Gtrot, Looking to Create Social Travel Guides, Better Maps Friends’ Globetrotting Plans

7/12/10Follow @xconomy

While on his college spring break in Cancun in 2009, Zachary Smith ran into about a dozen other friends he didn’t know would be there. “The ability to coordinate that ahead of time would have really enriched my travel experience,” says Smith, who graduated from Harvard University last year.

That experience provided the inspiration for gtrot, the startup he co-founded. The Cambridge-based company originated as a senior-year final project, went on to win the I3 Harvard College Innovation Challenge, and is now live online with about 3,000 users.

Gtrot is a Web portal for helping travelers better sync up their globe-trotting plans with their friends. It links to users’ Facebook profiles to pull in information on their friends who have also entered rough travel itineraries into the gtrot site and plots the plans on a map. For you and each of your buddies, gtrot creates a travel profile, showing where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you’re getting there. (Check out the homepage for a quick demo.) Users can also book flights, hotels, and cabs directly though Kayak.com and Hotels.com plug-ins on the gtrot site—features that automatically then input users’ travel plans to their profiles. (You can choose to keep certain trips private, though).

The website allows you to better integrate your travel plans on several levels. If you’re looking to connect with a particular buddy, you can search the past and upcoming trips of that friend. If you have a set week you’re planning to have off from work or school, and aren’t sure where to go, you can scan your social network based on a particular date. The gtrot site will produce a map marked with the trips friends have input, and you can select a particular location to see which friends will be there. “It creates a heat map of all the places in the world your friends are visiting,” Smith says.

Also, if you already have a trip planned and are curious to see which friends might happen to be in the same city at the time of the trip, you can filter your gtrot search based on the destination and date. This function will help prevent those instances of realizing after the fact that you and a friend were halfway across the globe in the same city together but had no idea.

The company is rolling out a second generation of its service in the next few months, with a focus on integrating consumers’ social media posts into their travel logs. That way, friends can see not just where their compadres have traveled to, but what they thought about and experienced at those places. “It creates a streaming social travel guide based on a user’s experience,” Smith says.

This updated gtrot will capture users’ tweets, Foursquare check-ins, Facebook posts, and the like while they are at a particular destination, and archive them in the users’ travel profile on gtrot. You’ll be able to see which restaurants, hotels, and tourist spots friends checked out in foreign cities, based on the real-time thoughts friends are already sharing via these online tools. Smith says this version of gtrot will also help give more of a shelf life to these online musings, which often get quickly buried on users’ social media profiles beneath more recent updates. “They’re not optimized for longer-term sharing; it’s sort of a black hole of information,” Smith says.

Gtrot is focusing intently on product development and customer acquisition now, though Smith says the latter has come about pretty organically. The site launched on December 12, 2009, mainly marketing to friends at Harvard, and had 700 users by New Year’s, Smith says. The team started with $15,000 it won from the aforementioned Harvard I3 business competition last spring, and worked through the summer on getting the website live. The competition also gave them office space in Harvard Square, and some legal help. Most of the gtrot team works out of New York right now, and the startup is gearing up to raise institutional funding.

The company currently brings in some money through travel that is booked through the Kayak and Hotels.com plug-ins on the site (which come at no extra cost to users), Smith says. It’s looking to make most of its money from advertisements as its user base swells. “Ultimately, we’re going to have a massive portfolio of user travel plans,” he says.

He’s looking to partner with organizations that can enrich users’ travel experiences. For example, the site could connect consumers with a Groupon—the fast-growing source of group-powered discounts for entertainment, food, and salon-type venues—for a particular destination they’ve logged on gtrot. “To the extent that we can provide value-added recommendations but also monetize those, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Smith says.

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