Ready to grow your startup — and fast? Read this interview with Rohan Gilkes by Innovators Program mentor, Alex Kehaya.
Rohan Gilkes is easily one of the nicest and most positive entrepreneurs I’ve had the chance to interact with. In my recent interview, Rohan shared the amazing and powerful story behind his latest venture, Innclusive. In his words:
“Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would take some of the bias for discrimination in these products.”
For Rohan, Innclusive is about building products and services that allow everyone to participate in the new sharing economy. What started with a focus on fighting discrimination on AirBnB has grown into a movement to give people of all walks of life access to the opportunities to build community and earn a living through ride sharing, home sharing, and the gig economy.
My focus with this interview series is to share specific examples of how successful entrepreneurs have driven growth for their companies. Before we dive into his growth story, I thought it necessary to point out how important his company is for our future. I consider Innclusive a social venture that has the potential to literally create a more inclusive and understanding environment between all those on the platform. In the US, now more than ever we need to be building companies and movements that push us to be more inclusive and open.
For his work to build a more Innclusive sharing economy and as an entrepreneur, Rohan has been featured in many major publications and most recently was invited to the White House.
What’s your background or personal story?
The last 5-6 years I’ve been building businesses (here’s one, and another). I started out as an accountant and a about 6 years ago I started reading on blogs and online about how to execute on ideas.
I’ve learned and gotten a lot better at acquiring customers. And all those things that lead to making money online. In my career, I’ve been successful in hiring myself out of the job in multiple businesses. My last project Wet Shave Club and Innclusive were spawned out of my own experience.
Tell us about your current business.
The home sharing market AirBnB is only 10% of the hotel and hospitality market. The rest of it goes to hotels and established businesses. This is from a study done by PWC. The market for companies like Innclusive and AirBnB is forecast to grow from 10% to 50% of the market in the next 7 years. There is clearly a lot of room for competition and growth. Today, AirBnB and other companies in the space aren’t meeting the needs of people like me.
Almost all of my startups were built based on something I needed. There wasn’t anything that connected with me the way I wanted so I built it for myself. Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would remove some of the bias for discrimination of these products.
Here’s a case study on discrimination seen through AirBnB. Here’s one about Lyft/Uber.
For us, It’s not about where you sleep when you go on vacation, it’s about how you are able to plan your trip, or call a Lyft or be a participant in this new economy. Are you able to be apart of the future?
Before we get started talking about growth strategy there are two steps that I think every entrepreneur should focus on when trying to build a successful online business.
There are only really two things you need to do to build a successful online business.
- You have to have a website that is setup to convert. Meaning that the branding connects with your customers, the colors are what they’d expect, things look secure and that you’re honest, and the copy matches what people will expect. If you miss that step you make your life ten times harder. We spent some time in the beginning to make sure our branding connects.
- Send as much traffic as possible to that website.
What traction channel are you an expert in?
Influencer Marketing is where I always start with each of my businesses.
First we asked ourselves, Who are the people who have an audience around travel? We found that there are tons of bloggers, tons of Youtubers, and Instagrammers. Often times they understand the market better than we do so we can learn a lot by listening to them. They’ve been living in the market and they have all the industry knowledge and they can help us with messaging and so on.
When you decide to go after influencers you need to ask yourself “Where do these people exist”?
For example, if you’re looking at beauty products then you need to focus on YouTube. If you’re in furniture you’ll need to focus on Pinterest.
We started out by searching for top 10 bloggers and even if that person is too expensive or not a good fit, we build a relationship with them and they’ll recommend us to someone else. A lot of times we end up working with the medium size audiences and then work our way up. Medium sized audiences are typically cheaper and will be more willing to work with you when you’re smaller.
How did you get your first 100 customers/users?
Funny enough, we just passed 100 customers (we’re still in beta). For us we’ve been lucky to get a lot of PR. We’ve worked really hard but there’s definitely been luck. There has been a bigger story about discrimination on various platforms so it has been easier for us to pitch our story.
We used that press to capture emails and we captured about 50,000 emails in 5 months and when we launch we’ll send an email to them and they’ll use our service in good numbers.
Another really successful strategy we used was to run referral contests with some of the influencers we found. (Here’s what a referral contest site looks like.)
The most successful referral contest we did was a YouTube giveaway for $1000 free travel on Innclusive including $500 in air travel. We actually did this a couple of times and the first one we did generated 8,000 signups!
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Each time we would do it we could predict how many signups we could get based on the size of the audience and the type of influencer.
What steps/advice would you give to other entrepreneurs to achieve success in this channel?
The thing that comes to mind is how we run these contests. For every single product that is worth selling online there is a community that is obsessed with that product or service. We go and find those communities and inject ourselves into those conversations.
We introduce ourselves as an Admin to the group, so that when we are ready to launch a viral contest people already trust us and are more likely to share it and participate.
For more ideas for launching a successful viral contest read here.
What’s the hardest part of “growth” in your opinion?
I think that part of it is finding product-market fit is the hardest part. I want to say that is the hardest part. We build products and services that already exist and we feel like we can put a small change or speak to a smaller demographic. This helps us miss some of the product market fit process and focus more on customer acquisition and branding..
Starting with the name was our first step for validating our business. We didn’t need to validate our product but we needed to validate our branding. We went to travel communities online and we said we need to come up with a name. We said we’d give a $500 dollar airfare voucher to the person who got it right.
The community came up with our name and voted. It was a 3 to 1 vote for Innclusive.
I feel there are some opportunities to bring your perfect customer into the decision making with every product you build. If you do this, you’ll be able to figure out growth.
What’s one question you never get asked in interviews but wish you’d been asked?
One question that I wish I was asked more is what motivates you to be out here building different companies?
I really think we’re living in the most perfect time in the history of the world for entrepreneurs. There has never been a better time.
With a WordPress theme and a lot of hustle you can sell almost anything online. I feel that we owe it to ourselves to take this opportunity and go after some of our dreams. I want to live a life where I can make my own decisions. I’m able to come to a point where I can be where I want in the world and do what I want. I can help out family and friends, I can do things that impact the world in some way.
I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs through our Facebook group and I really hope that someone who’s listening to this or reading the article and you have an idea of something you want to do. Here’s the best piece of advice I have for you:
Get into an action oriented mindset and do that thing you’ve wanted to do, do it TODAY. Ask yourself, How can I get started today? I feel like if people can get into that mindset you can do anything.
If people get anything from this interview it’s get into a mindset of taking MASSIVE ACTION!