Horizon is a new service that connects travelers to overnight stays with like-minded locals, and is the result of a pivot from the Oh Hey World team.
Oh Hey World focused on sharing a traveler's location with social networks - essentially it would automatically disclose location upon a traveler's arrival at a particular destination (TLabs here). The team discovered that this service did not
While the four-person team remains intact, this is an entirely new product built from the ground up.
There are clear similarities to one of the original sharing services Couchsurfing, which connects travelers to locals who have a couch or room to share. The twist here is that Horizon focuses on connecting individuals within already-existing affinity groups, such as alumni networks and other managed communities.
The interface is primarily mobile, where users can create profiles to both host and stay. Hosts can set some guidelines about how connected they want to be to potential matches, and guests are able to offer a donation to a host-selected non-profit after the stay.
This emerging concept points to a continued expansion of the sharing economy to focus on specific niches within communities, and connecting people within already-existing communities to each other with familiar sharing economy tropes such as lodging.
Horizon has a clear business model from the start - $3.99 from each stay. This is a very important differentiator, especially as Couchsurfing continues to stumble after making a transition several years ago to a for-profit entity. It also seems that Drew Meyer began to identify the opportunity after sharing his thoughts on how Couchsurfing needed to rebuild its loyal community.
Beyond the business model, the technology stack is solid and clearly shows that the team has learned from other startup attempts, such as Oh Hey World. The instant connection to affinity communities also offers an organic marketing model that disconnects the company from a traditional marketing cycle. Members of affinity communities will do the marketing for them — something that sports bars have long known and benefited from.
The most pressing hurdle is proving that members of affinity communities do indeed want to stay with each other. That figure will become more clear over time and will identify whether or not the team has hit on a true business.
Competing entities, such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing, have long created means of identifying affinity groups within their respective interfaces. This fact suggests that there is indeed a great trust value there, making it entirely possible that travelers will be far more comfortable booking via Horizon rather than another P2P accommodation platform. The connection to a donation-based model not only dovetails with the millennial desire to do well, but also incentivizes both sides of the transaction (host and guest) to shift any P2P accommodation business onto the platform.
To learn more about the latest iteration of his company's product, Tnooz sent over some questions to co-founder Drew Meyers.
What led to the pivot after Oh Hey World?
While traveling for the majority of 2010 after departing my job at Zillow, I realized the difficulty in finding like minded people to share experiences with while traveling (community). Specifically, I was keen to find those who shared my passion for microfinance.
There was no way to efficiently accomplish this, which led me down the path to create Horizon (and Oh Hey World previously).
Our first product aimed to centralize something everyone does - sharing their location with loved ones - as the hook to get to critical mass. We realized location sharing is actually not a pain point most travelers care about solving, but what absolutely is a pain point is finding a place to stay. That realization led to the creation of Horizon, which facilitates staying with trusted connections.
Oh Hey World found its home with long term travelers, but ultimately we concluded sharing one’s current location while traveling wasn’t a large pain point for most travelers. Everyone was interested in finding people by location, but only if everyone they cared about (friends, fraternity brothers, family, college alumni) were using it. Finding someone to have a coffee, meal, or simply a conversation was a “nice to have”, not an actual problem.
What's the mission of the company that is driving the latest product?
Our core mission is to get more people traveling. Everyone at Horizon has gained more empathy and more cultural understanding as a result of travel. We want to spread that as much as possible.
200 million millenials travel every single year and seek ways to save on transportation and accommodation costs. One cannot avoid cost of airfare, but accommodation costs can be avoided via hospitality exchange. It also happens that the cheapest way to travel, is also the best way to receive the cultural experience most seek. Hospitality exchange has been occurring for centuries, but it’s a fragmented and largely private activity.
With Horizon, we’re formalizing an unformalized activity.
Never say never, but we’re not building this company to sell it. We may be crazy, but we believe Horizon is a product with potential to be on every single smartphone in the world. Not everyone wants to sleep on couches or the floor to save money, but everyone does seek trusted contacts in destination as a means to access insider information, discounts, and social experiences. Someone will execute against the trusted contacts by location opportunity, and we feel we have as good a chance as anyone.
This seems like a new version of Couchsurfing. Who do you see as your competition in the space? And how is Horizon different from some of these more established services?
Horizon will live or die based on our execution rather than what others do. Hospitality is a massive category in which numerous companies can and will exist. Current requests for hospitality take place via text, email, phone, in person, Facebook, Twitter, member associations and Couchsurfing/AirBnB.
While its possible to consider other hospitality networks (ex. Couchsurfing, bewelcome.org, warmshowers.org, servas.org) as competitors, we view them as partners since our technology will enable them to exist at a larger scale and provide better experiences for their members than they do today. These networks are one off networks, which means there is no user utility unless a traveler can find a host from that one network, in the one city they are going to. We are layering all those networks onto a single mobile interface, and adding additional trusted connections as a base hospitality network for everyone.
Everyone on the planet who travels has couchsurfed at one point or another. They just stay with existing friends, family, and other trusted connections (mainly via personal introductions) rather than go to Couchsurfing to find a stranger.
Points of differentiation for Horizon:
How will you make money?
- Host control: We enable our hosts to decide which people and/or communities to field requests from.
- Hidden inventory: The ability to be a host only within your trusted networks unlocks supply of couches, rooms, and homes that will never be posted on any public website because monetization is not the goal.
- Social good: While charging your friends to stay at your house is not socially acceptable, a house gift is part of that social contract. Donation based hospitality exchange is a new fundraising channel for membership associations & nonprofits that does not exist now at scale, as well as new incentive for hosts to take more people into their homes.
- Stay with someone you trust: Our focus is facilitating existing trust, not creating it. Staying with a stranger is off-putting idea to most, yet they would love nothing more than to stay with a trusted friend with a strong shared bond or experience, for the social interaction, cultural exchange, and cost savings. We're giving every trusted community their own private hospitality exchange network, and tackling trust the way users already think about it.
- Mobile: The world has changed since the last real attempt at a hospitality exchange network (Tripping in 2009); mobile dominates. None of the existing hospitality exchange networks have a consumer friendly mobile offering, aside from Couchsurfing (and even that is bloated). There has not been a hospitality exchange platform built specifically for the mobile world we live in today.
- Single user utility: In prior hospitality networks, there was zero single user utility if it had no members in the specific city someone was searching for. Everyone has a mini hospitality network -- their friends and family, and friends of friends. Locating existing friends & family, and friends of friends unlocks some value to everyone in a travel scenario (either researching ahead of time or local connections in destination).
- Technology/monetary transactions: One of the major challenges hospitality networks have faced is technology. They've all relied on volunteers building their own web technology - with no money changing hands, no resources exist to invest in a consumer friendly mobile or web experience consumers will actually use. Another challenge is signal to noise with fielding and sending requests for accommodation. Adding a financial transaction to bookings addresses both of these, as it both enables money to be invested into technology and reduces the number of people who waste hosts' time with inquiries that are not serious in nature. Horizon is not a charity. This is a business (with a deep social mission), aiming to shift some of the massive amounts of money that goes into hospitality to amazing causes such as Kiva and Pencils of Promise -- and enabling more cultural exchange, community, and friendships in the process.
There are two primary models we are testing. The first is a flat service fee teamed with an optional donation. We’re testing this using Kiva, my personal longtime favorite charity, as the first beneficiary. The second is an engagement offering for community membership organizations. We are early in the process of testing both.
All that said - if we succeed in building a large engaged user base that is spending time together in person while traveling, there is no question there will be monetization opportunities.
There is a large and growing segment of travelers who care less about the quality of accommodations and more about maximizing authentic local experiences and making new friends while traveling. This is an unmet need. Large incumbents are focused on the high end and failing to see the opportunity they are leaving on the table to reach millenials before they are spending considerable amounts of money on travel.
Check out Horizon here.
NB: Couch image courtesy Shutterstock.