Startup pitch: TripleLights connects foreign visitors with professional guides in Japan

TripleLights helps visitors to Japan by connecting them with professional tour guides by claiming it removes the possibility of a bad experience.

The Tokyo-based company has government licensed tour guides in its system, each of which craft travel itineraries and publish on the site for travellers to reserve.

Users can browse itineraries by destinations, read through an itinerary in detail, check reviews and availability, and also watch videos from the guides.

The startup was launched in April 2014 by Naoaki Hashimoto (CEO and co-founder) and Yojiro Kato (co-founder).

Hashimoto tells us that getting a tour guide license in Japan is difficult because of the tough exam required to obtain a license.

Hashimoto launched TripleLights based on his own disappointing experience when hiring two sub-standard tour guides during a trip to Tibet.

triplelights home 1

Q&A with Hashimoto below:

Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?

We have 21 members from five countries. Both me and Kato worked at Accenture for about five years.

After that, I worked in the travel department at Recruit for five years. And, Kato started an offshore IT development company.

Rodrigo  (CTO) is from Argentina. Prior to this, he was the president of a IT company. The software he developed was selected as one of the best 31 apps by PC-World in 2012. He joined us last year.

Funding arrangements?

We’re self funded.

Estimation of market size?

We estimate the tour guide market size in Japan at $80 million. About 0.6 million tourists used guide service in Japan in 2013.

However, by 2020, the market size in Japan will be $156 million and 1.2 million tourists will be travelling by that time. Since TripleLighs is a scalable model, we can scale to other countries easily.


There are companies such as Vayable and GetYourGuide, however, TripleLights offers something different compared to them. We focus only on professional tour guides.

Revenue model and strategy for profitability?

It’s a commission based model.

What problem does the business solve?

TripleLights can solve two major problems:

a) Tourists’ problem:

Tourists don’t enjoy the tour because they are not able to select the best tour guides. Usually, travel agencies will send tour guides to assist their tour group or individual travellers. But, sometimes, tourists are forced by the guides to go to souvenir shops, sometimes guides are not friendly, not hospitable, not fluent in a traveller’s language, and not knowledgeable about destinations at all.

b) Guides’ problem:

There are about 18,000 professionally qualified tour guides in the country. The quality of experience from these guides will be very different from the non-professional/volunteer guides.

The problem is under utilization of these professional tour guides – believe it or not – 50% of these tour guides work less than three days a month!

How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?

Initially, we began with a freemium model by providing the first two hours of tour guide service for free. Our thought was – once travellers are happy with the initial two hours of service, then they can buy a tour package for a cost for the rest of their day.

But, we realized that tourists already plan their itinerary even before they land in Japan. We learned that tourists don’t want to change their itinerary even if they are really satisfied with our tour service.

So, we stopped the freemium model and focused on web booking model so that tourists can play their trip to Japan in TripleLights.

What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?

Our marketing strategy is SEO. We can generate many good blog posts (written by tour guides) in several languages everyday.

Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?

We will expand our service to countries outside Japan, also the focus themes will expand to shopping and food industry. Tourists need help in buying souvenirs and also in finding good restaurants. Guides can help them.

What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?

Travellers cannot choose guides by themselves and it is even difficult to find good guides.

On the other hand, the tour guide industry is still not matured. Guides doesn’t have enough job opportunity.

What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?

I admire Priceline for their growth. I want to follow their strategy and passion to provide good trips to tourists.

Tnooz view

TripleLights’ core differentiation from other companies – that connect travellers with locals – is its professional tour guide service.  But, the competition is also from social travel startups like Japan’s Trippiece (secured $2 million recently), Compathy (TLabs here) and the likes of travel planning startups.

Since tour guides are the base for TripleLights, the company faces competition from audio tour guide service industry, and mobile-based offline destination content providers as well.

Needless to say, the direct threat to TripleLights is the unorganized tour guides segment – where anyone with any little knowledge about anything (with respect to travel) can make their service available online via various marketplace sites to serve customers.

With the availability of mobile based services, rich online information, and non-professional tour guides, it is possible that a customer might be satisfied with these combination than a professional tour guide.

Irrespective of all of these, human service cannot be matched digitally, that is something to ponder on. This comparison is similar to the service offered by online travel agents versus offline travel agents.

TripleLigthts might have to scale to destinations outisde Japan as well to expand the marketsize and revenue scope.

Vine video of TripleLights

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Karthick Prabu

About the Writer :: Karthick Prabu

Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.



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  1. Ray

    Doesn’t offer the same exact service?

  2. Nat

    Awesome design! Great idea to focus on licensed guides. Guess, a major threat is the possibility of the government eliminating/changing the current licensed guides system in Japan.

  3. Andy Ryan

    “50% of these tour guides work less than than days a month!” – would be helpful to actually have a number in that sentence…


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