EP48: From a Simple Project to Building a Viable Business – The Story of LoungeBuddy with Tyler Dikman

Who is Tyler Dikman and the key takeaways in this episode?

Life’s challenges and experiences place us ahead of opportunities when we look at them with a positive outlook. Add to the mix a supportive family who will do free advertising for you among their own circle, then in no time at all, you are building a business that’s off on the right foot.

Tyler Dikman found himself in this kind of scenario. From his childhood exploits in his mowing business, his experience, family and hard work all contributed to help him become a success story. In this interview with Tyler you’ll learn about:

  • His “aha” moment when he finally realized that what he was building was not just a project but a viable business
  • His tips to those who are just starting out in the business
  • What he thinks is the most common mistake that startups make
  • Why he thinks that Arabian Bee is the coolest company
  • And more…

The Questions

[4:21] What made you the person you are today.
Answer: Sure. Well, you know travelling and being entrepreneurial has certainly been in my blood for quite a long time. I kind of got the entrepreneurial bug back in high school when I started my first technology focused company, a consulting company in Florida. And since then I have started the better part of three additional companies, so and then there’s startup number four at this time. But along the way I had a wonderful number of opportunities to be able to travel all over the world and meet a lot of amazing people. And just being able to put yourself into a new culture was something that I thought was really really exciting. So here I am almost two million flight miles later. That’s actually flown miles, not earned miles from credit cards or anything else. And close to sixty countries visited at this point and still loving every minute of being able to travel the world.

[7:55] What is the most common mistake you see people that are starting out make?
Answer: I think a lot of the greatest ideas, in hindsight people looked at them from the beginning from the concept stage and said ‘What are you thinking? That absolutely won’t work.’ Because you’re basically putting today’s currents, values and principles on something that really isn’t being built for today but for tomorrow. But having said that I think that there is the realization that most businesses will fail. And just realizing that if you’re doing something that you love, that you’re super passionate about, you should probably try doing it. But at some point if it’s just not working, you may need to cut your losses and move on to something else. There are some people out there that will work something for ten years when really after year two you realized there’s not much more you can do. But at the same time, I mean, you’ve got to put your blood, sweat and tears into it. And if in the first year or two, you’re making great progress, awesome. But if you’re getting nowhere and you got some other opportunity, maybe you want to pursue that. And again that’s not the right thing for everyone but I’ve just seen so many entrepreneurs spent 5 or 10 years on a concept where they’re brilliant people and there probably another concept that they could’ve picked up and be successful with by the time they got their first [inaudible 22:38].

[16:06]  Is there a company you admire as it relates of culture other than your own and why is that?
Answer: There are a lot of companies out there. I really like the Arabian Bee culture. I think they’re pretty darn cool. Of course, they’re another travel focused company. What I really love about them is first of all their office is amazing. It’s just super super cool. Every one of their conference rooms is modeled after one of their Arabian Bee locations – that’s really neat. But also the fact that they essentially require, within reason, all of their employees when they’re traveling on business to stay in an Arabian Bee. And again it’s one thing to work for a company but it’s another thing to be a customer of the company that you work for. And I think that that is so essential. I think a lot of businesses don’t really promote or require that.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

What Tyler Dikman Wants His Company to BE:

  • BE Yourself
  • BE Able to love what you do
  • BE NOT afraid

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Tyler Dikman:

Connect with John on

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

John: Welcome to Be Culture Radio and my guest today – Tyler Dikman. Tyler, how are you?

Tyler: Doing well, thanks.

John: Thanks so much for joining us. It’s a real pleasure to have you on this show. You have a lot of knowledge to share with our listeners. But before we dig into that, Tyler, I’m sure they’d like to know a little bit about you personally, where you came from, how you got here, and what made you the person you are today.

Tyler: Sure. Well, you know travelling and being entrepreneurial has certainly been in my blood for quite a long time. I kind of got the entrepreneurial bug back in high school when I started my first technology focused company, a consulting company in Florida. And since then I have started the better part of three additional companies, so and then there’s startup number four at this time. But along the way I had a wonderful number of opportunities to be able to travel all over the world and meet a lot of amazing people. And just being able to put yourself into a new culture was something that I thought was really really exciting. So here I am almost two million flight miles later. That’s actually flown miles, not earned miles from credit cards or anything else. And close to sixty countries visited at this point and still loving every minute of being able to travel the world.

John: Tyler, just so my listeners would know, you were named – you were featured in Business Week as one of the Top Twenty-five Entrepreneurs under Twenty-five. You’ve appeared on CNBC. You’ve in number of publications: Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Saint Petersburg, Times, many others. So I’m sure people want to know: what shaped you as a kid? How did you – because you didn’t come out of the box assembled.

Tyler: No. My parents certainly had a lot of great influence. And that was – they taught me the value of being able to pull my own weight and, you know, understand what it takes to be able to work hard and be successful as a result. You know, I don’t think I was really that abnormal as a kid except that my hobbies and interests were really focused around work and business-related things rather than what a traditional kid would do. So call me a geek, call me unpopular, but as a result, it allowed me to make a lot of mistakes, that I think people don’t even get exposure to until post-college, that I got to make at ten years old when I was doing a lot of mowing business. Or at age fifteen when I had business customers for my technology consulting business. So the beauty was that I failed quite a bit, I had a great support of family along the way, and I had free advertising. You know, my mom, because she certainly helped to spread the word about the different businesses that I was in to all her friends.

John: You know, as I like to say, everybody has a tribe – I’m one of eight. My mom is in her mid-80s. You know, Tyler, I get a call after every – she listens to every show on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And I can pretty much set my clock to the time she listens to the show and I get a lot of advice. And I dare not say anything but ‘Okay, mom, I’ll work on that.’

Tyler: You know there’s something to be said for having a supportive family and I certainly would not be where I am today if I didn’t have the wonderful support of parents and siblings.

John: You find a lot of entrepreneurs, they have that common thread that they have a group of people, a network, a tribe that holds them as they go through their trials and tribulations. A lot of times I tell my listeners I never really failed, I’ve just had some experiences that cost me a lot more that others.

Tyler: Well, I’ll tell you I failed a lot. I failed many, many times. I’ll be the first to admit that. But you’ve got to figure out what you learned from that. Try not to make that same mistake more than a couple of times. You might make it twice or three times but try to at least learn something from it.

John: That is true. Now let’s talk a little bit about LoungeBuddy. How did you come up with the idea?

Tyler: Sure. You know, being as how I’ve travelled quite a bit, I’ve spent a non-trivial amount of time in airports. And I very quickly realized that time spent in an airport is neither relaxing nor productive nor really enjoyable with the exception of a few really great airports out there. And I soon realized the value of these things called airport lounges which are these private spaces that were originally designed to care for first and business class travelers and the most loyal travelers of that particular carrier or alliance – the elite passengers, as they call them. These airport lounges would have things as grand as tea gardens or solariums but also most lounges have things just as simple as a nice relaxing chair to be able to put your feet up, showers, a business center, good food and drinks, and really most importantly to not feel as though you’re in this stressful airport environment. And the more I learned about these airport lounges, the more I realized how little good information there was out there. Even though they cater to the most valuable travelers in the world, finding out information about which lounges you can get into, what’s inside these lounges, and if you can’t get into them, how to get into them. Really there wasn’t any source out there that existed. So we set out, myself and two other cofounders, to first and foremost create this single resource for airport lounge information that included ratings, reviews and photos. And of course we made this information accessible to travelers on the go. So that’s why we first developed for iPhone and there’s now one on Android. But really expanding beyond that for travelers that don’t have access to airport lounges, which is about 15 out of 16 passengers that passed through the airport on a daily basis. We wanted to give these passengers the ability to actually access these bases if they so desired for a price that was affordable. And the way we were able to do this was by looking at an airport lounge’s available capacity and then offering access when that space permitted such that passengers who already have access to lounges could ensure that they have a nice tranquil environment while those passengers that don’t have access will only be presented with access opportunities when there was available capacity. In the same way, you don’t want to buy a ticket for a plane that doesn’t have a seat when you show up.

John: Now, Tyler, was there a tipping point, a monumental moment as you were going and starting this business?

Tyler: Well, it really first started off as a project. Zac, who’s our CTO and one of our co-founders – Brent is our other co-founder, but Zac and I started on this a little earlier than Brent came on and we came up with – call it one of these concepts, just an information resource, almost as a project to see how well we work together. We had never worked with each other before. We had known each other for several years but what it is is to embark on something just to see how things would work. And 3 or 4 months into the project after doing some very significant market research and realizing that this opportunity was a heck of lot bigger than we thought, we realized this wasn’t a project, this was a very viable business attacking a market that’s worth many, many billions of dollars. And it was pretty cool that we almost stumbled across something, you know, what we thought was going to be a fun project that ended up to be so much bigger. So our original intention actually wasn’t to make LoungeBuddy a massive company but to use it as an opportunity to get to know each other and how we work together and through our discovery of the market and the missing pieces in this market right now, IE technology we realized that there is a huge opportunity right here that we were already solving. Solving for.

John: That’s pretty amazing because, you know, having travelled a lot, at one time I worked for Corporate America and I must have travelled six out of seven days a week which is so miserable to go to the airports and you just want a moment to just quiet your mind and sit and read something between flights, and now with security you’re there an hour and a half, two hours before your flight, what do you do? So I think you have a great – you know, LoungeBuddy takes people a kindlier, gentler place, so to speak.

Tyler: That’s one of the challenges with, you know, airport travel today is that there are really no guarantees except the only guarantee you’re going to have is that you’re going to spend some amount of time in the airport. And if you look at the numbers, approximately 1 out of 6 travelers have a major disruption on their journey along the way. So even if you’re that super top tier that says I only fly direct, I always get priority everything, you still have a roll of the die that you’re going to have a major disruption causing you to spend more time on the ground than you had expected. And then combined with the fact that 60 percent of trips have at least 1 layover to get to your destination. And, like you said, the inconsistencies of security lines and other things – I mean, yesterday I was at the airport and I’ve got TSA free check and I’ve got top tier lead status and I’ve got everything you could possibly say you have in your frequent traveler tool kit and yet what they were doing was they were funneling a bunch of regular passengers into the TSA free check line, so the line that I would have expected to be 2 minutes ended up to be 27 minutes long. And you know I had 48 minutes before departure when I got into that line. So I was literally racing to the gate to make it on time only to find out by the time I got to the gate the plane was delayed 45 minutes so I actually had time to go into the lounge. But I mean it’s that type of scenario where even if you’re trying to just avoid spending any time in the airport, that’s not even possible anymore unless you want to risk missing your flight. So we’ve kind of set out to create a product where why not get to the airport early. If you get there an hour early, you get there two and a half hours early, no big deal. Go into a lounge, relax, enjoy yourself and just let that stress melt away.

John: Yeah, because there’s nothing more anxiety-ridden than that moment from when you get out of the car at the airport till you get through TSA.

Tyler: Especially when it’s the last flight of the day.

John: Oh yeah.

Tyler: And you know that you’re going to be stuck in that airport overnight if you don’t make that flight.

John: And your heart’s pounding and you’re sweating and you’re like “Please God, just let me get through the line.” You know, and then when you reach the other side of the line you’re like “I would pay anything to have a quiet place to sit for the next hour.”

Tyler: Yeah, exactly.

John: Let me jump into culture and get your definition of company culture, Tyler.

Tyler: Sure. You know for us it’s – we’re a small team right now. And ensuring that everyone is on the same page is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have. And so for us we are a travel-focused company. We see ourselves really as being able to create a great experience for travelers. Now of course in order to do that, you know, this experience is created by utilizing the latest and greatest technologies out there but presented in a way in which the customer doesn’t really see the technology behind it but rather just the end-result products. So in doing that the environment that we created here is one in which it is a requirement that everyone who works in the company has to have a passport, has to have travelled outside of the US at least once and has to have at least one good travel story. We do a company retreat twice a year to some random place in the world. And our whole office is very much travel themed. We even have an airport lounge, so to speak, in our office.

John: That’s just too cool. There’s a line of people waiting to get in, too, Tyler.

Tyler: Well, our lounge is a little more exclusive than most; I’d say so for good reason. Sure, well, very early on we didn’t have a lot money to get this started. I mean, we were basically bootstrapping the business. So at the very beginning it was – we knew we needed more people in order to be able to get a little bit of momentum with the company and continue to build up our product. But we didn’t have the capital to be able to pay market rate salaries. So we actually had one of our LoungeBuddy team members who, because of what he learned about what we were doing, because of the fact that we would let our employees essentially work anywhere in the world they wanted twice a year, because of the fact that it really was almost an environment of “Tell me about how you spent your frequent flyer miles better way than anyone else or your best first class upgrade experience,” we were able to pay below market rate salaries, because of that great working environment. So in our very, very early days it was a matter of “There’s no way we can pay market rate, however we can promise that if you’re passionate about travel, you’re going to be a part of a great environment with other very much likeminded people.”

John: That sounds like a pretty cool culture and you talked a few minutes ago about your own lounge and your own facilities and I think that really speaks to your culture and how your culture and your interiors match, right?

Tyler: Yeah. I mean. you know, we work in this office I think a lot. We spend more time in this office than we do at home, I mean, for most of us I think that’s a pretty safe bet to say. And we have an environment that we feel as though it is representative of the products that we’re making. It’s essential. I’m staying in my conference room and I’m looking at our antiques world map that’s printed on canvas that we had commissioned by this Lithuanian group of guys and while it’s a modern map, it feels like you’re looking at something from the late nineteenth or, you know, early twentieth century. But it’s a cool modern map. And it’s part of our office environment where we’ve got 1930s aviation posters of the route, the golden age of travel some people say.

John: Now, Tyler, we talked a little bit about your early start and the things you’ve done to attract and engage talent. Does your facility today where you’re at, does it help you attract talent and help you really move the people you have with you forward? Because is just sounds to me that you’re doing it all right. And you’ve got it – you’ve figured it out and it looks very cool and it is who LoungeBuddy says they are: you’re authentic. How does it affect you on the retainment and attracting talents side?

Tyler: Well, you know, we’re in San Francisco. And the San Francisco job market right now is extremely hot. Very, very hot. So to be able to be unique and to have, kind of, different value propositions for people to attract talent is – I mean, there are a lot of different things we do and for our engineers they can – as I mentioned before, they can work twice a year, up to three weeks each, anywhere in the world they want. So they pick their destination, we send them there and as long as they’ve got their little home office, so to speak, set up there they can be anywhere in the world they want and work with the team.

John: That’s amazing.

Tyler: Yeah. I mean as far as our space and our team goes every single person in this company has direct involvement in the final product. And it’s not that you have the opportunity to have a say in it, it’s like you’re expected to have a view and a response to it.

John: Wait a minute. Hold on, Tyler. Say it again for my listeners here, because I think this is one of the points that you can’t just gloss over. Repeat that again for them.

Tyler: Sure. All of our employees are required to have a say in our final product. Now, we don’t incorporate every single thing that every single person has to say but it’s important to get perspective from every single person here. Because every single person here is a member of the LoungeBuddy community in the same way that we got close to three hundred fifty thousand members using our product all over the world today. And so we want to make sure that whether someone is working on support messages or in the engineering side or on the marketing side you know we all bring different perspectives to this product. And we all need to listen to what each other has to say about it and figure out the best path forward together.

John: Just so my listeners know. he just gave you a big, big piece there. That’s a take away worth millions. Thank you, Tyler. Hey, Tyler, what does LoungeBuddy look like 12 months from now? You’re going to make some investments. You’re going to do some different things. Can you share with us six months, nine months, what does LoungeBuddy look like?

Tyler: Sure. Well today we have two very different value propositions. One is basically information resource covering airport lounges all over the world, about 630 airports to be exact. And we, like I mentioned before, have about three hundred fifty thousand members using that product. And then on the other side we have this ability to instantly purchase access in less than 60 seconds for typically around 35 dollars – about what you pay to check your bags, so to speak. And so for the information side of things twelve months from now we expect to cover pretty much every major airport in the entire world. So where everywhere you’d want to be or could ever think of being. And on the transaction side we expect to be in many major airports around the world. So even for those travelers that aren’t flying all the time, that don’t have a first class ticket or a lead status, you can still make use of a much better airport experience right from the LoungeBuddy app using Apple Pay or a major credit card in order to make your payment and be in that great space at a dollar and sixty cents.

John: Wow. It’s going to be pretty exciting. Now what tip can you give our listeners, you know some of them are starting their businesses or hiring or building them around culture and their building them around transparency. And we talk about this show all the time. We talked to a tremendous amount of people that have experience. And we always ask someone like you, Tyler, to share with us what advice you’d give us as we go down this journey.

Tyler: Yeah. Well I’d say being an entrepreneur is a very, very risky business. And so if you’re really young out there and you’re in college or in high school even or you don’t have a family at or anything else, try it then. That’s the best time to do it. Because you don’t have a lot of things that might bog you down. And fully expect that you will fail. And if you can’t put your heart and your whole mind into a specific project, don’t bother. Just get a regular job. It’s going to be easier. You’re going to save yourself a lot of time. But if you’re waking up every day and you’re asking yourself, “You know, I really think I should try this, I really think this would be great for me but I don’t know x, y and z.” If you’re super passionate about it, you’ll figure out those things. You’ll find a way. You’ll connect yourself with other people to get the answers to that stuff. And I think that’s kind of another point that I always like to mention is surround yourself with people that are far smarter than you are which is, one of the reasons I moved out to Silicon Valley in the first place was I’ve been running a technology company for a few years in Florida and while Florida is a good place to do business, there weren’t a lot of technology focused people that I could surround myself with. And being out here I am never ever the smartest guy in the room. Most people are a lot smarter than I am. So being able to have all these great people to learn from, to ask questions, to just feel encouraged, inspired, whatever the term is, is really, really essential. I mean I hear a lot of these stories of people saying you’re product of your environment. And if you grow up in a bad neighborhood, chances are you might turn to crime versus being in a good neighborhood or something along those lines and I think the same thing goes with the business world. If everyone that you surround yourself with is not motivated and isn’t really enthusiastic about what you’re doing or what they’re doing, then it’ll probably rub off of you.

John: I agree. I agree. Now what is the most common mistake you see people that are starting out make? And I’m sure you’ve been around, you with the technology and different experiences you’ve had, Tyler, is there a common thread you see where your kind of rub your head and say “Man, don’t do that.”

Tyler: Oh. You know, that’s a tough one to have a blank-and-answer form. Because I think a lot of the greatest ideas, in hindsight people looked at them from the beginning from the concept stage and said ‘What are you thinking? That absolutely won’t work.’ Because you’re basically putting today’s currents, values and principles on something that really isn’t being built for today but for tomorrow. But having said that I think that there is the realization that most businesses will fail. And just realizing that if you’re doing something that you love, that you’re super passionate about, you should probably try doing it. But at some point if it’s just not working, you may need to cut your losses and move on to something else. There are some people out there that will work something for ten years when really after year two you realized there’s not much more you can do. But at the same time, I mean, you’ve got to put your blood, sweat and tears into it. And if in the first year or two, you’re making great progress, awesome. But if you’re getting nowhere and you got some other opportunity, maybe you want to pursue that. And again that’s not the right thing for everyone but I’ve just seen so many entrepreneurs spent 5 or 10 years on a concept where they’re brilliant people and there probably another concept that they could’ve picked up and be successful with by the time they got their first [inaudible 22:38].

John: That’s good insight. Alright, Tyler, I’m going to take you to the lightning round now, okay?

Tyler: Sure.

John: Is there a book that changed your life or one that’s simply your favorite?

Tyler: Oooh. As far as great books go I really like to, let’s pass on that one. We’re in lightning round, let’s pass. I’ll think on that one.

John: Alright. Give a quote you go to for inspiration.

Tyler: For me I think it’s really the ability to – no, not one single quote although I can say one of my childhood heroes Wayne Gretzky basically said something along the lines of “You miss a hundred percent of the shots that you don’t attempt.

John: That’s exactly what he said. And that’s pretty good. Now, is there a company you admire as it relates to culture other than your own and why is that?

Tyler: There are a lot of companies out there. I really like the Arabian Bee culture. I think they’re pretty darn cool. Of course, they’re another travel focused company. What I really love about them is first of all their office is amazing. It’s just super super cool. Every one of their conference rooms is modeled after one of their Arabian Bee locations – that’s really neat. But also the fact that they essentially require, within reason, all of their employees when they’re traveling on business to stay in an Arabian Bee. And again it’s one thing to work for a company but it’s another thing to be a customer of the company that you work for. And I think that that is so essential. I think a lot of businesses don’t really promote or require that.

John: Alright. Now, someone’s coming out of school or they want to start in a travel career. Why would you tell them to come work with you at LoungeBuddy?

Tyler: It’ll be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. I mean, what we have been able to do is in eighteen months go from a product that didn’t exist into something that’s received over 300 major media press pieces. A product that is used by hundreds of thousands of members all over the world, that’s grown purely organically, that’s been featured across the Apple app store many many many times, that’s basically helped to broaden a market that most people really didn’t know anything about. And that’s really allowed me and everyone here in the company to be able to pursue their number one passion which is travel. And doing that through technology I can’t think of anything more exciting.

John: Okay, Tyler, big finish. Here we go. If you had to describe the culture of LoungeBuddy in three words, what would you want it to be?

Tyler: I’m going to go with – I’m going to say three phrases here, if we could do that.

John: Sure you can.

Tyler: Alright. So I’d say you’ve got to be able to love what you do. If you’re not really loving working here, then you shouldn’t come here in the first place. Don’t be afraid to try something new. And be yourself. We want your perspective. We want your unique views. We want you to be you. And don’t come here because it’s a job, come here because you love it.

John: Those are three great, great statements and I think they resonate with all the people that listen to my show. Tyler, how do my listeners get in contact with you and how do they connect with you?

John: Sure. So LoungeBuddy of course is – you can download our app for free directly from the Apple app store or Android at Google Play or Amazon store. We, of course, are on Twitter and we’re on Facebook. And we have one really cool feature in our product which is that if you simply shake the app, you can send us a nice little love or hate note anywhere you are at the product, and we read them all. All of those get sent in a digest directly to me. So I am – we’re very fortunate to have great numbers and we love it when they reach out to us.

John: Anything that you want to share with our listeners, a roll out of some kind, something interesting about your business that we should know and be on the lookout for?

Tyler: You know what? I’d say that the beauty of our product is that it’s completely free of charge to use and you only have to pay if you want to transact. So we absolutely love feedback both good and bad. So give our product a try and please definitely send us your feedback and share with your friends and family.

John: Tyler one more time before we go, how do they download the app?

Tyler: Sure. You can get it on the Apple app store, on Google Play or in the Amazon app store completely free of cost.

John: And specifically what are they going to type in when they hit the [crosstalk]

Tyler: Just search LoungeBuddy. We’re the one and only on those stores.

John: Cool. Hey, I want to share with you my favorite quote as I do with every guest that comes on and it’s from Maya Angelou and it’s “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And I certainly hope we made you feel welcome and part of our tribe here at Be Culture Radio and I want to thank you so much for joining us today, Tyler.

Tyler: The pleasure is mine. Thank you very much.

John: Hopefully you’ll come back in about 6 or 8 months and tell us how we’re doing?

Tyler: I hope so.

John: I would love to hear more about LoungeBuddy. For my listeners, get the app. It’s really cool. You’ll enjoy it. Tyler, thanks so much and be well my friend.

Tyler: Thanks very much.

John: Alright, bye-bye.

Tyler: Bye.