An Insider’s Guide to the 21st Century: The Sybarite Interviews Hugo Campbell-Davys
‘Sharing is caring.’ In some way, that seems to be the formula for award-winning app Urbanologie, a portal that grew out of a need and desire to deliver up-to-the-minute insider lifestyle content, letting its members be ‘in the know’ before anyone else.
‘I don’t like people going to the wrong restaurants or having the wrong table; I don’t like people finding about events that are already sold out or fully booked. I very much wanted to do something proactive in terms of telling you about things before they open, about events or dining experiences before anyone else informs you. For example, we don’t review restaurants without fact; we actually provide concise and informative information.’
In an exclusive interview with Urbanologie founder, Hugo Campbell-Davys, The Sybarite delves deeper into Urbanologie: how it has achieved success in delivering what people want to know about and how Hugo has managed to develop a lifestyle platform that, in this day and age, would seem to further crowd an already overcrowded digital content environment. How has he maintained Urbanologie’s engagement, with members actually dictating the content? Above all, how has he made Urbanologie sharable among like-minded individuals to the point that the Financial Times has dubbed it ‘the must-have VIP lifestyle app’?
Hugo is a very busy man, with back-to-back appointments and endless events to attend. Catching him for this interview was a mission in itself, but it was completely worthwhile. We met up with Hugo at the members-only business club 12 Hay Hill, among the early-evening diners – perhaps entrepreneurs and investors. Sitting down amidst all the chit-chat and clinking of cutlery, one immediately sees that Hugo, despite his insane schedule, is a pleasant and friendly gentleman. Not wasting a moment, we ask him to introduce himself.
‘My background was in PR, marketing and business development, and that’s sort of what I’ve been specializing in – mainly in luxury and lifestyle for both agency and private clients. Before that, I was involved in several nightclubs, predominantly in Mayfair, and that’s when I sort of started building up an interest in people – what other people do – but also in the restaurant and dining scene, as well as the social aspects of living in London. That’s very much where Urbanologie started.
‘I like trying to put people together and that sort of holistic approach of actually bringing people together and, again, that’s…how Urbanologie organically came about.
‘My interests are very different to my day job – my favourite passions are surfing and travelling, which I don’t have very much time to do at the moment, because we’re a start-up and there’s a lot of momentum going on with Urbanologie. I have a slightly back-to-front way of life – I’m very busy during the week and weekends are very quiet, where I can actually have downtime, although I tend to have more fun during the week.’
And we can see why. Being the creator of the Urbanologie app comes with many social encounters, particularly with members. Perhaps that’s the best part – continually encountering the users who benefit from your product.
What differentiates Urbanologie as an insider app is that it isn’t your mainstream guide who dictates what to do or where to go. Instead, the platform feeds off its members – everything is about the member, down to the content itself. Urbanologie takes what its members are looking for, goes out there and using its ‘ways’ brings it back to the user for their benefit. This is what makes Urbanologie distinct – it listens to its members.
‘When we first started, it was very much a private invitation-only newsletter (when it was a hobby of mine, where I ran it alongside the PR and marketing agency that I was working for).
‘What we wanted to do with the website and the app was to make it appeal to a wider audience. Obviously we’re international – we have London, New York, Miami and Dubai. We’re looking to build onto new destinations as well in the coming months. By being members-only at 100 pounds a year, it allows us to justify that you can’t get [that] content anywhere else, whether there’s an exclusive offer,…an opening that you shouldn’t really know about yet or…access to an event.
‘If you pay for something, you tend to use it better and we want our members to use us. We do daily updated content in every major destination that we’re in and therefore we want our members to use it so that they’re benefiting from the work we put in and the thought process and dedication we [give] to our members.
‘We’re also trying to justify the value in terms of charging for it, in that we have exclusive offers. For example, if you join 12 Hay Hill, you get exclusive offers such as a Gentleman’s Tonic and a discount on booking with Abercrombie & Kent for travel. So, we’re always looking at constantly adding value, but we’re also providing value.’
And how important value is in a business that thrives on interaction! We were curious to know how Urbanologie delivers content that is genuine, that has intrinsic value for its members and ensures that they really can’t get information of this sort anywhere else. How do new members trust the platform?
‘We offer a three-month free trial and our conversion is very, very high because people are actually immersed in what we’re doing and the sort of lifestyle we’re achieving for our members, especially [since] we’re based in different destinations which are based upon our members preferences. So, if members want us to go to certain places, we will actually then launch or do a mini-guide.
‘A lot of the founding members I know personally, so we always get feedback from them in terms of what content they like and we always look at our analytics. It’s always going to be a work in progress. What we’re trying to do is always make it better, slicker and, again, by appealing to quite a large audience, we actually get to write a lot about different things, including a lot of cool features, articles and roundups.
‘The great thing about having a community of members is that most of our growth has been dictated by them. We know where our members travel, for example, Ibiza. We do seasonal guides to Ibiza, Mallorca, Montenegro, and we’re looking at adding further seasonal destination guides. But when we launch in new cities we actually go to our members first and they help us to find an experienced local editor or a couple of local influencers to help us grow our local database of members. It’s very much being led and supported by members which is very encouraging for us as a business.’
Of course, it isn’t just members dictating content. We learned that the founder himself shares as much insider information as he can with Urbanologie. While some perceive Hugo as an encyclopaedia of insider tips on what’s hip and happening before anyone else realizes it, he is not at all secretive – he shares everything on the platform.
‘I share everything, because being a private-access portal allows me to share everything. We decided not to have user-generated content because our members actually prefer us to curate the guides and the content, but, actually, a lot of our members are involved in restaurants or…have friends involved, so they feed back a lot of the content to us and might say, “Actually, I’m involved with this. Can you write about it and can you share it with Urbanologie members?”
‘Often we’ll have events that members are hosting and they’ll say, “Would you like to extend an invitation to other members?” – whether it’s a wine tasting, etc. It’s really interactive in a sense that they don’t necessarily have to get too involved – the app is a very powerful tool because it’s [on] a handheld device. We’re trying to make it easy for everyone. If a member is launching a new business, of course we’ll support that.’
Hugo gave us other examples of generous sharing by Urbanologie members.
‘The managing director of Milken Institute Europe, who is a member – he hosts so many meetings he’s just done a roundup of meeting places to share with Urbanologie members. Patrick Grant, who is a fashion designer, he wanted to share his most fashionable hangouts. So, again, we get a lot of that type of really good value content in terms of it being relevant, curated and…of the moment.’
So what does that mean for would-be members? What might convince new members to join the Urbanologie circle? Well, besides the generous three-month trial, which already encourages users to test out the app, it’s perhaps the powerful, interactive lifestyle aspect of Urbanologie – a tasteful way of living that is curated for a user within a community of other individuals with highly interesting lifestyles. Urbanologie manages to make it personal and useful for the user by way of curation. Normally, we would connect curation with luxury, but Urbanologie looks at it differently.
‘We’re much more of a lifestyle proposition. We don’t call ourselves “exclusive”; we’re just private. Everyone has his or her own subjective views on luxury…For us, luxury means something that has been handcrafted or has workmanship or craftsmanship that has gone into a product or service, which is very much what we are, but again we don’t call ourselves luxury. What we provide is a very useful resource for people living or traveling like [locals] and living extraordinary lifestyles.’
‘We’re trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people and, hopefully, we’re succeeding in most of those, and when we get feedback we always respond and react accordingly. We had a member that left a review on the app store that wanted a guide to St. Bart’s for Christmas…and we’re doing that. It’s a sense of community and a sense that you’re included in something – that’s very important to us.’
Sharing content has never been easier than it is today, with technology being so readily available. At the touch of a button, information is shared within seconds. Since Urbanologie is all about interaction, how has the platform used technology to the fullest?
‘In many ways, we’re embracing the modern era of technology and being able to deliver a beautiful, intuitive app and a good looking website that’s all content based, but [it] is the back-end system that allows us to make the most of it [and] allows the people to use it on a handheld device. We’re always looking to evolve the product – like our fold-up map. We wouldn’t even call ourselves a technology business; I mean, we are a publishing business that embraces technology.
‘If you think about our branding aspect – all of it is according to you. Everything we do is about you as a member – we’re always factoring in things that would add value to our members. More and more, we’re looking to embrace technology, to integrate more partners that add more value. But, for us, it’s extraordinary that there are no other travel guides that are being updated daily, and in key destinations we didn’t think there was anything good enough in terms of…new generations of travellers that actually deserve more. We have a philosophy of “travel like a local”: You’d be better informed of New York with us than your New York friends.’
Is Hugo right? There’s only one way to find out – download the Urbanologie app and unlock a world of insider tips that you can actually benefit from. Our final question to Hugo was, of course, related to the upcoming festive season, to which he replied, ‘You must check out our London guide – the amount of pop-ups and experiences, I mean, we’ve got them all covered. Same in New York.’
So, what are you waiting for? Give the three-month trial a go and tell us what you think about the insider guide for the 21st century!
Use the invitation code hellou for a three month free membership trial, which you can register fully thereafter. Register at urbanologie.com.