SSG: Founder Interview: Zachary Cohn and Amazing Airfare

Exciting stuff from Zac. Please review and share.

Charles Jo650.906.2600

On Apr 22, 2015, at 3:00 PM, Zachary Cohn <zaccohn> wrote:

Feel free to post this on the website, too.

Name: Zac Cohn
Company: Amazing Airfare

Founder interview:

  1. What is your elevator pitch of startup (super quick summary)?
    1. Never miss the trip of a lifetime. Get emails and texts for crazy flight deals – 50% off or more international fares.
  2. Why should anyone use our product?
    1. There’s a huge community of blogs, twitter accounts, and forums that talk about flight deals. There’s a lot of so-so deals that are 10% or 20% off, but there are a few INCREDIBLE ones (like NYC to Milan to Prague to Paris to Bangkok… $177 all in. Or LAX to Jakarta, Indonesia for $348 round trip). But the incredible ones disappear FAST, and if you’re not checking all these sites constantly, you’re definitely going to miss them. Amazing Airfare first curates the deals – so you’re only getting the best of the best (right now it’s just international flights, and the minimum bar is 50% off or more), and then we email (and optionally, text) you so you never miss a good one. No need to check 10 sites a few times a day anymore, just check your phone when it buzzes.
  3. What’s your personal story and startup story?
    1. Last March I booked a flight that was NYC-Milan, a week to get to Prague, a 24 hour layover in Paris on the way to Bangkok… for $177. And on Christmas Day, I found and booked a flight ($270 NYC-Johannesburg round trip). I posted both on Facebook, and when I’d wake up in the morning, there’d be a bunch of “It doesn’t work anymore – you gotta tell me next time you find one of these!” posts.

      That’s when I realized people really wanted to find out when these deals happen, and passively finding out on Facebook wasn’t fast or reliable enough. So I messaged five of the people who commented and said “I will text and email you when I find these deals, if you Paypal me $8 right now.”

      Within minutes, I had $40 in my paypal account.

      So, being the entrepreneur I am… I built a quick prototype. I used to build a super fast landing page, connected it to Formcrafts to take payments via Stripe. I set up a Mailchimp to send emails, and I was collecting phone numbers to text in an Excel spreadsheet. I spent about 2 hours, all in, and had built an entire workable front and back-end system. As more people signed up, I upgraded parts of the site. My friend Kyle Kesterson designed a nice looking Mailchimp email template for me. I wrote a simple Twilio script to automate text messages (I was sending them out by hand before!). I rebuilt the website using a $45 WordPress theme (Floyd, from

      It got posted to ProductHunt, and climbed up to #5 with 150 votes! Geekwire, a local Seattle tech news site, made a great post about it ( It’s just starting to make the rounds on different travel blogs, as I send out deals like 69% off Toronto to Rio de Janeiro ($385 round trip), or 59% off Seattle to Panama City ($340 round trip).

  4. How can SSG community and others help you and your startup?
    1. I’ve had a bit of good luck with press (#5 on ProductHunt, a few good articles on local tech news sites) which has driven most of my signups, but I definitely could use some help with more organic marketing.
  5. What are your top priorities?
    1. Subscriber growth
      1. I have a few hundred paying subscribers now, would like to get to 1000 by June 1.
    2. Automation
      1. I’ve built out a ton of automation as I go (which has been a lot of fun). When it’s all in place and active, I’ll be able to send out a new alert from any phone or computer in the world in less than 60 seconds.
    3. Getting more press.
      1. That drove a lot of signups before, I’d love to land a few more articles on some larger sites.
    4. Referral campaigns.
      1. I launched one (1 month free for each friend you get to sign up), and while I had fantastic open rates on the email, and I think it generated maybe 4 signups. Disappointing. Finding a better way to do this will help me grow more organically.
  6. What kind of timeline are you working with now (projects for next month, 3-6 months, year?
    1. I am launched and have several hundred paying customers. I’m hoping to finish up my v1 of automation by the end of April, and I’m hoping to hit my goal of 1000 subs by June 1.
  7. Do you see competitors in this space now? Who are your top competitors and why?
    1. There’s the major blogs (theflightdeal, secret flying, thepointsguy), most of whom have newsletters. But they don’t curate, and they don’t do text notifications. There’s nothing stopping them from doing it, except likely the technical knowledge of how to link everything together/configure twilio/write the necessary notification scripts (which is not exactly a huge barrier! :p). There’s also another site that does pretty much exactly what I do, which charges $10/m instead of $8/m. It sounds like they may be funded, as well. I think that may ultimately be a disadvantage though – it will force them to expand and upsell and bother people more… which I explicitly don’t want to do.
  8. Why are you and your founding team the ones to deliver this product to the world?
    1. I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve traveled using deals like this a lot. I also have just enough technical chops to mash WordPress, Stripe, Mailchimp, Twilio, and Zapier together with a bit of php to polish it off and make this work. I’m also entrepreneurial – I love starting new stuff and working FAST. I’m a huge fan of MVPs, which means I get stuff out the door quickly and start learning and improving right away, instead of getting bogged down in making something perfect.
  9. If outside Silicon Valley, what is the startup climate (is the govt business friendly, providing support, etc?)
    1. I don’t like to rank cities in terms of “How Silicon Valley Is This City,” but Seattle is up there. If SV is the top, and NYC is the second, Seattle is tied for third with a few other cities. Lots of resources, meetups, and people here. The biggest weakness in the Seattle community is the fundraising climate, but that doesn’t worry me since I’m bootstrapping.
  10. How many users have you talked to?
    1. About 100 of them, in some way or another. I purposely have not built any self-serve systems (other than signup!), so whenever someone has a support question – they email me. Cancel? They email me (so I can find out why!). Whenever I send them an alert, I ask them to respond back and tell me what they thought of that alert. When they sign up, I ask them to respond back and tell me why they travel. Many opportunities to talk to my customers.
  11. What have you learned from talking to users? (asked by @yangterrence)
    1. I’ve improved my FAQ significantly. My service is for a very specific type of traveler – people who just want to go somewhere cool for cheap. If they want to leave from ATL and go to MXP on June 14th and return on June 29th… they are not a good fit. By turning away users who aren’t a good fit, I’ve anecdotally reduced my churn (I made the changes so fast I didn’t have time to properly measure churn before/after… but I know it worked because I don’t get those emails anymore).
  12. Do you have any co-founders? How well do you know them?
    1. Nope! I’m flying solo for this one. Don’t really need anyone else for this one.

Your input is welcome