel. But our friends haven’t been everywhere, so naturally, a lot of people look to review and rating sites.

Uproute exists because we stopped trusting travel reviews and ratings. We couldn’t relate to the reviewer, we couldn’t tell which reviews were real, we didn’t know how an isolated hotel or restaurant review fit into the context of a trip itinerary, and so on.

Basically, we stopped being able to judge if a 4.5-star rating on something like Trip Advisor is a 4.5-star rating for us, making travel planning online pretty cookie cutter and impersonal. So we’ve done a few simple things on our quest to make travel reviews legit again:

  1. Anyone can create a traveller profile on Uproute for free. You fill in some fun facts about who you are as a traveller and upload last weekend’s photo where you’re melting toasties over an open fire and you’re set.
  2. Once you have a traveller profile you can share the trips that you go on in a structured and easy way.
  3. We give users the chance to discover and follow travellers who they can relate to, traveling vicariously through them, or hopefully, planning amazing trips based on their experience.

//SN: So where did the idea for this come from?

The idea for Uproute came from having spent most of my professional life abroad and always wanting to experience each of the places I lived in as much as possible. I often felt limited by the amount of time I had to plan, or by not knowing anyone who could give me first hand tips. Most of the best trips I’ve been on were so good because I got recommendations from people who I could relate to.

There’s tons of information out there, but it’s hard to tell if it jives with my travel style. Naturally, what’s fun and authentic for one traveller might be completely boring and cliché for another. Having the ability to relate to the person who’s sharing their experience takes a lot of the guesswork out of travelling which is helpful when you’ve got a limited amount of time, vacation days, imagination, money…

Separately, when I got back from trips, there were always a steady stream of people asking me what I recommended so that they could do the same. I would create an email with as much as I could remember and share it in that format. It was pretty clunky and never felt like I was doing justice to my trip to represent it in a few lines of Times New Roman script.

It wasn’t until I realised that so many other people had also given up on travel reviews and ratings that I decided to give Uproute a go.

Co-founder Marla Dillabough

//SN: What’s your fave place to travel to, at the moment?

Marla – It’s a toss up between Burma and Sri Lanka for me. Both offer some outrageous gadzooks moments for travellers (tuktuk travel on a highway where you are the bungee cord for your luggage), incredible nature, fairly laid back people who will help you break the rules, often for just a smile or a small bit of cash (Museum closed? Not a problem if the caretaker is still around.).

Great and very different curries (I love curry), great value for money and an element of complexity due to their history that makes traveling there as much about discovery as it is about appreciating you are somewhere that marches to the beat of its own drum (did you read about the ‘Buddha bar’ case in Yangon?). I haven’t shared my Burma adventures on Uproute yet, but you can check out one of my Sri Lanka trips here.

Sam – I can’t decide just one! Domestically, I can’t get enough of the Margaret River region at the moment. I just discovered a new favourite wave near Gracetown and have been down south two weekends in a row!

Looking international, I went to Indonesia for the first time last year and I loved it. I’m going back again in October. Can’t wait to eat tempeh in a warung!

//SN: Travel stories are a fairly saturated market, right? What is Uproute doing to set themselves apart from the other travel blogs out there?

The main thing we’re doing to differentiate is that on Uproute it is super easy to share your trips and end up with a really nice story.

We’ve found that at the moment, Facebook is by far and away the most common way to share the ‘story’ of a recent trip, but it only really allows photos. Telling an actual story in a nice format is kind of hard with Facebook. Also, Facebook kind of encourages quantity over quality… Come on. Nobody wants to see 30 blurry selfies of you at the bar in a series of increasingly poorly lit clubs…

On Uproute we’re all about quality. We encourage you to share both words and photos – and when it comes to photos, we encourage users to choose their best photos from the trip. Not all of them!

We also make it really easy to share your trips on the site. The upload process is smooth, quick, and most importantly it’s fun!

What you’re left with is a gorgeous looking account of your travels in a format that’s great to share with your friends and family.

We’re also constantly in contact with our users to understand what they want from us and how they use Uproute. Our plan is to always find a balance between what our users say they want, how they actually use Uproute and our vision to constantly innovate and evolve to become the global defacto place for trip sharing and travel planning.

Sam Mead
Co-founder Sam Mead

//SN: What’s your plan for revenue? Seems like I can post my trips for free, people can read them for free. Will this model be the same in 12 months time?

That’s right, it’s free to create a traveller profile, share your trips and read other people’s trips. During our validation phase, our target audience told us that they were unlikely to pay to do those things on Uproute, but they would love to use the site, so we had to monetize in a different way.

Currently we use a content marketing model where companies and brands can share trips on Uproute and they can also shop content on Uproute for repurposing across their channels. When this happens, the author of the content also receives a cut. Content marketing is still a fairly new marketing strategy for a lot of companies but it is definitely part of the savvy marketer’s tool kit because it’s about brands providing information to their target audience that is actually useful and adds value to their life.

Traditional advertising is becoming increasingly ineffective amongst millennials.

As we grow our user base, we have plans to increase the ways in which we monetize as well. For example, we expect bookings and therefore commissions will be possible in the not too distant future.

//SN: What lessons can you share with us in the process to date?

We were fortunate to start out as one of the RAC Seedspark winners which gave us a helpful push out of the gate in terms of access to seed funding, mentors and backing from a respected brand. My advice to other startups would be to identify what their unfair advantages are, big or small, and utilize them as strategically as possible.

I would also encourage people to consider the Perth startup scene as an unfair advantage – I’m now based in Singapore which has a more mature startup scene and it’s given me an opportunity to reflect on the startup community in Perth – it’s very supportive, experts across the spectrum are very accessible (and very generous with their time), there’s a strong spirit of collaboration and there are a lot of serious people and organisations that are pushing to put Perth and WA on the innovation map, which translates into more resources and a tangible enthusiasm to make it happen.

The ‘craze’ is attracting more great people, great ideas and of course, money!

//SN: If there’s one tip that you would suggest to someone with an early stage startup idea, what would it be?

Get involved in something like Startup Weekend to get a snapshot of what it takes to execute an idea. It was a real eye opener and reality check for me. It is also where Sam and I met!

In the spirit of helping our friends in the WA startup scene celebrate the big and small wins along their way to success, we’re running a contest for Startup News readers. The first 12 readers to share a trip on Uproute will win a bottle of wine from a gem of a boutique Margaret River winery. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Go to
  2. Create your personal traveller account
  3. Share a trip. When you’re creating your trip, one of the questions you’ll be asked is “which items are essential packing?” In this field, please include ‘Startup News’!

//SN: Thank you so much to both of you, I look forward to seeing Uproute grow and reading those great travel stories.

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Miles Burke

Miles is the founder of employee survey start-up, 6Q, Founder & MD of an award-winning Perth digital marketing agency, and curates the Australian Software Guide.
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