Your Local Cousin founders are just that, cousins, who have known each other since they were little.
Since January they have also been working together on the concept of connecting travellers with locals for the local experience.
So far the team consists of the three co-founders: Aarti Kanodia who takes care of marketing and product development; Riddhi Jhunjhunwala who works on content development for the blog and Kunal Jain who looks after business development and operations.
A chief technology officer is also on board.
Your Local Cousin points to US research from Google showing that 46% of leisure and 35% of business travellers take advice from friends, family and colleagues when planning travel. Meanwhile, an EU study shows 56% of travellers refer to friends, family and colleagues for travel advice.
The startup pits itself against the likes of TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet as well as guidebooks and specialists in a particular destination.
It plans to make money via a 30% commission and is seeking to partner with travel companies as a value-added service to their travellers.
Q&A with Kunal Jain
What problem does the business solve?
On average travelers visit 22 sites and invest 30 hours when planning their vacation. Customized advice is expensive and reserved for higher end travellers. The best source for travel advice is a network of friends and family but this isn’t always an option.
Our service brings back the human element to travel and provides travellers with personalized trip planning advice in a matter of minutes.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We built our MVP over three days and on the first day of launch we had paying customers. At MVP launch, we had no free trial and customers had to pay $10 for 30 minutes over Skype. Also our coverage was limited to only 12 countries the three co founders knew really well.
By the second week we started getting requests for cities that we did not serve and decided to connect travellers with locals all over the world. We also included a free trial for first time users and added additional communication options besides Skype to add flexibility to what the users wanted along with a customized, mobile-friendly map.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Travelers get tailor-made advice quickly and cheaply:
The only way to really get this type of information right now is through a network of friends and family, which not everyone has, or by spending an exorbitant amount of money for bespoke advice through an operator such as Abercrombie & Kent.
Travelers increasingly want localized experiences tailored to them and their needs and Your Local Cousin delivers this while trip planning as well as in-destination.
Locals can earn easy money:
Put simply - if you woke up one morning and said "how can I make money today" many on-demand options are not suited for everyone:
- you can drive for Uber
- you can assemble Ikea furniture for TaskRabbit
- you can create logos on Fiverr
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
- you can stay in your pajamas, work from anywhere and give advice about the city you live in for Your Local Cousin via Skype, phone, e-mail and text
Our strategy for user acquisition lies in key partnerships with DMOs, hotels and travel companies including but not limited to cruises. We are viewed as a value-added service at the planning stage of a trip but also in-destination especially where language barriers are concerned.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years we see Your Local Cousin dominating the travel planning space and also giving people access to on-demand advice about anything from real-estate to colleges. Our business lies in our global network of ‘Local Cousins’ and their knowledge, which can be used for any industry around the world. We are starting with travel but it can really grow in any direction.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
We live in the age of information overload. There is simply too much information in guidebooks, review sites and trip planning tools and weeding through it is exhausting. More importantly finding the RIGHT information gets harder and harder as more resources become available. Your Local Cousin adds a human back into the equation, offering a concierge-quality service at price points most people can afford.
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?
Other on-demand companies are a close fit such as TaskRabbit and Fiverr. TaskRabbit has a base of ‘Task Rabbits’ that perform various chores just as ‘Local Cousins’ give on-demand travel advice. The same is true with people offering gigs on Fiverr’s platform.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
The companies that may find us the most valuable are OTAs.
Describe your startup in three words?
Your Local Cousin seems to have had a positive start with paying customers from the start so now it needs to work hard on building up the partnerships with existing travel companies.
With all startups the worry is scale but the idea of Your Local Cousin expanding to just advice about anything in a foreign country is good. Imagine relocating to a place and having a few people on hand to advise you where to shop, where to have a coffee etc.
From the travel perspective, competition is stiff. Your Local Cousin mentions TripAdvisor and the reviews giant acquired Tripbod, another business connecting travellers with locals, about a year ago. What that signals is TripAdvisor's intent to round out areas of the trip that it doesn't already cater for.
Then there's WithLocals (Startup pitch here) and Indiescapes (Startup pitch here), and recently acquired by BeMyGuest,to name just a couple of other 'travel like a local' startups all vying for attention. So, maybe it's not a standalone business.
That said there's no doubt travellers are looking for recommendations and something out of the ordinary and love coming across different experiences.
One final barrier is the risk side of things that keeps rearing its head in the age of sharing and peer-to-peer marketplaces. What guarantee is there that a traveller won't have a terrible experience? The great experiences will probably outweigh the odd bad one but it's the bad ones that stick in people's minds.
We will watch, wish Your Local Cousin luck, maybe even try them out... and, hopefully catch up with them a few months down the line.