Monday, June 18, 2012
Interview with Clay Knight, Safarious.com
A few weeks ago, Dallas-based Safarious (www.safarious.com) launched its site, an online site which focuses on wildlife and adventurers, and provides an online community for those interested in outdoor adventure and travel. One of the site's co-founders, Clay Knight, tells us about how the site came about, plus talks about his involvement in such companies as Whole Security (acquired by Symantec) and TabbedOut.
First of all, what is Safarious.com?
Clay Knight: Safarious is an online community platform, which helps bridge the gap between those curious about outdoor adventure and outdoor travel, and those who are serious about outdoor travel. Those are people who are in the industry as professionals. Safarious is the place to go, if you have never been on a safari, or never have been to Antarctica, and want to go but don't quite know where to begin or where to find answers. You can start with Safarious.
The first thing that draws you to the site are pretty pictures, videos, and wildlife. They're all intriguing elements that bring people to the site, to see what they're aspiring to experience. Those images and graphics help tie you into the editor, whoever published the article, who might be photographers, guides, tour operators, bush pilots, or whoever they may be.
When I first went to Africa in 2001, I had the luxury of knowing a guide, Michael Lorenz, one of the top guides who books safaris for high end clients. Had I not known him, I would not have known where to start and who to trust. Looking at web sites that serious professionals use to promote themselves, I found that they were outdated, not professionally done, and that they were not able to keep up with them or lacked the finances, ability, or staff to manage all of it. This tool we've built with Safarious allows those serious professionals to start publishing themselves, their capabilities, and experience, and show what they have to offer to people around the world.
How is this different from social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn?
Clay Knight: A lot of serious individuals in the industry have been trying to utilize things like Facebook and LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is more of a professional network, and Facebook is just way too broad. We wanted to create something more niche, that caters specifically to the audience and the industry at the same time, and something you'd be proud to wear on a T-shirt. You wouldn't wear a Facebook or LinkedIn T-shirt, becaues that doesn't say anything about what you're aspiring to do. We created Safaroius as a cultivating product to be a part of, so that the brand would represent what you aspire to do, and so that people would respect the brand and the integrity and individuals on it.
Why did you guys decide to start the site?
Clay Knight: Andy Hogg runs a safari camp in Zambia, and Michael Lorentz is a private guide. They came up with the idea for creating a place they could upload their wildlife video content to the internet, and came to me because they knew I was involved in the tech space, and that I'd been to Africa and was passionate about it. We found that there was not site to do that, and that none of the sites out there were a place that was cultivating. We wanted to launch a site based on wildlife video, but which did not directly compete with YouTube, but where we could offer a service to motivate people to publish and share their wildlife content. The problem that people like Andy and Michael are having, is that people cannot find their websites. By making a place online to publish this kind of stuff, it makes you more findable. The concept was taking those curious and serious, and connecting the two.
Looks like you have been involved in a number of high tech projects around Texas, including TabbedOut?
Clay Knight: In 2001, I left school and moved to Austin, to join a couple of guys to start a company called Whole Security. At that time at Whole Security, we had developed the world's first behavior based detection engine for malicious threats. We took funding from New Enterprise Associates and a few other groups, and eventually built up and sold it to Symantec in 2005. At Whole Security was where I met Rick Orr, Greg Hewett, Geoff Hewett and Andy Payne, and a number of others. When Whole Security was acquired, the majority of the people stayed to ride out their term, but I left because I was tired of the security game, and we had grown to over a hundred employees, which was just too big for my taste. I left and started an advertising agency, which was one of the first small shops to blend technology with traditional advertising and high end design. Eventually, Greg, Geoff and and their terms expired at Symantec, and they came and joined me in Austin, and we started to turn Dib into a think tank, and work with clients and partners, and raise money for new ventures. We build digital online companies. We're kind of a startup company with a bunch of different startups and consultants.
We also do fee-based work in the advertising space, where we feel that if we're not working with fee-based clients, we're not finding new ideas in those industries. After Rick Orr left WholeSecurity, he called me and told me his idea about paying a bar tab at a restaurant. He wanted to call it Check Please, which I thought was a terrible name, so we rebranded the name, created TabbedOut, and I helped develop the UI and application and whatnot. Rick was the CEO during that time, and he stepped back after they raised a round of $6M in funding and were able to staff up. We still help out and work with them there, but for the most part the new CEO is running things down there. They're getting more traction, just connected with PayPal, have the bulk of the Point of Sale systems embracing them. It's an interesting game with TabbedOut, they've got lots of data to work with to supply the industry, and turn it into a big marketing play.
We've noticed in recent years that design seems to be almost as important nowadays as the software behind it. Have you noticed this?
Clay Knight: Design is instrument in all key aspects. There are a ton of designers out there, and there is a ton of talent in the design space. The great thing about design, is even if you have an idea that has no development behind it, you can start with the design, and that can inspire people to get involved. Having a good design and concept, and establishing a brand foundation that is cultivating, helps to sell investors, and helps to sell yourself to employees and partners. It kind of sets the tone and foundation for the whole product moving forward. That was very important to me at Safarious.
With any digital startup now, you are going to be constantly working on it. It's never perfect. We knew with Safarious that we had ideas we would not be able to touch for a year or two, but you want something that people will be proud of and that people feels represents themselves. People love high end design. Apple is a big example of that. People love to have something that it tailored, and nice, and usable. The downfall of a lot of designers, even if they are great designers, is they need the experience of interactive design, to understand how an individual interfaces with a design. Trying to get that experience takes lots of time. That's where we try to explore multiple opportunities within the industry. TabbedOut was one of those, because we felt we needed to get into mobile to get that experience, and learn to better design for devices and understand the intricacies of the user experience.
Finally, back to Safarious, what's next?
Clay Knight: For the time being, we're in beta mode. We've tried to keep it pretty limited to close friends and family. We've already managed to squeeze in over 2,000 members, and still have a database of over 30,000 people we haven't tapped into yet. We'll start opening the gates, and make it more available to the general public soon so that the curious can come in and explore the site. That will also help us add more curated content and content partners. It's great to have individual publish videos, journals, and galleries, however starting up we have to offer up some more tailored content from industry professionals. We'll be adding more features to business profiles, and we're also looking to get into hardware products such as satellite communications and other devices so that we can help promote them or offer them to tour operators, lodges or individuals in remote locations who need connectivity.