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  • Aashish Gupta

What do Instant Cake Mixes have to do with Travel Planning Products

I noticed innumerable travel planning startups that are pitching themselves as giving travelers completely customized itineraries in 5, 10, 15, … minutes. And while that seems to be the trend (probably driven by investors/techie founders who get a high from seeing fancy algorithms working on Big Data), we at TRVLbud are taking the opposite path - we’re telling users that we’ll take about 2 weeks to plan their trip.


And for a second, let us put aside the question of which one does a better job of trip planning (as if there were some magical objective way to compare different itineraries), and ask ourselves instead which method would users prefer. i.e. Given the exact same travel plan, if one set of users is told it was designed by an expert over 2 weeks, and the other set is told it was churned out by an algorithm in 10 minutes, which set of users would like their itinerary more?


To answer the question, I’d like to turn to behavioral economist, Dan Ariely’s TED talk:



While the whole talk is quite enlightening, I’d like to draw your attention to the section starting at 13:29. Below is a text excerpt (highlights mine):

“And there’s an old story about cake mixes. So when they started cake mixes in the ’40s, they would take this powder and they would put it in a box, and they would ask housewives to basically pour it in, stir some water in it, mix it, put it in the oven, and — voila! — you had cake. But it turns out they were very unpopular. People did not want them. And they thought about all kinds of reasons for that. Maybe the taste was not good. No, the taste was great.
What they figured out was that there was not enough effort involved. It was so easy that nobody could serve cake to their guests and say, “Here is my cake.”
No, no, no, it was somebody else’s cake. It was as if you bought it in the store. It didn’t really feel like your own. So what did they do? They took the eggs and the milk *out* of the powder. Now you had to break the eggs and add them. You had to measure the milk and add it, mixing it. Now it was your cake. Now everything was fine.
By getting people to work harder, they actually got them to love what they’re making to a higher degree.” 

So people like the product that they had to work harder on because of the time they spent on it and connection they built with it. Dan goes on to say that we love and value our kids so much not because of who they are, but because of the time and effort we as parents spend on raising them. 


My core belief is that travel should be a deeply personal experience, not a packaged commodity. Much more personal than a cake you serve to your guests. And the TRVL Buddies not only design your travel plans over 2 weeks, they also involve you at every stage.


You wouldn’t want to invent a massager that gave you shorter massages, or kids that turn into fully trained adults at the flick of a switch (though I know every parent has wished for that in moments of frustration), or a machine that paints “masterpieces” in 20 minutes. Would you want to go on a honeymoon that was planned in 10 minutes?

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