As the industry moves towards using technology to the fullest to help travellers in their planning experience, Trabblr says it has a different approach to it.
India-based startup Trabblr, a love child of the words "travel" and "babble", is a platform to help travellers meet other travellers and locals in small groups to explore cities around the world.
These meetups are restricted to 12 people (max) to keep the event as casual and focused as possible.
The startup believes that trip planning service and content providers are sacrificing the fun in travel for convenience, making travel more mechanical and less fulfilling.
Founded by Hersh Kumbhani and Ashish Mehra in 2012, the startup has raised $50,000 funding from two angel investors.
Kumbhani says Trabblr was founded as a result of his personal frustrations when he was travelling extensively through the Balkans and realized that guidebooks and web apps just eased his travel, but weren’t helping in creating unforgettable memories.
Kumbhani adds that he almost always had an amazing time, learnt different cultures, and explored cities the way they are meant to be explored when he randomly meet other travellers and locals.
He realized that such a platform didn’t exist and convinced Mehra to co-found Trabblr with the aim of giving people an opportunity to create lifelong memories whenever they wanted to instead of having to rely on chance.
Q&A with Kumbhani below.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
We both met in high school at the Mahindra United World College of India.
I bring to the table almost four years of investment banking experience and an immense passion for travel. I am responsible for strategy, marketing, business development, and product. I graduated from Cornell University with a BS in Applied Economics and Management.
Mehra is Trabblr’s tech guru and brings to Trabblr a wealth of startup experience and development expertise. He is the co-founder of WeSplit.it and was formerly a software engineer at FactSet Research Systems. He received his MSc in Advanced Computing from King’s College London.
Estimation of market size?
Based on the number of users on Couchsurfing, Meetup, and other companies that help connect people offline, we believe that the market potential for Trabblr is upward of 25 million users.
US consumers alone spent $27 billion on tours and guided travel in 2011. This statistic coupled with the fact that travel is on the upswing in developing countries such as China and India due to higher disposable incomes, shows that the opportunity is enormous.
While we don’t have any direct competitors per se, we see ourselves in the company of other online travel communities and platforms that help connect people offline.
There are the shared economy players, such as Airbnb, Vayable and Lyft, as well as Couchsurfing, BeWelcome, Meetup, and Treetle.
However, there could also be synergies in partnering with some of these businesses to bring a more comprehensive and end-to-end solution to our respective users.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We currently have a two-pronged revenue model:
- We often collaborate with independent local businesses such as tour operators, art galleries, museums, and restaurants, to provide a unique experience for our users. These are called Feature Events. These experiences come at a price, which must be paid for beforehand using our online payment gateway. We take a commission from each successful booking.
- We charge users a nominal Trust Fee to attend free and user-generated events. This is so that only serious people sign-up to book one of the limited number of available places at each event (events are typically limited to 12 people to keep things casual and conducive to socialization). The motive to introduce Trust Fees wasn’t related to making money; we just want people to demonstrate that they are serious about showing up.
We understand that charging users to attend experiences may not be enough for us to reach standalone profitability.
That’s why we are looking into features and services for businesses, such as venue-dedicated pages, analytics, deals, advertising, etc.
If we have a large, global, and active community, we believe that local businesses and brands are going to want to be on Trabblr.
What problem does the business solve?
Our primary goal is to build a fantastic user base comprised of people who love to explore and share their experiences.
As we mentioned earlier, we feel that technology has helped dilute the significance of travel.
Content providers tell you exactly what you are going to see before you even get to your destination and travel planning apps are telling you exactly how to do the things that the content providers are telling you to do.
Lost in all this efficiency are the basics of what makes travel so fulfilling in the first place – human connections, cultural exchange, and truly exploring a new environment.
We believe that our model of highlighting things to do in cities around the world and giving our users the opportunity to do them with other people solves this problem in a fun, safe, and simple way.
We are nudging them toward things that they will enjoy based on their interests and then they will unlock real value when they meet other people from around the world.
Trabblr is bringing the guidebook offline and making it truly social. Why be a tourist when you can have local experiences in every city you visit?!
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
When we launched Trabblr in private beta in London and Mumbai (the hometowns of the two co-founders), we decided to first garner a following in each of our local communities to test the market and perfect our group socialization model.
We did this by regularly populating the site with one-off unique experiences that would help locals to rediscover their city. People compared us to a social Time Out.
We eventually realized that there were a couple problems with this approach:
- Despite putting in a lot of effort into organizing events with local business partners, we didn’t always get the kind of attendance rates we wanted. Although we never had the intention of being event organizers, we thought this would help get the ball rolling.
- It wasn’t scalable. If we wanted to expand to other cities, we would have to hire people in each city to consistently upload timely events. Unfortunately, human capital is expensive for a bootstrapped startup so we knew that this wasn’t something that we could pursue in the short-term.
After eventually perfecting our group socialization model, we decided to shift focus back to our original target market of travellers. We also solved the human capital issue by curating a database of expert recommended events for 10 popular tourist destinations around the world.
Think a weekend flea market at an old Metro station in Madrid or a game of pétanque by the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. The key to these events is that they are:
- Flexible. The first person to sign-up for the event can set up his / her own start time, date, and the maximum number of co-participants. The event is then considered “activated”.
- Always on Trabblr. Once an activated event is over, it blanks out and goes back into the database until another Trabblr user activates it with his or her own timings and details.
This transition has transformed us into more of a social travel guidebook.
Why should people or companies use the business?
People should use Trabblr because they get to meet likeminded people from around the world while also experiencing unique things to do in the city that they are in.
Travel doesn’t have to be individualistic. The beauty of our model is twofold:
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
- People who have second thoughts about meeting new people can take comfort in the fact that we are encouraging small-group meetups in public places. We are not connecting people one-on-one like other travel social networks.
- Although we are recommending unique things for our users to do in groups, we are not hand holding them like a tour guide. We are just making it easier for them to connect to explore and learn together, which we feel is far more rewarding and memorable.
To date we haven’t spent much money on marketing or acquiring users. Offline methods include distributing t-shirts at events and handing postcard-sized flyers to concierges at hotels in London and Mumbai.
Our online methods have primarily been social media and an “Invite your friend” feature to enable quick and easy word-of-mouth advertising directly from Trabblr.
We have also partnered with businesses that provide complementary services, such as offbeat accommodation options in India and personalized photo gifts.
However, now that we have expanded to ten cities, including San Francisco, Paris, and Bangkok, we are focusing on more global initiatives, including partnering with more global businesses and refining our SEO.
Lastly, we have begun recruiting Trabblr Gurus who are passionate Trabblr evangelists who are keen to help further our mission by spreading the word about Trabblr and spearheading local initiatives in our key markets.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years, we want to grow to be in hundreds of cities so that travellers, locals, and expats can easily make new connections and socially explore the world no matter where they are.
We also want to provide more services and features to our users, such as bookings and reviews, to make Trabblr a more comprehensive travel resource.
The immediate challenge is growing our user base to a level such that Trabblr events are continuously occurring in each of the cities in which we are present. Reaching quality critical mass is our utmost priority.
However, we understand the pitfalls of growing too quickly – Couchsurfing has lost credibility among its most die-hard fans for sacrificing the quality of the user experience for user acquisition.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
In our opinion, we don’t think that there’s something inherently wrong with the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry.
It’s just a highly fragmented space that’s dependent on personal lifestyle choices. No two people travel alike and that means that everyone has their own preferences for resources and their own travel methodology.
Consequently, every travel entrepreneur, too, is trying to bring to market a new product that aims to solve a personal pain point. Through research and thoughtful execution, we entrepreneurs can only hope that these pain points transcend demographics, geographies, socioeconomic statuses, and that our solutions receive widespread adoption.
That said, by looking at the user numbers of Couchsurfing, Meetup, and the players in the shared economy, there is definitely demand for platforms that connect people offline over a common interest or context.
However, unlike web apps like Vayable, Airbnb, and Lyft that focus on transactions to bring people together, Trabblr’s focus on shared experiences is more wholesome.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Couchsurfing, Vayable and Meetup. We believe that the ethos of Trabblr is most aligned with these companies because they understand the importance of expanding one’s global social circles in today’s increasingly mobile world.
We also understand that although communication is increasingly done via devices, nothing compares to face-to-face interaction for a truly memorable experience.
The discussion on whether technology is helping people travel better or reducing the fun of travel is definitely debatable. There is no hard and fast rule to this discussion.
When a majority of travel startups are heavily tech enabled, there are startups like PlanMy.Travel (Startup pitch here) that rely heavily on human input/touch. Also, all startups that are into the business of connecting locals (destination experts) and travellers fall under this category. So, Trabblr is not alone in leveraging human touch to trip planning/inspiration.
Trabblr can be compared to other event organizing services like Meetup and Eventbrite. But, Trabblr differentiates by focusing only on these travel related meetups: Food, drinks, culture, art, music, outdoor, sports, and discussions.
Trabblr can be seen as a platform playing multiple roles: For travellers it is a group planning/travelling service and a travel discussion community, and for local businesses like Kunzum travel cafe and others it is a revenue generating platform.
We will have to wait and see how fast the startup scales and generates substantial revenue amidst other tech-centric travel startups.
Related read: Rome2Rio CEO’s view – Travel planning is not broken, so don’t try fixing it. Do not miss the comments.
Vine video about Trabblr