It used to be hard to take IfOnly very seriously. The 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company service has always serviced customers looking for unusual experiences, but they seemed out of reach for most, like the (expensive) chance to cook with famed chef Thomas Keller. That the company was inspired by the wealthy friends of founder and CEO Trevor Traina — people looking to have “incredible experiences,” as Traina told Vanity Fair in a 2013 story about San Francisco society — added to the impression that IfOnly was aimed squarely at the 1 percent.
But Traina, who has founded four companies previously and managed to sell all of them, has big ambitions to serve more than the very monied.
In fact, a long list of investors has provided IfOnly with $10.25 million in Series B funding to help it evolve beyond an “experiences marketplace” for clients like Madonna to a platform through which local experts can market and sell their services. Want to learn how to make a macchiato from the best coffee bar in your neighborhood? You might find the opportunity on IfOnly. Interested in a basketball lesson from a former NBA pro? He might be marketing his services on IfOnly, too.
Traina says in earnest that the addressable market his 60-employee company is chasing is $225 billion. He cites as proof surveys that suggest millennials in particular are more interested in experiences than past generations. (One such study in 2014, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the online ticket company Eventbrite, reported that 72 percent of respondents wanted to increase their spending on experiences in the coming year.)
“They’re never going to buy a car,” says Traina of millennials. “They don’t care about furniture. But they’re on social media channels, where it’s not fun to post about a belt but it is fun to [post a picture, saying], “Check me out backstage.” In fact, says Traina, he believes there’s an “eBay-sized business here. Everyone wants experiences and no one is really offering it to them.”
It’s not so ridiculous. Consumers’ options have long been limited to OpenTable for restaurant reservations, travel sites like SkyScanner to plan their vacations, and city guides like Gogobot, where they can receive personalized recommendations about the best places to eat, sleep and sightsee. Meanwhile, there aren’t a lot of places to find a box of 21 chocolates from 21 of America’s most famous chefs — a $75 offering at IfOnly right now, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Still, IfOnly has its work cut out for it. While it offers a wide variety of interesting verticals that consumers can search through based on their location (IfOnly serves the Bay Area, New York, and L.A. at the moment), the company’s reputation rests on the quality of its offerings, which will surely grow more difficult to manage as more service providers discover the platform.
For example, among the “more than 10,000” experiences that the platform currently offers is a two-hour introduction to drone flying with a drone engineer and drone designer, who are charging $300 per person. But it’s easy to imagine someone marketing herself as an expert with lesser credentials.
Traina says IfOnly currently approves every vendor, letting them know when someone’s pictures aren’t good enough or their descriptions are too brief. He also says that eventually, the company will use ratings and reviews to ensure its experiences remain highly regarded.
IfOnly is also still working on its affordability. Though a very respectable 30 percent of its customers shop recurrently, many its current offerings are still a bit rich for a broader audience, such as great white shark watching off the coast of San Francisco with “legendary diver” Jeremiah Sullivan. (Cost, $1,250 per person.)
Traina says more offerings have been coming online since last August that are priced between $50 and $125 per person and that are “amazing but highly accessible,” including the chance to play with a panda at the zoo, to learn about oysters at Tamales Bay in Northern California, and to take a walking food tour of Brooklyn. In fact, Traina says these more affordable offerings are the highest growth area of IfOnly’s business, adding that he expects “within another five or six quarters, it will be the majority of our revenue.”
(Traina declines to discuss how much revenue the company is seeing yearly, but says its old, pricier model, had it on a growth path of 100 percent per year; layering in more lower-priced experiences will presumably accelerate that growth further.)
The biggest question, seemingly, is whether a service like IfOnly is truly scalable. Here, too, Traina suggests one might be surprised. The company has already secured three patents and has seven more pending to cover its technology, which is all proprietary. “We looked at best-of-breed systems for physical product fulfillment and reengineered them for experiences,” says Traina of the platform, which can handle everything from taxes and ticketing, to elaborate experiences requiring background checks and blackout dates.
Perhaps most important given IfOnly’s trajectory, so-called luminaries (that’s what the company calls its service providers) can onboard themselves. They can also build out their own profile and experience, then use a Slack-like messaging app to communicate with their customers. It’s a crucial development, says Traina. “If you’re the cheesemonger who supplies [famed restaurant] Chez Panisse, where else do you offer your services?”
It’s a compelling pitch — clearly for investors, too. IfOnly’s many new Series B backers include Advance Newhouse, Digital Garage, XB Ventures, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia and Yucaipa Capital chief Ron Burkle. Earlier backers who also joined the round include American Express Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, billionaire investor Yuri Milner, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.
The company — which donates 10 percent of its gross sales to more than 200 charities — has now raised nearly $25 million altogether.
Photo of 21-piece chocolate collection courtesy of IfOnly.