20. March 2013–
A career as a tour guide showing people around the breathtaking sites of Uruguay's Montevideo may seem pretty close to perfection. But instead of sitting back and enjoying his enviable job, Robert Blessing – the German cofounder of Munich-based tour guide service LocalGuiding – was inspired to change the industry after experiencing some of the problems with tours firsthand.
Now, Blessing is far happier working with an internationally-based team at LocalGuiding, which offers discerning tourists unique and personalised experiences when travelling (think cave tubing in Belize not "free walking tours of Europe").
We caught up with Blessing (above left with cofounder Toni Stork) to find out how LocalGuiding is tapping into a similar space to fellow startup Gidsy and how the startup wants to cash in on the $150b travel industry...
Who are you and what are you doing?
Hi, I'm Robert, the cofounder of LocalGuiding. LocalGuiding is a marketplace for travellers to find tours that are organised by local people. It is more for the people who don’t want mass tourism tours – instead, it's personalised, local tours. For example, if you go to London and already know the tourist places, you could do the Red Bus tour again, or you could do something a bit more unique, like a bike tour of the outside of London, or we have an Alfred Hitchcock tour with someone who met him in the seventies. Thousands of users are already booking tours.
We have these tours in more than 100 countries, or 600 destinations, so it is more or less spread out across the world. The chances are pretty high that if you type in a destination you will find a tour there you can do.
How did you manage to get so many tour guides on board?
At the beginning we contacted them directly and showed them our concept. So we have both professional tour guides on our website and local experts who are doing it part-time and for fun. We want to work with both because it depends on the kind of tour you want to do. So, in my opinion, if you want to learn more about the history of a city, it could be better to do this with a professional tour guide who already knows a lot about the history and story of a city. But for other stuff, like a pub tour, you want to do that with a local, not a professional.
How did you come across your idea?
I worked as a tour guide myself, for an incoming agency in Montevideo. I realised it was really impersonal – there were so many intermediaries between the client and the tour guide, so clients didn’t know who their guide was, I didn’t know who my client was. I just got the name and picked them up from the airport. It was really impersonal, like a blind date. I wanted to make something more personalised, a unique experience for the tourist.
Who are the founders and how did you find each other?
LocalGuiding’s founders are myself, Alvaro Olivencia and Toni Stork. This is my first startup – my cofounder Alvaro is from Uruguay so he is doing all the tech stuff and developing the website from there, I met him when I was living in Montevideo. He is a typical developer and wanted to do something of his own thing, and he thought it was a good match because I know more about business and he knows more about tech. Toni is from Munich and worked in startups and online marketing consulting.
What makes you different from everyone else?
We have competitors – the obvious one is Gidsy. But we already have a broader worldwide coverage – we’re in 100 countries. This is important for us, we want to be the marketplace where you can find a tour no matter where you are. We have one feature where if you already know what you want to do, you can post a tour request and guides can contact you directly to your inbox, so you don’t have to search. You can pick the guide you think is best or like the most. Now we are launching the iPhone app. We are the first with an app where you can hire a local guide.
What is your business model?
We take a ten per cent commission on every booking. We are thinking of additional revenue streams from premium memberships.
How big is the market potential?
The tour and activity market in the US alone is $20bn and worldwide it's estimated at $150bn. It is very competitive, but the travel market is growing and I think there is still space for startups like us.
Who is financing you?
Last year we were at Startup Chile; you get $40,000 for half a year. What was really nice about it as an incubator is that, every year, 300 startups come to Startup Chile and share ideas and problems they’ve had. So now when I have a problem, it is so easy to find a solution, because in this pool there is always someone who has had this problem and knows how to fix it.
Is there something that you missing?
We are looking for financing.
Any advice you'd give for fellow startups?
Try to fail fast because you learn a lot, and there is nothing worse than working on a product for a long time before testing on users and finding out they don’t like it or won't use it. So my advice is get a minimal viable product and throw it out to the public. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t be afraid to fail or make a mistake.
Any major errors you made on the way?
At the beginning we invested a lot of time building functions that users didn’t use. And we tended to want too much for what we had. As a startup you tend to want so much, and your ideas are so big, but resources are always limited. So I would focus on one functionality and if this is working really well, then you can think about adding other things.
Where will you be in a year’s time?
I definitely want to have more tours and destinations and guides. Mobile is a new experience for us; we have to see how the market in that area is and how users interact with it. We will shift more from web to mobile in a year – 50 per cent will be mobile. We want to have half a million users in total, too.
Image credit: Flickr user Vince Alongi
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