Travel suggestions on the Web abound, but one Austin, TX, startup says it can provide tourists with the inside scoop on a destination through a selected group of residents themselves.
Localeur—think “local” plus “connoisseur”—has focused on what co-founder and CEO Joah Spearman calls experiences rather than reviews. “Reviews are very good for products—‘You should go see this restaurant’—but aren’t too great for crafting experiences,” he explains. “I really want to feel like I lived in, say, Portland for a week. The best thing is having a trusted friend show you around.”
Localeur aims to be the friend a traveler didn’t know he had, the one that happens to know the coolest things to do in a hip city. To do this, the startup doesn’t focus on a list of top 10 things to do or sights to see, as is the case with most travel guides. Instead, it gives readers thematic options, such as the “Best Coffee Shops in Austin to work from.”
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This approach gives Localeur a more “in-the-know” feel than existing city-specific travel websites and apps such as Chowhound, CultureMap, Eater, and Zagat, Spearman says. He adds that Localeur also appeals to a younger and hipper constituency, unlike general-interest travel websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp.
At the heart of the operation, Spearman says, are the “Localeurs,” the local residents, whether long-time or just-arrived, who provide the site’s content. “We don’t have editorial control over what locals write,” he adds.
In Austin, the tribe is an eclectic mix: a DJ, a graphic designer, and a bartender, among others. Localeurs recruit their friends, who then also become localeurs, thus creating what the startup says is its key advantage: young, trendy residents users would want in their circle of friends.
Despite not fitting into Localeur’s preferred demographic—the Millennials—I was curious to tap into the website’s expertise. I am an avid traveler, having visited about a dozen countries in the last year, and am always looking for travel guides that will take me off the beaten path. I was especially intrigued to see how Localeur portrayed Houston and Austin, cities I already know well. I could definitely see crafting an afternoon based on one of their suggestions.
The titles are certainly catchy. “The Ultimate Guide to Manly Sh*t in Houston,” which includes a trip to the Battleship Texas and a plate of “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” wings at Goro & Gun, is certainly a different way to approach the Bayou City. Austin’s Food and Dining section offers contributions on both the “Best Tequila Destinations” and, presumably for the day after, the “Best Places to Cure a Hangover.”
San Francisco is Localeur’s newest city, so the experiences are not yet as robust or numerous as in the Texas cities. But it does include, tongue firmly in cheek, “How to be Straight in the Castro” and “Six Bars to Meet Your Next Hipster Boyfriend.”
The startup, which has raised $350,000 from angel investors, launched six months ago, and it has expanded quickly, to Houston (in June) and San Francisco (earlier this month.) A New York site is expected to debut next month: Can a guide to “Sundowners at Brooklyn’s Best Rooftop Gardens” be far off?
Spearman and his co-founder Chase White, who is Localeur’s president, met when they both worked for Bazaarvoice (NASDAQ: BV), an Austin-based ratings-and-review software company. Spearman led Bazaarvoice’s market strategy in travel, while White coordinated software design for retail and brand clients.
Localeur hired a marketing director earlier this month, and while Spearman was in San Francisco for Localeur’s launch party, he spent a few days visiting with venture capital firms to discuss funding. He says he’s not sure whether the startup will aim to raise venture funding or stick with angels, but added that he hopes to raise an additional $350,000 to $750,000, with an eye to becoming profitable by the end of its second year.
He declined to share details about the startup’s business strategy, except to say that his priority is to “create a path to profitability at scale that companies in this space have not been able to demonstrate even five to 10 years into their lives.”
Localeur’s investors include Travis Devitt, a hedge fund senior analyst who is also part of the Central Texas Angel Network; Michael Francis, director of strategy for biotech giant Amgen; and Adam Bain, a former Goldman Sachs vice president in Los Angeles.
In addition to expanding its website geographically, in July, Localeur signed a content partnership deal with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) that will enable it to share its content further on the Web. Spearman wouldn’t disclose the financials of the deal, but says that the benefits include wider online exposure and a vote of confidence that brings Localeur credibility with investors.
To my mind, Localeur’s main drawback that it’s operating in only three cities, so its offerings are limited. Spearman says his team is planning a rapid expansion and hopes to have a total of eight destinations available for travelers by the end of the year.
In the meantime, he says Localeur’s top priority is getting its mobile app ready and launched—something I was surprised it has not already done, especially considering the startup’s demographic. “People want to be able to use Localeur when they land in a new city,” he acknowledges. “They want to land and be able to look up, ‘What’s a cool coffee shop near me?’ ”
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