A conversation with Joe Diaz, co-founder of AFAR

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year you’ve heard of AFAR media and their new magazine that’s currently making waves around the travel industry. As one of the few companies to risk starting a print publication in a transitioning media landscape, there’s plenty at risk in this endeavor, but the strategy runs deep at AFAR and the innovation is plenty.

Earlier this month, Gadling’s Editor in Chief sat down with AFAR co-founder Joe Diaz to catch up on new developments at the startup.

Grant Martin: Congratulations on the success of Afar to date — how are things settling in for you as the co-founder of a major publication?

Joe Diaz: Things are going well. We have the opportunity to work in media in such an exciting and evolutionary time. AFAR has entered the game at an opportune time. Others call this the “bottom” or “worst time ever” to start a media company. Obviously, we see it another way and believe that the demands of today’s consumers were not being met in the travel space. Judging from the success of our launch it looks as though AFAR is fulfilling the desires of today’s experiential travelers. Our magazine launched with much success and I’m really excited about the upcoming launch of AFAR.com

GM: Right, your magazine is only a small part of the Afar portfolio with a large portion of Afar Media set to unfurl on the web in 2010. How is that progressing?

JD: The entire team is really excited about the launch of AFAR.com, a social network meets social search site that gets people like you to answer questions you have about travel. We are headquartered in San Francisco for a reason and that reason is AFAR.com. We plan on entering our beta in late June of 2010. We are now beginning to invite well-heeled travelers and members of the tech community to join us in shaping and improving the site. I encourage you to “try out” for our beta at http://private.afar.com.

Although we see our site as a revolutionary progression in the online travel space, our platforms always drive back to our company’s core values. In this case, it’s all about connecting travelers to other travelers, locals and businesses in ways that fit their individual way of traveling.
GM: So upcoming components of AFAR.com will be socially interactive. How will it be different from, say, Facebook or Dopplr?

JD: AFAR.com will differ from Facebook in terms of the approach. Facebook is effective when you want your “friends” to answer questions that you might have about anything in particular. When traveling, how many of your “friends” have been to the places you’re thinking about going? Then take the number of friends that have been there and ask yourself, “How many of them like to travel the way I do?” Probably not that many. We think there is a whole community of like-minded travelers that you should be able to tap into to give you recommendations that fit your psychographic.

GM: AFAR events is another branch of AFAR Media that’s kicking off this summer. What have you guys got planned around the country?

JD: We are planning an AFAR.com launch party in San Francisco for late September/early October. Stay tuned!

GM: Going back to the magazine that we all know so well, you recently made some editorial changes at the top. What motivated these changes?

JD: Things evolve and change over time and as a company we need to adapt to those changes. The initial launch of our company required a different approach than the stage we are currently in. AFAR is a media company and although the magazine is an important part of our strategy, it was time to move away from magazine-centric thinking and really embrace an audience of experiential travelers rather than any one single platform.

GM: And you’ve been getting some pretty big names in that industry involved — we just saw our friend David Farley off the Belarus on a top secret mission for you guys. Who else have you got coming down the pipeline?

JD: Yes, we’re acquiring top-notch creative talent for the magazine. It’s exciting to see writers like David Farley, Susan Orlean, Andrew McCarthy, and Tim Cahill working with us. I think it speaks to the uniqueness of AFAR and this magazine’s ability to talk about travel in a real way. Photographers who get shunned from other travel magazines because they like to photograph clouds hanging over those white, sandy beaches…no problem. AFAR likes clouds.