GidsyÂ is a website doing a lively trade in authentic experiences for travelers. Locals in more than 140 cities worldwide use the site to sell their tours, courses and otherÂ experiences.
Travelers are a target market for the site’s tour guides, photography teachers, cooking instructors and other experts, thoughÂ the site also appeals to residents looking for fresh pastimes and outings in their hometown.
Founded in November 2011, GidsyÂ currently lists nearly 2,000 activities, which tend to beÂ quirkier or more homespun than what tourists usually come by on their own, such as aÂ walking tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light district led by a local crime reporter, lessons in Nordic cuisine for the home cook by a Danish native, and even a mobile sauna in a fire truck.
Nearly 50% of Gidsy’s listings are leisure activities operated byÂ hobbyists and sole proprietors. Its niche market differs from booking engines like Viator that tilt more heavily toward listing traditional mid-size tours and activities companies, such as Gray LineÂ or Key Tours. It says it will never become an engine.
Organizers of an activity set the prices. Gidsy manages payments, event scheduling, and cancellationsâ€”functions that other platforms don’t execute smoothlyâ€”or at all.
In the last four months, Gidsy has grown more than 20% every month,Â for both the number of bookings per month and for the number events being organized per month.
That said, the metric that’s really important to the founders is how many people return to the site and book another activity. That number has also been positive.
The company’s revenue plan is straightforward. It charges a 10% service fee once a booking has gone through successfully.
The Berlin-based startup has securedÂ $1.2 million in funding from investors, such as Alex Ljung,Â Ashton Kutcher, and Werner Vogels, and venture-capital firms, such as Index Ventures and Sunstone Capital.
It has a team of 15 people from nine different countries, including a new hire this month. In February, it launched a German version of its site.
Edial Dekker is the CEO, Floris Dekker is CPO, andÂ Phillipp Wassibauer is our CTO.
Q&A withÂ Floris Dekker, founder and CPO:
What does Gidsy do?
We allow anybody around the world to offer or book unique things to do. Gidsy helps people answer the question, “What to do?”
It also helps people share their expertise,Â even if they have never sold their services to strangers before.
Why did you start Gidsy?
In 2010 my brother Edial and IÂ went mushroom-picking to make risotto, but we werenâ€™t sure which mushrooms were poisonous. We looked around online but with no success: what we wanted was someone with that expertise who could come with us and guide us.
We realised this was an amazing opportunity to bring people together to share knowledge and have unique experiences.
HavingÂ moved from Amsterdam to Berlin, we decided to start Gidsy.
Since we launched in November 2011, we’ve figured out a lot of things, but we havenâ€™t made any dramatic changes. We certainly have the same vision as when we started, which is to bring people together for unique experiences.
Interestingly, something we had not initially expected was having locals, not just tourists, booking things to do on Gidsy, and this shows the popularity of the idea.
We wereâ€”and still areâ€”really excited by the idea and its potential. The space where Gidsy sits hadnâ€™t changed in 10 years, so we plan to change it radically.
We’re tapping into an existing global market size of $60 billion, but the opportunity is much bigger that that, as at the moment only around 10% of travel and leisure activities are booked online.
Who are your largest competitors?
ďżĽGidsy is a new idea so we didnâ€™t have examples to measure ourselves against.Â Our biggest competitors are other places people go when theyâ€™re looking for something to do.Â But our rivals donâ€™t have access to a unique group of suppliers. Nor do they facilitate transactions as seamlessly as we do.
We are looking to replace institutions like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, and we pride ourselves on helping people get under the skin of a place, whether thatâ€™s in their hometown or when theyâ€™re travelling.
The biggest thing that has happened in our industry has been moving from offline to online. But the experience is dreadful, as itâ€™s exactly the same content with a limited user experience.
It’s like newspapers putting PDFs on iPads. Rather, we’re focusing on the complete experience of bringing people together, not just taking it online.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
There are many reasons why people should use Gidsy, but if you just go to Gidsy.com, you’ll surely find things you want to do!
Equally, a lot of individuals can benefit from Gidsy as they can make a living out of it. Many people are still being made redundant; we have friends in London who have recently lost their jobs.
If people canâ€™t find their perfect job, they can create it – they can make money from doing the things they love, and sharing that passion or expertise. There is certainly demand for it.
What is the strategy for acquiring customers?
Our fee itself should help grow our user base as it is actually fairly little, as it just about covers our overheads, as well as providing customer service.
Gidsy makes booking activities a lot more personal than competitor marketplaces do, with a social sharing element built right in. Users can see who else is going to events, and get to know more about the person organising the event using social networks.
A lot of people have been getting excited about what weâ€™re doing at Gidsy, and theyâ€™re actually pretty keen to spread the word.
Weâ€™ve got a programme calledÂ Gidsy Explorers LeagueÂ for users that want to evangelise our brand.
Within that, weâ€™ve got amazingÂ City CaptainsÂ who are helping us spread the word all over the world. The thing that has worked best for us is when people talk to each other about Gidsy after a great experience. That is our goal with every visit, booking and other interaction with Gidsy.
What’s the secret behind your site’s great user experience?
More broadly, my brother Edial and I are both web designers who have had happy experiences with creating viral buzz.
Prior to Gidsy, we were a design startup. IÂ started a blog called Little Big Details, and today I co-run it with my colleagueÂ Andrew McCarthy. The two of usÂ made a lot of websites and designs for clients, and weÂ decided to create an archive of things that made a nice user experience on other websites
The blog became quite popular. It now has more than 150,000 followers on Tumblr.
We just kept it up.Â And when we started to work on Gidsy to apply some of the things we learned about blogging about design every day by making Gidsy a really nice product.
When youâ€™re working with design for a living, itâ€™s a positive thing to be exposed to inspiring examples, which can make you think about how to approach problems differently. The blog is one of those things that keeps us sharp and contributes to our focus on the user experience being a top priority.
Surprisingly, it’s uually really small stuff that inspires the design of Gidsy, such as hiding “Easter eggs” that make things more enjoyable for users.
For example, when we sent mass emails to customers, instead of sending it from an address called “Noemail@example.com” like many companies do, we email from an address labeled “firstname.lastname@example.org.Â That was something we learned from Little Big Details. Another company had done something similar.
Another example is how users can input their own vanity URL as a profile page within Gidsy, like mine, which is gidsy.com/floris. As an experience for the user,Â thatâ€™s quite a complicated thing. Many people donâ€™t undersand what a URL is. We collected a lot of examples of how developers at other companies walked customers through the creation of such a vanity URL.
That was a really important one. We didn’t have to re-invent the wheel entirely. It’s not about copying but about figuring out which problem to solve efficiently as quickly as possible.
Little Big Details does drive some traffic from its community to Gidsy, and its popularity helpedÂ establish our startup in the beginning that weâ€™re a legitimate website. Some of the people who organize tours and workshopsÂ already knew us from the blog.
Little Big Details has also been aÂ great way to find people to work with at Gidsy. We post on the blog for jobs openings.
I recommend building your own blog. Anything that shows your entrepreneurial ambition and the fact youâ€™re working on products is definitely something that potential investors find appealing.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time?
We want to become the place for anyone who is looking for something unique to do and wants to meet new people.
We want to create a new economy, where people can offer their skills, knowledge, and passion to anyone in the world.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
A lot of the travel and tourism is rather stale and needs challenger brands like Gidsy to shake things up.
People are never going to lose interest in travelling to new places and doing new things, so there needs to be more innovation in this space to meet this need for newness.
This part of the industry has never caught on with technology, or has focused on the whole experience of booking something online. For people who want to book things to do online, it is not a good experience at all.
We want to change that drastically!
Companies like 500 Startupsâ€™Â VayableÂ (which Tnooz has profiled), CanaryHop (which Tnooz has profiled), Techstarsâ€™Â SideTourÂ (which Tnooz has profiled), and Keith Petriâ€™s iGottaGuide (whose experience was well-covered in Tnooz) have also tried to create peer-to-peer marketplaces in the tours and activities space.
Of these, Vayable looks like the main rival to Gidsy in the peer-to-peer space.
Yet the economics of Gidsy are puzzling. TheÂ 10% service fee on bookings seems too low, given the niche market, to generate enough volume to coverÂ the costs of operation.
Another worry: What liability issues might Gidsy face? Will Gidsy succeed in training customers that any liabilities must be borne by the supplier of the activity, not the platform that lists it?
Perhaps this story will repeat the pattern of what happened with Airbnb, which just winged it about potential liability issues until there wasÂ a PR disasterÂ at the point they’ve achieved so much commercial momentum they have the resources to provide insurance or fund other solutions.
On the bright side, Gidsy is lucky in having the Dekker brothers among its founders.Â Their attention to user experience is evident in their site and also in their curation of the Little Big Details blog.
The brothers appear to be relentless networkers.Â Gidsy played host to the Travel MassiveÂ industry gathering in Berlin this week during the ITB conference and it drew about 200 attendees, above average for turnout in other cities that also hold the networking event periodically.
Face-to-face interactions with potential customers, businesses, and investors are something they’ve made a priority for their company. On March 16, for instance, Gidsy is holding its firstÂ MeetupÂ in Lisbon.
This old-fashioned social attitude is savvy on three counts. You expose yourself to serendipitous discoveries when you engage face to face with people who represent your core customers.
You stay focused aÂ very narrow market definition before expanding when you keep your core users in mind, and meeting people like your core users can help with that.
Networking can also help you gain contacts whom you can reach out to for help. Far too manyÂ entrepreneursÂ have a John Wayne, go-it-alone attitude.
Attending events like those can help a company keep at the top of their mind what’s important to their core users.
Hiring the best coders, designers, and marketers is also important, and the popularity of the networking events and the Little Big Details blog give them an edge in getting the best workers. For instance, a great coder will have an impact on the site of several orders of magnitude greater than a merely good coder. So, having this pool of talent is an advantage.
Gidsy also stands out for having a succinct marketing message. The brothers’ story of the mushroom-picking effort that sparked their idea helps tell, in a compact narrative, what their startup is about. They’re solving a problem they themselves faced, and that others might face, and that isn’t otherwise being addressed by the market.
Gidsy continues to do a few things that don’t seem like best practices and that could be corrected by reading some of the articles in this round-up of great start-up advice articles collected by Tom Eisenmann, Professor at Harvard Business School.
But all told, it seems like a promising enterprise in a space that will get intensively competitive within the next couple of years.