Sherpa was founded earlier this year to bring augmented reality avatar guides to walking tours. The Chicago-based company wants to have 100 tours in major cities around the world by the end of 2020.
This is a first startup for founder Michael Suskind, who believes there hasn't been any innovation in the walking tours market for many years.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
Sherpa is the only app that allows users to go on walking tours with an augmented reality avatar guide. Right now we’re iOS-only and plan to launch the Android version in the beginning of 2020.
We have more than 25 AR walking tours available (including Chicago, New York, Paris, London and Tokyo) and will have about 10 more by October 2019.
Our tours were created by well-established tour guides, experts (e.g. the Pyramids tour was created by a PhD Egyptologist candidate at Johns Hopkins), and journalists (our Prague tours were written by a former Wall Street Journal columnist who lives in Prague).
By the end of 2020, we’ll have close to 100 tours. This will essentially mean that we’ll have tours in almost all the major cities around the world. We want to give our users the feeling that if they have the Sherpa app, every time they visit a new city, they’ll have the option of going on a Sherpa tour.
There’s no dominant Uber-like walking tour app. The vast majority of travelers don’t have an audio-only tour app mostly because it doesn’t mirror the experience of a real life walking tour. But with Sherpa’s AR avatar, it gives the users the feeling of being with a real life tour guide.
What inspired you to create this company?
Some of my best childhood memories are traveling the world with my family. I knew I wanted my kids to have the same love of exploring. Now 12 and fourteen years old, they’ve already been to more than 40 countries. As a family, we’ve walked on the Great Wall of China, climbed the steps of the Eiffel Tower and hiked Machu Picchu.
When we travel, one of our favorite ways to experience a new destination is a walking tour. There’s no better way to get a feel for a city. Finding the right guide, however, can be hit or miss. Sometimes we get lucky with an informative, engaging and personable guide. Very often, we don’t.
On December 31, 2017, we were on one of the not-so-good tours. In front of the Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito, listening to a dull by-the-book tour guide, a thought flashed into my mind: What if there were an app with excellent, well-designed walking tours led by an augmented reality tour guide. And that was the beginning of Sherpa.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- Strengths: Having a mission to make Sherpa a world-dominating travel brand that most travelers will use to explore the globe. Being a first mover in the AR avatar guide space.
- Weakness: Not understanding how difficult it will be to introduce a new way of exploring the world which may also be a strength...
- Opportunities: Once Sherpa is established, we will have celebrity tours. Wouldn’t it be cool do go on a DC tour with Barack Obama as your guide or have Tom Hanks show you around Hollywood?
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
Hiring a tour guide is expensive, time consuming and the quality can sometimes be substandard. Sherpa allows you to book a high-quality AR tour guide at a moment’s notice for a fraction of the cost.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
Ultimately, our app will be successful by word of mouth. However, before that happens, we will advertise Sherpa via the App Store and social media. Since we are first movers in this space, we are hopeful that we’ll receive favorable attention from the press and travel/AR influencers.
Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We’ve spoken with many travelers and many indicate that they do not go on tours because of the high cost and inconvenience of hiring a guide. People are used to the Uber model. They want it fast and low cost. Sherpa fills that need.
Walking tours is a multibillion-dollar industry that hasn’t had any true innovations in centuries.
How and when will you make money?
The app is free. Individual tours are for sale in the App Store.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?
This is my first startup. Every day I will attempt to make Sherpa better and better. Although I’m currently the only employee, I have a wide network of amazing people (app development team, writers, administrative team) helping me every day.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
Finding the right team to create the Sherpa app. After a lengthy search process, I found an amazing team that exceeded my expectations and is helping me make Sherpa a fantastic app.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
Before Uber, most people wouldn’t have identified the cab industry as something that needed to be revolutionized. It was just the status quo. This is the same situation that the walking tour industry is in. There are multiple pain points in this industry but people just assume that this is "just the way it is."
Sherpa will allow travelers to go on amazing walking tours for a few dollars at the touch of a button.
Are AR glasses part of Sherpa’s future?
Obviously, no one knows when AR glasses will become mainstream. But once it does, Sherpa will be there to offer a large library of tours for this emerging technology.
PhocusWire Startup Stage
Learn more about our profiling of new travel companies and how to apply.