Gogobot Opens For Business In Europe (Smart Move: 44% Of Its Customers Are Here Already, Says CEO Travis Katz)

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Social travel site Gogobot is doing a little traveling of its own. Today, it’s announcing the opening of its first European headquarters, in London.

The move, says Travis Katz, the CEO and founder of the company, is being done to capitalize on the fact that the site already has nearly as many users in Europe as it does in the rest of the world: some 44 percent of people who have linked into the site to discuss travel itineraries with friends and others are based in Europe.

He tells us that this growth was entirely organic — no obvious promotions on Gogobot’s behalf.

The social travel space is getting hugely crowded with companies coming at the concept from different directions: accommodation (CasaHop, inBed.me), travel info/planning (Gogobot, Tripbirds), and discovery (Wanderfly), and many more besides.

Katz says that Gogobot’s biggest advantage for now is that it is the biggest of them all, with around half a million daily active users via Facebook alone (you can also sign up directly on the site and via Twitter). That’s around 20 times more than competitors like Tripbirds (DAUs of 5,000-6,000), or Wanderfly (around 7,000 DAUs), he points out.

That has a knock-on effect in areas like advertising and affiliate marketing, which need traffic to work, but also just for the feel of the site itself: “It’s a totally different ballgame when you have the critical mass,” he says. “These sites are all about community and participation and it feels alive when you have a lot of active people on there.” In contrast, he says, a site feels really bad “when you can hear yourself whistling on there.”

Katz has an army of blue-chip names behind the venture so far, with $19 million from Redpoint (which yesterday led the new round for Path), Eric Schmidt, and CrunchFund partner/TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington among them. But equally the company has something else very valuable: Katz’s experience of having worked for Myspace, a social media star that rose quickly and fell just as fast.

Among his roles there, Katz was responsible for building out Myspace’s international business (which based him out of London, as it happens), and he covered 30 different countries and saw the user base in his territory go “from nothing to 70 million in two years.” That number sounds like nothing when you think about Facebook pushing one billion today but in its time, that was impressive for a social network trailblazer.

Katz says that perhaps the most valuable lesson he learned there was that no matter how much you love the business development and marketing side of a business, if you ultimately have no control over the product, you are nothing.

“The Facebook/Myspace war was won largely over product,” he says. “I had big ideas about what Myspace should do, and so did others, but it just wasn’t happening.

“The one thing i promised myself,” he says, “is that I never wanted a role where I didn’t have control over product again.”

The other is to surround yourself in a social media company with people who know social media: “We have several people from Google, Myspace, people who understand how you make social sites work, who understand the psychology.”

Another lesson (not one that Katz pointed out to me, but one we should note anyway) is that you never know when the next big idea may hit you: Katz says that it was all the international travel that he’d done, and all the time he wasted trying to plan things, at Myspace that got him thinking about how much the world needed a service like Gogobot’s.