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Have Guide, Will Travel

Travel web site aims to bring tourists and locals together.

This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Start Up.

In the wake of the dot-bomb disaster, are you feeling just a little gun-shy about entering the world of Internet commerce? You're not alone. Meet Len Stubbs, a 47-year-old former COO of a life insurance company, who's looking to book a new career in digital travel. "The reshaped drastically after 9/11," Stubbs explains. "It's changing from a brick-and-mortar environment to an online environment."

But a shift in the market wasn't enough to allay his fears about success rates. "You read the horror stories all the time," he says.

To prevent his entrepreneurial ambitions from becoming a disaster headline, Stubbs aligned himself with franchise, a portal for 53,000 Web sites with community and travel information. Franchisees purchase the rights to develop the Web content for a given ZIP code and get plugged into's advertising reservoir. From there, it's up to the franchisee to contact area merchants and organizations to build a localized Web presence. Web surfers nationwide travel to one domain name and can access city guides compiled by thousands of franchisees. "It's a way to bring people to the site to see what you've built, what you offer, and that's why this franchise made sense to me," Stubbs says.

at makes e-commerce less impersonal by providing a local representative, the franchisee, in each community. Stubbs says if his potential customers in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, "run into a snag, they actually get to talk to a human being. And we're down the street from them."

As community members, franchisees like Stubbs also have the opportunity to approach local nonprofit organizations with a partnership of sorts. How does it work? "If they [use] us as their home page," Stubbs explains, "we pay them a portion of [our] commissions."

When he's not indulging his inner philanthropist, Stubbs is all business. "The projections here can be huge," he says. "We've got multiple profit centers in this organization." These profit centers include e-commerce, advertising and an online reservation system that allows visitors to make travel arrangements directly from the Web site. In June 2003, Stubbs became one of's pioneer master franchisees, purchasing the rights to dole out the rest of the available domains in South Carolina. With $90,000 gross revenue projected in the final three quarters of 2003, Stubbs is feeling pretty optimistic. "There's some great opportunity for profit-obviously, that's why we do these things," he says. "But there's also some opportunity for doing social good as well, and that's pretty cool."

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