TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Switzerland-based destination-focused question and answer service Loqize.me.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Loqize.me is a Q&A platform to get local advice. You get advice from locals and friends about places around you.
Whether you’re looking for a place to eat, sleep, shop, party or visit. We created Loqize.me so you can ask friends and locals where to go, what to see and what to do there.
The company was co-founded by five engineers (average age 25.2) who all met at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Martin Sieber, Tao Tao and Johannes Reck are advisors and seed-investors.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Philip Reichen is CEO and co-founder. He has worked across multiple industries and has held various positions such as COO of a Mexican biotech company, Product Manager at a NYC consumer web startup, Production Engineer at a manufacturing company in Shanghai, China and CEO of a management consultancy in Switzerland. He has a deep passion for entrepreneurship, startups and anything related to technology.
- Philipe Fatio is CTO and co-founder with more than 10 years of web development and design experience. He has the rare ability to blend function and form into insanely great looking web experiences. Believe it or not, he is still an undergrad student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and will soon graduate with an Engineering degree. Every pixel and every line of code at loqize.me has been created by him (up until now).
What problem are you trying to solve?
We’re trying to solve the problem of “local search”. Local searches are searches related to specific, geographical locations or places. Google (or any other search engine for that matter) wasn’t built to understand nor “answer” these searches and that’s where loqize.me steps in.
Loqize.me will be the best destination on the web (and on your mobile devices) to get answers to your local search problems. This means that whenever you ask yourself "Where…?" you’ll find the answer to your particular question on our site.
As much as we love search engines and review sites like Google or Yelp there’s something great about getting a straight answer to a simple question – preferably from a friend or someone who knows the place well.
Looking through dozens of links on Google or reading through hundreds of reviews on Yelp is just too much work when you just want to find the best pizza around your work or the top 3 things to do when you visit another town.
We created loqize.me so you can do just that and a little bit more.
Describe the business, core products and services?
The basic enabler of our service is the fact that every question has to be necessarily tied to a location (on a map). This focuses loqize.me exclusively on location-related questions (and answers).
When you ask a question like "Where can I get the best burger in NYC?" the system "automagically" extracts the location (in this case New York City) and ties the question seamlessly to a map showing all of NYC.
The question is then pushed to a user’s social graph (currently Facebook and Twitter, others coming soon) and to locals who live/work/travel at this specific location.
Answers tied to specific places are displayed on the same map.
Another differentiator is our "natural zoom-level" approach: We extract the location from natural speech. In other words: users are able to ask questions like "I’m doing a road-trip along the East Coast. What should I see?" and we show the entire US East Coast on a map. Services like Yelp don’t allow for locations such as "East Coast" because they structured their zoom-levels around administrative units (country, state, city, neighborhood, etc).
The experience of asking a question and getting a reply about local businesses or points of interest has been optimized such that it feels “just right” to use loqize.me for any location-related question.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our customers are local businesses who’re interested in displaying hyperlocal ads on our site. We validated our initial idea with them and are getting feedback from them on a constant basis.
Currently we’re focused on building up our userbase. And even though we incorporated in Switzerland we are building our first, big and engaged userbase in New York City. It’s simply the best city to launch a location-based webservice like ours and get initial traction.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We’re talking to local businesses in different countries on different continents and have shown them our product.
Even though they feel currently a little bit overwhelmed by all the new services that are fighting for their attention (check-in services like Foursquare, daily deals sites like Groupon etc) they liked the simplicity of our service and saw the immediate value.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
There are vast opportunities in terms of monetizing hyperlocal content like ours. We are still exploring various possibilities, however our focus at the moment lies clearly on building up solid traction and a vast userbase.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Every question is necessarily linked to a geographical location on a map. This ensures focus of the content and the community on location.
- Information and knowledge that is not online yet (and therefore not crawlable) is pushed directly to someone who is looking for that highly specific piece of content
- Users can use natural language to ask questions and find information.
- Questions can be highly specific. No “one-answer fits all”-approach like on Yelp or Google. The exact same question asked by different people necessarily demands different answers. E.g. answers to the question “Where can I get a good haircut in Soho, NYC?” vary depending on the profile and personality of the user who asked (gender, age, personal style, income level, etc.). Since the question is also routed to a user’s social graph, the user gets a personalized and therefore useful answer. Something that Google or Yelp will never be able to do.
- Our platform is vertical agnostic. It can be used to answer questions related to shopping, food, travel, nightlife, activities etc.
- Currently there’s no app or mobile version for smartphones. However, we’re already working on a mobile version which won’t be a mere copy of the current webapp but which will be re-built from the ground-up to make maximum use of the mobile device. Think real-time and hyperlocal answers to questions that need immediate answers.
- Need to build up a solid userbase quickly. We couldn’t incorporate in the USA (yet) due to immigration reasons (none of the co-founders is American or has a Greencard). Hence we had to incorporate in Switzerland which is not the best place to launch a service like ours. We’re therefore exploring the possibility of opening up an office in New York pretty soon.
- 20% of all Google search queries are local searches. Google wasn’t built to answer those queries but to rank hyperlinks using algorithms. loqize.me on the other hand was built from the ground up to exclusively understand and answer local searches.
- Smartphone penetration is still comparatively low even in developed countries but the growth rates are phenomenal. It’s still a nascent market with lots of potential for disruption and innovation. Services like 4square are only the tip of the iceberg and haven’t had big reach beyond geeks and early adopters.
- Several mega-trends in which loqize.me is embedded like mobile, social, location and Q&A are heating up. As well as the overall tech industry. In a time where you’re looking to raise your Series A, this is good news.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Several new entrants are going after the same or very similar problem with somewhat similar (but not identical) solutions. As the history of virtual communities has shown, usually there is only a handful of winners (if not just one) who take all the market. Timing is much less important than brilliant execution.
- Big players like Google, Facebook and Yelp could (and in Facebook’s case already have) add a “Q&A feature” to their massive userbase and potentially render loqize.me obsolete immediately. However a feature to a huge userbase not a gurantee for winning a market (see: the success and continuous rise of 4square despite Facebook Places)
Early usability studies have shown that users either love the product or don’t get it. These users don’t see why they’d use yet another service when they already have Yelp, Google, Facebook etc.
It’s only when they realize that loqize.me is the very first part of the decision making process when it comes to local searches, that they see the value. They realize that they’ll save time and work and can just let the answers find them (and not the other way round).
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
The three most important metrics are amount of active users, amount of questions and amount of answers. In 12 months we are targeting to have 1 million active users with millions of questions and answers.
Here is a clip:
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.