Everything started when my mate was going on a vacation to Spain. Every single day, he checked the airlines’ websites to find the cheapest ticket and manually monitored prices of a certain flight. All these attempts were tedious, humdrum, and time-consuming for him.
It was 2017. That year, the chatbot industry went on experiencing a peak period, and I was just thinking of creating an airfare bot, which would send live ticket price updates directly to the chat. I believed it would be comfortable and cool.
Sure, fare tracking is far from new. Many airline search engines have a similar feature, but making it in a chat was a good solution because users tend to respond faster to messenger prompts. It was a mutually beneficial offer: users get a convenient ticket search tool, and we have good conversion rates in return.
Listening to all those complaints from my mate who could not catch the right time to purchase a ticket, I realized there really was a problem that needed to be addressed. Then, we got an idea which we realized later in the form of an AirTrack Telegram bot.
How we created and launched our first product
We had several good reasons to choose the Telegram messenger as a start. The first reason is that the Telegram Bot API is simple, flexible, fault-tolerant, and well-documented.
Secondly, the messenger is convenient and fast. The Telegram infrastructure facilitated our product creation and could make it faster and more convenient than any website or mobile app. Besides, Telegram copes with weak internet connection perfectly well.
The Telegram audience continued to grow organically and the chatbots were one of the incentives for users to come there.
Finally, we have to mention the competition of course. At that time, Telegram did not yet have a good airfare bot, unlike Messenger, which actually had popular travel products like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Expedia right after the bot platform was launched.
We chose the messenger from the very beginning. However, we couldn’t quite understand where to get the necessary data. First, we were thinking of starting with a local version of the bot to find and track flights carried out by the two largest European low-cost companies — Wizzair and Ryanair. Since neither of the companies had a public API, we used the Kiwi.com API, to which I had access after a previous successfully failed project.
The approach proved to be even more positive, as the Kiwi flight database allowed us to immediately create a global product which became useful to users from all over the world.
In about a month from the beginning of development, we launched AirTrack. Everything necessary for finding a flight was right in Telegram now.
We got good feedback from our testers, and there were no more obstacles to the public launch.
Since the very beginning, we have tried to free our users from unnecessary burden by creating as simple the dialogue as possible. To search for tickets, you have to specify the cities of departure and arrival and the dates. After that, you will get a list of the cheapest flights according to the specified parameters directly in the chat.
Then, the bot offers you to create a flight price tracking routine and gets you notified in case of any cost change.
Even before launch, the bot helped me to buy a low-cost ticket from Kyiv to Budapest. Then I realized, damn it, it really works!
As we expected, many users have liked the ticket cost tracking feature. At the moment, every 4th search is completed with created tracking.
Not counting a few small experiments, we spent nothing on advertising at all. Before the launch, we selected two main channels to attract users. They were chatbot catalogs and the media.
Bot catalogs. We placed AirTrack in popular catalogs like Storebot, Botlist, and others. At that time, Storebot was the most popular catalog listing Telegram bots. Our solution occupied the position on Storebot’s homepage, and that provided consistently high traffic for our bot and other products presented there. Soon, the website content quality decreased due to some moderation problems, and the website went offline altogether after some time.
Botlist is still delivering steady traffic though product placement has recently become paid on the website. Nevertheless, it remains a quality channel where you can receive interested customers in the long-term.
Having placed the product in the catalogs, 200 customers used our bot over one weekend and it seemed to be a very good result until we started reaching the media.
The media. We were planning to talk about our bot in the media and we were lucky to launch our product at the very time when chatbots were a hot topic there. We sent a press release to several technology publications. Then, other publications covering different topics started catching up the news, and we hit the mark in 10k users during the first week.
I have to say that it is much more difficult to get publications in the media now than a few years earlier when bots were the number one topic in the technology world. However, even now, several editions will be eager to write about your product if it is really worth it and the market needs it.
Producthunt. We launched our bot on November 11, 2017, and we appeared on Producthunt in February 2018. We had no experience launching products on PH. That is why the campaign results were mediocre. But despite that, we were able to get some attention: we got a lot of mentions on Twitter, got into some Facebook posts, and that all ended up giving us about 300 users.
This year we are planning to launch AirTrack 2.0 on Producthunt.
The channels mentioned above pushed organic growth. People started talking about AirTrack, they started sharing it and started looking for it on Google. We soon purchased the airtrackbot.com domain and placed our website there. Currently, organic growth is our main source of traffic which is steadily delivering about 1k users per month.
The organic growth is an intrinsic yardstick to know how well your product appeals to users and solves their problems.
- Users: 45000+
- Average monthly searches: 6000+
- Average monthly tracks: 1500+
- Daily notifications send: 5000+
- Money spend: 0
Updates and user management
Following the Lean methodology, we launched our first product, providing users with basic functionality. During the first days after launch, users started leaving feedback. They basically wanted us to add new features like currency selection, new languages, a return ticket, and search by airport code.
During almost 2 years of work, we are regularly releasing updates. We add new features and improve the user interface, taking into account user feedback. This approach increases the value of our product, enlivens our audience, and attracts new users. We inform our customers about new updates, using bulk mailing.
It is important not to abuse users’ loyalty. That is why we send newsletters only when it is really necessary and important — no ads or spam.
Looking at the chart below, you can see user activity on the days when we send our newsletter about updates. This means that users are interested in the bot updates, have been waiting for them, and are happy to try new features.
It is important to be polite to users. We get lots of messages, questions, and suggestions. Users feel safer knowing that there are real people behind the bot and users can reach them in case they have questions or difficulties. It is important to stay in touch and provide help.
Partnership with Skyscanner
Our partnership with Skyscanner, the largest airline ticket search engine, became a strategic milestone on our way. In February 2018, we concluded the agreement on cooperation with the platform and it gave us access to the world’s largest database of low-cost flights.
It was not easy to get access to the Skyscanner API. We repeatedly submitted an application using the website form but received no replies. Then, using Linkedin, I got in touch with the company’s manager to whom I was able to convey our product’s value. We negotiated in a video call mode, and shortly afterwards, we got access to the platform API. The fact that we already had a ready product with 20k subscribers played an important part in successful negotiation results.
Skyscanner gives us maximum coverage. Besides, they have a great affiliate program that fits our business model well.
Many developers wonder about bot monetization schemes. Is it possible to make money with bots and what business model is worth choosing? You can read more about business models that may be suitable for your chatbot here.
From the very beginning, we decided that basic AirTrack functionality will always remain available to users for free. We get our earnings from partners to whom we refer users via referral links.
We provide our partners with high-quality traffic, as we motivate users to follow links, showing them where they can buy the cheapest tickets.
At the s time, users are free to buy tickets wherever they want and use our bot only to easily find flights and track prices.
What is next?
Every few months, we present updates, improve functionality, a user interface and, most importantly, communicate with users, build our product with them and for them. They remain our main source of energy and productivity for us.
We go on looking forward to your feedback and will be grateful if you share your AirTrack usage experience. We will listen to your critical comments and take your wishes into account. Your attitude is really important to us.
P.S. I have never told my mate who was flying to Spain about my bot (see the first paragraph).