A better system for outdoor adventure guides.

Onblay | 2015 - 2018
Director of Product

Learning hard lessons through failure.

I joined Onblay as the second founder. The vision was to create a P2P marketplace where adventure seekers could book guided activities with local experts. Generally, we described it as "Uber for adventure guides". As Director of Product, it was on my shoulders to guide the Product team, conduct market research, wireframe, craft mockups, and help the product team to execute on the overall vision.

Early on, we gained some investor support and were accepted into a startup accelerator. Before launching, we had a healthy marketing budget, we had thousands of pre-launch sign ups, and we had worked with dozens of outdoor experts throughout the West to provide curated and vetted activities on day one. However, shortly after launching, we could clearly see the whole concept was a dud.  

Failing with this first product launch taught me a lot of hard lessons. I recognized the difficulty of conducting accurate and unbiased market feedback. I learned to recognize alternatives as the biggest competitors. I learned to test more thoroughly, to fail fast, and that the most important part of any MVP is the "Viability".

A failed p2p marketplace for guided adventures

Starting over

To keep the company moving, we had to abandon the P2P marketplace. We had to reduce our team and cut costs to extend the runway. Through our first product, we had established some relationships with professional tour operators. We had a pretty good understanding of the industry and we knew that many professionals were unhappy with their core Reservation Management Systems. We began exploring the idea of using the booking engine behind our marketplace and repurposing it for professional tour operators.


Exploring booking software

After failing once before, I put a much greater focus on research before crafting a single design or asking Development to write a single line of code. I interviewed over 50 tour operators to learn about their operations and the areas of frustration they experienced with their current system.

Bad UX was leading to mistakes
A common complaint from professional tour operators was that it was too easy to make critical mistakes with their existing booking software.
Takes a long time to train staff
After reading through hundreds of competitor product reviews, we found the most common complaint to be the time to train new staff each year.
Some tours aren't supported
Because of the complexity, even the biggest competitors couldn't support some types of tours.
Checkout experiences are too generic
A lot of tour operators were unhappy with how their checkout process could not be customized.

Testing + Design

After being sure that we had sufficient understanding of the job to be solved, I led all of the wire-framing, designing, prototyping, and the user testing. I used rapid iterations to test dozens of design ideas with professional tour operators.
Brandon Manship - Director of Product - Billing Project Design
Brandon Manship - Director of Product - Billing Project Design
Brandon Manship - Director of Product - Billing Project Design
Brandon Manship - Director of Product - Billing Project Design


With this new product, we had no budget left for marketing and sales. However, all of the product research had generated lots of strong leads. We released the product with customers already lined up. We had very few resources and a very tight budget. It was through lots of product research, testing, and close collaboration with customers and other departments that we were able to release an inexpensive product that was still able to solve a market need.

7,000 tours run with $2M processed
Serving multiple tour operators and many types of tours required a smart system that could account for all inventory like guides, permits, seats, etc.
Easy to use with little or no training
Setting up a team took little to no training, drastically reducing booking errors and pre-season training expenses.
Profitability reached by year 2
Unlike the P2P marketplace, the revenue for the reservation system was much easier to forecast. In our first year of operations we nearly broke even. By year two we were profitable.
Switching over from giant competitor
The Reservation Management industry is dominated by a few massive companies. To have customers switching from these multi-million dollar platforms was a big victory.