Experitus is a marketplace for locals and guides to sell short lessons in their hobbies and careers to visitors at a destination.
The startup, founded in Ukraine but shifting its offices west, believes that many travelers want to not only go sightseeing but also learn something during a trip.
Experitus helps travelers find how to cook delicious food from a trained chef, take an art lesson taught by professional artist, or test to see what it's like to be a DJ in a nightclub.
A Q&A with CEO Alexander Yaremchuk:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
I cannot imagine living without travel. When I do, I always strive to get the most complete experience at the lowest cost.
I started out as a web developer and got to work with many startups and companies, but I always had the dream of creating my own project.
The initial idea came from the problem of finding interesting tours in Europe for Russian speakers. We had gotten started in this market, and the project was called “Tourista”.
With time though, I realized that this market wasn’t completely ready for something new (for example, tours and activities from locals), and because of the regional crisis it declined significantly and the project became even harder to develop.
Our team had long been incubating the idea to create an experience marketplace, where people could share their experiences and get money in return.
Experitus was created not only for travelers, but also for locals that want to learn a thing or two from professionals or people with interesting hobbies.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Seven people now work at Experitus: three web developers, a designer, and two managers of tour guides and activities. Soon, a content manager and marketing specialist will join us.
It is important to me that our employees not only be well-versed in their area, but also passionate about travelling.
Our team is from Ukraine, which allows us to spend very little money on non-critical things, but soon we plan to move to Europe, in order to develop the project locally in popular and interesting cities.
Right after the launch, I covered all expenses with my personal funds, and nobody got their salary.
In the evenings, I worked part-time on another project to get the money from somewhere. We got our first investments from an angel in October 2014, during the seed round.
Right now we are testing our hypothesis, working on finishing our product, looking for travelers and also we plan to have a new round of investment.
Estimation of market size?
The U.S. travel activities market is $26.8 billion (2011 PhoCusWright report on tours and activities). European travelers (545 million customers per year) spent more than 38 billion EUR on travel activities in 2013 (PhoCusWright, 2014).
We are seeing the rapid development of the sharing economy and peer-to-peer (P2P) services. The global sharing economy is currently a $25 billion industry annually, which PriceWaterhouseCoopers expects to grow to $335 billion by 2025, and peer-to-peer services will take up a large chunk of this.
In the market for marketplaces of activities offered by locals, there are already many players.
Among the more popular ones are the American Vayable and the Spanish Trip4real, which are doing very successful work in this market.
Though we are not alone in this market, we are the only peer-to-peer platform that focuses 100% on “do-it-yourself” activities that give new experience and knowledge to the traveler.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our revenue model depends on the amount of services ordered from the tour guides. We help them set up high-quality activities and unique experiences for travelers, which is hard to find online. For this, we will take a 12% fee from each order.
What problem does the business solve?
Many travelers are not getting one major thing out of their travels: new experience.
Yes, we can see many highlights or try some tasty food but, for the travelers experience, the main thing is to bring back some knowledge.
For instance, they might learn how to cook a dish, try out bartending or DJing in a famous club, learn how to piece together mosaics, see how a factory works, or try to create something with their own hands.
We are helping people to find this new experience in the travels, and also to share their knowledge with other people -- and to make some money.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
Half-a-year ago, we started on a marketplace for excursions for Russian speakers Tourista.me.
We did very well, but people are not interested in unique excursions; they are willing to pay for the same old sightseeing tours of popular places.
We rebranded, and created a totally new project called Experitus, which will offer a few products in the future, but the main one is a marketplace of unique experiences from locals.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Nowadays many of the travelers are taking standard sightseeing tours and are not ready to pay for them, but with Experitus, they not only look at a local craft and gain information about it, but they also do something with their own hands, learn something, and earn unique experience.
We want to make this available to everyone. Locals will be able to earn money by conducting these activities. They can share their hobbies, give a tour of their workplace, teach how to cook some delicious dish, and conduct many other activities.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We are totally focused on creating a product that people love. Our goal is to make the product and service so cool that people recommend it to their friends.
The main channels to attract users are social networking (Facebook, Pinterest) and search engine marketing (SEM). Also we will put very interesting videos up on YouTube.
We will have a rewards system that will give our clients the opportunity to get discounts on travel for completed assignments.
Also we plan in the future to launch a mobile app, because with each year more and more bookings are made with mobile platforms.
Where do you see the company in three years and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
I see Experitus as a leader in the activities market. We want to build a brand that people will recognize. For example, in restaurants with our stickers, people could take cooking lessons for various dishes.
Experitus will interest not only tourists, but also locals that want to learn something new.
I think that, first of all, we need to keep a permanent eye on the quality of the content and to help new and experienced tour guides get their activity pages straightened out.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
Considering how fast technologies that make travel easier develop (flight prices decrease, hotel reservations and ticket purchases get simpler, maps and geolocation improve, information on tour routes and sights appear, Internet payments, and the sharing economy), the need for traditional tour agencies is disappearing.
Since the modern tourist has no difficulty finding information about any city, its attractions and its main tour routes, the market for traditional sightseeing excursions will shrink as well.
Young travelers that have been abroad before are not likely to be willing to pay for regular sightseeing excursions.
They will be interested in unusual excursions (which is hard or impossible to make themselves), and also tours, where they are able to gain some unique local experience and knowledge.
The majority of tourists are curious by nature (otherwise they would not bother with the trip) and take great joy in immersing themselves in the in local color. They try to find and learn something hidden to the usual observer, beyond the main tour routes.
In Experitus we aim to show people the true meaning of travel. This isn’t just photos and attractions, but also people, their knowledge, their experience, and various activities that will stay with them forever. Our goal is to connect travelers with local “gurus.”
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
We in our company try to be like Airbnb, and we take them as the example. They put big emphasis on the design, the product, and community building, and we do too. We like their creative attitude towards everything they make.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
There are many players now, trying their hands in the tour and activities market. Among them are TripAdvisor, Airbnb and others. I think that Airbnb would be just perfect for us, because we like their culture and attitude to development.
They could extend their base of activities and we could share our experience. But TripAdvisor would suit us as well, because they are interested in unique activities; they have shown this by purchasing Tripbod.
Describe your startup in three words?
Learn and travel.
Experitus has created a Vine:
Experitus looks like it has a solid team. It has identified a promising market, and it has a solution to solve a "pain point" that is serious enough that consumers would spend money for a solution.
The margins in this business could be good, as TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer noted earlier this week.
But what Experitus is attempting to do is harder than it looks at first glance. The best known site of a similar nature, Vayable, has been struggling, according to some accounts.
In the more traditional tours-and-activities market, GetYourGuide has taken on a lot of money to scale up. But there's a risk it has taken on too much investment money to be an easy acquisition for a larger player. A similar question mark hangs over Peek, which also took on a lot of money to offer recommendations for travel experiences.
The risk with this market is that Airbnb or TripAdvisor's Viator -- or both -- might attempt to do the same thing before Experitus has gained traction.
The clock is on. A startup can be quicker and more nimble than a large company that is distracted by other products.
We are looking forward to seeing what Experitus does, especially as it shifts staff out of Ukraine.