Last weekend, we (Eric and I) participated in the Startup Weekend Seattle. It was my 3rd Startup Weekend (Amsterdam in July and San Francisco in September) and Eric’s 2nd (Louisville). Timing for the event (November 16th-18th) turned out great, as I already had a ticket into Seattle on the 13th for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Further, the event was hosted by my former employer, Zillow – so was a great chance to go see some old colleagues and work on a new travel idea for a weekend.

We worked on TravelAngel.co. “Connect with a local expert in 60 seconds.”

The concept was a peer-to-peer marketplace to connect travelers with extremely knowledgeable locals, expats, or long term travelers.

The premise of the idea is that many people don’t want to spend 10 or 15 hours researching their next trip. They’d rather talk to someone knowledgeable about the area (either a current resident or traveler who has spent a lot of time in a given destination) for 30 or 60 minutes and get their specific questions answered. Heck, many of those individuals would love to pay that person to plan the whole trip for them (I just spoke with a friend last night who wants to pay someone to plan the logistics of her upcoming honeymoon).

The traditional travel agent model is broken. If I’m planning a trip to Beijing, I’d rather get advice from someone living in Beijing rather than someone sitting in an office down the street, who has likely never even been to China or maybe only been there once 4 years ago.

Similar to a site such as AirBnB, the business model would be based around transaction fees. For instance, if someone booked at $75 consultation with a Beijing expert, we’d make 15% of that as a transaction fee.

We proved this business model and actually made revenue over the course of the weekend. We connected someone we found planning a trip to Beijing in three weeks with Will Moyer, who has lived in Beijing the past two years. Thus, we earned 15% of $25 ($3.75).

Of the 35 people we surveyed, 49% said they would pay for the service. I know enough long term travelers who would be way more qualified than travel agents to give advice, and all of whom would love the chance to make some money for sharing their advice. We know both the demand and supply is out there – it’s just a matter of connecting the two.

Our team:

  • Eric Roland – ruby/ios architect
  • Yann Riche – UX
  • Pascal Carole – ruby
  • Chip Dong Lim – design
  • Paul Buxton – program management
  • Chris Kelly – marketing
  • Amit Deshpande – finance
  • Drew Meyers – 3 years of travel, ex zillow

Even we experienced a technology fail during the final pitch — our slide deck crapped out and I had to wing the pitch with no deck for the 1st 3 minutes of the 5 minutes allotted – we took home third place and a $250 gift certificate.

At the end of the event, someone came up to me and said he wanted to sign up to be the Libya expert — which further proves the supply side of this model is out there. If you’re interested in being a local expert for a given area, shoot me an email (drew at ohheyworld) or leave a comment.

We’ve taken the website down for now, but we plan on bringing the travel angel concept back under the Oh Hey World umbrella down the line. Overall, it was a fantastic experience working with some really amazing people.

Slide deck for those interested:

  • Version with no videos – https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwCtu5ygepbZMk1XN2RRVGFhcDQ
  • Version with videos (large file) – https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BwCtu5ygepbZcEVYWktXZVlfbVU

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