After time spent working with the Red Cross and organising the occasional tour, WeTravel co-founder Johannes Koeppel realised independent group trip organisers struggle with the same pain points.
They spend countless hours collecting information from travellers (meal preferences, arrival times, passport info) and have to chase travellers for deposits and outstanding amounts.
Koeppel was joined by co-founder Garib Mehdiyev, who brings technical expertise to the table and quit his job late last year to focus on WeTravel.
The third co-founder, Zaky Prabowo, brings customer experience to the startup. He previoulsy founded Indonesian volunteer marketplace Indorelawan.
WeTravel also employees an engineer, a part-time designer and part-time business development staff.
So far, the startup has existed on $30,000 raised from friends and family and a further $30,000 from competitions,scholarships and grants. However, Koeppel says:
"WeTravel is currently raising a $800,000 seed round. More than 80% of the round is already committed. Investors in the current round include among others Foundation Capital, First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund and Rob Chandra, the team’s entrepreneurship lecturer at Berkeley who acts as a senior adviser at Bessemer Venture Partners."
The team says the US market for independently organised group trips is worth an estimated $32 billion including university/school trips, sports travel and other themed group travel.
WeTravel acknowledges other group trip planning tools such Planapple or Travefy (TLabs here) but believes they enable smaller groups to collaborate on trip planning. It says it's different because while it enables collaboration it also allows the group organiser or leader to take charge and coordinate the group.
It, therefore, sees itself with different competitors including Google Docs, Paypal, Venmo and even email.
WeTravel is free for organisers and travellers and the service receives commission each time it refers a group to a destination management company.
WeTravel is completely free to use for organizers and travellers. We receive commissions each time we successfully refer a group on our platform to a DMC.
In addition, the site suggests tailored offers to organisers and travellers, such as additional hotel nights, trip insurance and activities, when they register or join a trip.
What problem does the business solve?
Anyone organizing a group trip faces two pain points before departure: Coordinating the group and collecting money from them. WeTravel solves this in three easy steps:
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
- List the trip on our website, either as a public trip, or a private trip only visible to the people you invite.
- Collect any information and the funds directly on your individual trip page.
- Manage all trip preparations on our powerful dashboards with one-click solutions (i.e., refund participants, download everyone’s information in an excel sheet, request all participants to pay the full price, collect additional information from your group, pay vendors)
We originally planned to start WeTravel also as a marketplace for group tours from Day one.
At the same time, an early MVP of our productivity platform for organizers of group tours performed extremely well. Within a couple of months, it was used to organize over half a million worth in tours. Thus, we decided to initially focus on the productivity platform for organizers to attract the organizers to our market network first and connecting them to DMCs and travel service providers.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Anyone organizing a group trip saves tons of time (and potentially money) by using WeTravel. We reduce the time it takes organizers to coordinate the group and to manage the trip funds by 80-90%.
In addition, we have a great partnership to transfer funds internationally at much better exchange rates than what commercial US banks offer, saving the organizer money.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Given our large ticket size, WeTravel can allow itself to individually acquire organizers until we reach the critical mass for virality. Our initial growth focuses on one niche in one specific geography through high-touch user acquisition.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
WeTravel will be a full market network; on one hand connecting organizers to DMCs and other travel service providers and on the other hand driving additional travellers to organizers.
By providing organizers a useful productivity platform, we are building up an incredible inventory of unique group tours. WeTravel will leverage this inventory to become the marketplace for group tours in the years to come.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
The group tour industry still has a ridiculous amount of intermediaries. What Johannes realized when organizing tours in Central Asia is a clear need for an efficient supply chain for group travel services so that travellers can get the best price and the DMCs on the ground get the most out of every group.
In addition, there is no adequate back-end cloud solution for amateurs or semi-professionals organizing multi-day group trips, despite the fact that this segment accounts for a significant fraction of the group travel market. This is surprising, especially given how much movement there has been in the day tour & activity space in terms of cloud based solutions for small players.
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?
Eventbrite seems a good fit. First, Eventbrite shares a similar mission as WeTravel: Empowering people through technology to provide experiences that connect people in the real world.
Second, Eventbrite actively facilitates a healthy work/life balance and has managed to stay lean. This is the kind of company culture WeTravel wants to establish as we continue our growth.
Third, Eventbrite and WeTravel share many similarities when it comes to customer acquisition. We both focus on acquiring organizers who bring users along with them to the platform.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
There are various possible candidates, from a large OTA to a large traditional player in the tour space or even a tech company. However, we are setting up WeTravel not as a quick acquisition target, but as a lasting company that is here to stay and disrupt the traditional tour industry.
Describe your startup in three words?
Easier Group Travel
Many group planning sites address groups of friends who all collaborate in on trip planning with a with a heavy emphasis on the social network side.
WeTravel seems to be setting itself apart by targeting travel organisers and making it easier for them to put the trip together because inevitably it ends up being one person who takes charge.
The startup says it's already seeing some traction in areas such as yoga, culinary, college reunions and golf trips.
So far, trips are held privately on the site and therefore only accessible to those invited by the organiser but WeTravel believes public trips will also increase going forward.
The group planning model is not without its hurdles such as the infrequency of the trips and the customer acquisition issues. Remember that Groupize quite quickly moved from a group trip planning service to a hotel booking service for groups.
Many of the problems facing the startup are addressed in this piece from two years ago by Greg Aubert and the same problems still exist today.
Having a wide and diverse group base from hen parties to niche tour operators and trips for sports fans will be important in getting over these issues.
The startup also has quite a few strands from private trips to public trips and connecting up the various entities - travellers with groups, organisers with destination management companies.
If it can create a marketplace and enough traction with travellers, sports fans and festival goers feeding in at one end and organisers feeding it at the other then it's on to something.