Taking its name from explorer, Antonio Pigafetta, credited with being part of the first team to circumnavigate the world, Pigafe is boldly taking on the world of tours and experiences.
The start-up is setting out to provide tours and experiences by locals combined with professionally-organised activities.
A five-strong team is led by founder and general manager Ruben Jimenez, who has a background in economics and has worked his way through the ranks of an IT department first as webmaster and developer and then as project manager.
He is joined by Fernando Morenilla, CTO/project manager, Alfonso Falcon, senior PHP/SQL developer, Diego Rigabert in charge of marketing and finance and Javier Garcia, marketing and design.
The project is self-funded with a Euro 50,000 investment to date and the start-up says it’s looking for just a small percentage of the millions of travellers that walk through New York’s Time Square, go up the Eiffel Tower or visit Spain.
“Every year 43 million visit Italy, 53 million visit Spain, 60 million visit the USA and 77 million visit France. That’s a lot of people traveling and looking to have a unique experience. We target just a small slice of that amount, those who travel their own way, without having a defined agenda and don’t want to follow someone else’s footprints.”
The revenue model is a service fee – ‘significantly smaller than the industry standard’ – and the company says it’s not looking to integrate flight and hotel booking engines as it believes they affect usability.
Q&A with general manager Ruben Jimenez:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
Our main focus is to organize and structure all kinds of travel activities to discover unique experiences.Â We believe today all this kind of information is unorganized and the traveler spends too much time looking for the right fit.
On the one hand service hosts can publish details of as many services or experiences of any kind as they want (for free), on the other hand travelers can search through hundreds of services, since Pigafe is open to any city.Â This experience search is beautifully organized with a user-friendly interface but without distracting ads.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
We understand there are several types of travelers looking for different kind of experiences, from the backpacker to ‘just married’ couple or elders. Therefore we offer a big variety of services for you to choose from, some may fit your expectations some others may not, but in a particular place you’ll find all kind of activities that can be done, rated by previous travelers and offered by local individuals. You don’t depend anymore on the flyers at your hotel reception desk where you pick the experiences blindly.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
In our particular case, we have to build two social networks, one to buy services and another one to offer those services. At this early stage (weÂ´re only three months old) we’re focusing in online campaigns only, we’re present and very active in the most common social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but also utilizing adwords, stumbleupon and direct marketing to build up brand awareness. And weÂ´re very happy with it, both networks are increasing at high speed, even faster than we expected.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
As any other company we have to adapt constantly to meet customer expectations. We are taking special care on feedback and improving constantly the tools.
Our focus at the moment is twofold, from one side to grow the network of users and hosts and to make it as user friendly as possible. Our team thinks on design and usability before considering any possible change, that’s our main key factor.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
It is extremely important to look at the tool as a customer, not as a business man, you have to think as if you were looking at the web for the first time and trying to understand in one shot what the tool is about and what can I expect from it. That’s why for example we decided to create a How To video to explain everything in 3 minutes, or to show the prototype to several kinds of travelers and learn from their feedback.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
In one word, complexity. There are many sites out there trying to sell you everything from the same screen, one hotel on the left term side, a flight on top of the site, a rental car at the bottom.. We believe this is not effective and only distracts users from their goal. We think users have their own ideas on how to get those things separately, you look for flight and Kayak comes to your mind, looking for hotels and Â booking.com is going to show up, a vacation room, then airbnb. Our goal is to set pigafe in everyoneÂ´s mind when you think, what can I do in Venice this weekend?
This is a fascinating sector which is attracting a lot of interest and already a great many start-ups. Since this Tnooz list and analysis piece was written on p2p marketplaces, even more, e.g. CanaryHop – Tlabs here, have emerged so it’s difficult to see how they will all scale and survive.
On the downside the person-to-person tours and activities marketplace seems crowded but on the upside Gidsy and Tripbod both attracted funding earlier this year - Tripbod a ‘sizeable seed round’ and Gidsy $1.2m – so there’s definitely something in it.
The Pigafe model is admirable in that there are no plans to make money by adding booking engines for other products. It just wants to keep the user-interface clean. However, on service fees alone, it will take a while for the company to build momentum and it also has the task of ramping up content really quickly.
Then there are the insurance issues that will keep rearing their ugly heads such as personal liability for hosts in case a traveler is injured. There may also be other local tax and regulation implications.
So, yes a thumbs up for addressing the current demand for unique experiences but still pretty much an unproven model.