Melissa Bradley, Indagare, Woman Entrepreneur

ImagesThe Thanksgiving of 2006 we were out at the beach sitting around our kitchen table plotting our December vacation.  Jessica had found a new website called Indagare.  It was a subscription model around travel so we decided to try it out.  We have been users every since.  Someone I do deals with started to look into the travel space and had come across Indagare and reached out to Melissa.  She wanted to know what I thought.  I had a lot of thoughts considering I have been using the site since the beginning.  It was her desire to speak to Indagare that gave me the opportunity to speak to Melissa about her journey. 

Melissa is a consummate NYer.  She grew up in NYC and went to the Spence school until ninth grade deciding to go to boarding school at Andover.  She spent one of her high school years in Reine, France.  Andover chose Reine instead of Paris because they figured very few people would speak English there so in essence forcing the kids to quickly learn French.  It worked.  Melissa went to Yale for undergraduate and her love of France continued as she spent her junior year in Paris.  She got just what she wanted out of college.  Yale was a serious academically driven community with intellectually curious kids. 

Travel was always something Melissa loved.  Her mother is from Australia and was a ballerina with the Royal Ballet of England.  She had left Australia at 16 moving to London to become a professional dancer.  Her father was an American living in London getting his graduate degree when they met.  They were travelers in spirit and also had a global mind set.  As kids they traveled all the time and went everywhere.  So it isn't surprising that Melissa's first job out of college was working for European Travel and Life as a fact checker.

After a few years of work under her belt, she decided to go to Columbia University to get her degree in creative writing. While at school, Melissa freelanced for a bunch of magazines.  Not surprising Paris was calling her back so after graduating from Columbia she packed her bags and returned.  Melissa wrote a book on French films and worked for a few magazines eventually landing back in NYC as the travel editor for Town and Country

Town and Country was a twelve year ride.  During that time she got married and had kids.  As travel editor she also took on being the features editor and then the wedding section.  She continued to add jobs to her role.  In 2003, she launched a separate travel magazine for the company.  After 2 and a half years Melissa realized it was never going to be a yearly magazine but continue to be a quarterly publication.  As much as she loved it, she felt like she was beginning to do the same thing over and over again. 

Around this time she became fascinated with the Internet.  There were constraints in print.  You weren't able to write about all the tiny nuances in each story but on the web there was space for everything.  She had an audience that loved travel and on line you could share your travel experiences with each other.  Melissa spoke to a few of the large magazines companies to see if they were interested in doing something around travel online and nobody was. It was 2006 and she decided to leave the industry to try something out on her own. 

The original idea was to create a high end community website with great content and essentially crowd sourcing.  When she launched Indagare there was going to be 3 different membership levels.  One would be just for access, one would be slightly higher where you could get answers to questions from them and the third would be the highest level where they would help people plan their trips.  Interesting enough is 30% of the people signed up for the highest level.  People wanted them to do their trips for them.  At first she was hesitant but quickly realized she was filling a void in the marketplace.

In 2008 they made that commitment to provide people with that service and their business has doubled every year since.  The basic level is still available where you have access to the content and the special rates, amenities and benefits.  The second level you can get an hour of elite planning with someone on the phone.  The top level is gets 5 hours of top level planning and basically hand holding.

Even after being an editor for over a dozen years she never understood how the travel agency business worked.  It makes sense that the industry has evolved and actually been disrupted.  Melissa came at her business from the consumer angle as she was creating a void in a market she wanted to fill for herself.  She wants to know all the nuanced information that you used to find on places like the Hideaway Report.  Expedia, Travelocity and the airlines took the commissions away from the mom and pop travel agencies so that is what killed that part of the industry.  Now there are huge corporate travel agencies from places like American Express but they do not know the nuances like the killer ice cream store down the street from your hotel in Florence. 

The industry continues to change.  What I like about Indagare is that the site is always changing with people who travel to places around the world that are providing information that I am interested in like where to eat, where to stop, what to do and although it isn't important to me anymore but they have a sweet spot of what to do with kids.  It is one of the places I go to when I begin to plan our trips. At the end of the day, Melissa learned, like many other sites, the key to success is understanding your customer. 

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