28. August 2014–
trip.me is a small Berlin-based startup with a big mission. It wants to become the one place travelers go to book personalized itineraries. To accelerate its journey, trip.me recieved an undisclosed amount of Series A funding from Recruit Holdings of Japan last week. To find out more on the startup, we traveled to trip.me’s office in Kreuzberg to talk with Founder Andre Kiwitz.
To explain how trip.me works, Kiwitz had us imagining that we were planning a trip to Uganda to see gorillas. Traditionally, we would visit a travel agency that would show us a booklet of tours that was put together and approved by a tour operator. The tour operator compiled the trips from local agencies in Uganda. According to Kiwitz, that makes two distinct middlemen who are involved but not necessarily needed to plan our trip. trip.me takes out the tour operator and the travel agency and enables us to contact local agencies in Uganda directly.
The rest of our conversation went as follows:
You are also the founder the South American tour operator Viventura that launched in 2003. Did the idea for trip.me originate from Viventura?
With Viventura, we focused on small group sized tours to South America. We still do that. Two years ago, I sat down with my team and thought about how we can start offering individual trips to South America in a way that really benefits clients. I wrote a business plan and thought: why wouldn’t the clients directly book with the local agencies? It is all connected to trust and quality. People ask themselves whether or not a small agency is able to deliver a good trip, since they are taking their vacation for this and spending a lot of money. I looked around and did not find a solution in the German market that would help clients connect to local agencies. That is why I started trip.me in November 2012.
Where are trip.me’s main markets?
Our website is also available in German, so we focus on the DACH region. Then, we have the English-speaking market. With the English-speaking market, we are thinking globally. We have clients from Brazil, Colombia, Qatar, China…We target people who search in English and who are looking for services in English.
What are the main benefits of using trip.me?
One thing is that you are able to talk directly to the expert. There is nobody in between. We don’t take the request and then send it to someone in Uganda who then sends it back to us. We don’t change the name of the tour and the logo and send it back to the client. No. With us, the client makes direct contract with the agency. We just make it possible to connect. That means that the client can directly book and talk to the person that knows all the details.
There are benefits that come along with this. The client will get a more authentic experience. Tour operators who are trying to grow often push tours that are scalable. Trips that you can do in October, November…basically all year round. Trips that are easy and risk free. This is what they put in the catalogs. They try to avoid individualizing trips. We tell our clients to adapt their trips and to get in touch with the expert.
The third benefit is the price. We are cutting out the middlemen and those middlemen are expensive. The clients can save 20 to 40 percent when booking through us.
How do you maintain the quality of the client experience?
We have a challenge with quality, but it is not with the quality of the product or the trip. Every traveler is provided with the same quality from the local agency regardless if a trip is booked through a tour operator, a travel agency or a local agency. However, I can imagine that local agencies feel even more accountable when they are dealing with clients directly.
The quality challenge that we have is in sales. The agencies have some direct clients. For example, they have their own websites where people can contact them directly. So, they have some sales experience, but it is not as professional as with a tour operator. Our challenge is to train them to open this channel for them. We try to give them visibility on the web to help them attract more direct clients.
In terms of client experience though, the customer satisfaction rate is very high.
You just received Series A funding. How do you plan on using the money?
“left”] The investment will be used to accelerate our growth. We have a few job openings thanks to this round. The founders have already invested money into trip.me. This new capital gives us stability. We can invest in IT, as we want to improve our IT solutions for both travelers and local agencies. We are investing in the operations team to acquire new agencies faster and be more efficient in helping agencies convert customers.
Our investors are from Japan, so they are really strong in Asia. To my knowledge, we are their first investment in Germany. With them, we want to expand to the Asian market. They have some connections there, so this is something that we will look into for the next year. But for right now it is about growth, getting more traffic on the site and making trip.me even better.
Why was trip.me started in Berlin?
When we started Viventura in 2001, it was during my university time. Viventura was a project at the time, and I decided to do it independently. I was searching for a cofounder and, when I found Stefan Richter, we didn’t have any money. So, we decided to start the company in a small village in Bavaria where his parents lived so we could live for free. And in 2003, we got to a point where we were growing so incredibly fast. We couldn’t find many Spanish-speaking people in the small village, so we went to the drawing board and wrote down different cities – Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt…We had nothing to do with Berlin, but ten years ago it was the best city and it is still is the best city to go to find talent and lead a high-life quality.
Thank you for your time!