Startup Pitch: Noken promises to remove uncertainty from travel planning

New travel inspiration app startup Noken has tapped into an important dynamic in modern travel planning: choice paralysis. With so many places now affordable to visit and so many activities on offer, planning may have become overwhelming for some. We know that travel planning can take way too long. Noken addresses choice paralysis by offering passengers expert curated itineraries with engaging guides in the palms of their hands.

What problem does your business solve?

To plan an authentic travel experience, the modern traveler has to spend hours scrolling the internet, piecing together disparate resources and managing various bookings. Ironically, planning a great vacation ends up feeling a lot like work.

To solve for this, we’re reinventing the old-school, pre-packaged tour industry for the modern traveler. Noken curates end-to-end travel blueprints that are customized to individual budgets, booked in moments and then self-guided using a personalized app. With Noken, travelers get all of the experience, with none of the work.

Names of founders, their management roles, and number of full-time paid staff?

Noken is a team of five: Marc Escapa (cofounder and CEO), Emily Brockway (cofounder and CMO), Matthew Ratzloff (VP of Engineering), Parshwa Khambhati (Operations) and Alex Dittrich (Growth).

Funding arrangements?

We raised a pre-seed round in September 2017, led by Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and we will raise our seed round in Spring 2018.

Revenue model?

Travelers pay only a flat $5 per day service fee to book a Noken blueprint, receive the app-guide, and access a 24/7 concierge. The flat fee ensures Noken’s incentives are aligned to curate the best (not necessarily the most expensive) providers. Like all other booking platforms, Noken also earns between 10%-20% on all reservations.

Why do you think the pain point you’re solving is painful enough that customers are willing to pay for your solution?

The modern consumer longs for two things: convenience and authenticity. Time and time again, we have seen this trend unfold in a variety of industries; an innovative company leverages their expertise to synthesize a messy process and provide a radically convenient way to access a superior product. Just look at Wealthfront, Casper, WeWork and Allbirds, to name a few.

The travel industry, though, has not caught up to the modern traveler’s needs, and in today’s offerings, there is an inherent trade-off between convenience and authenticity. On one hand, to get a great travel experience, travelers must invest hours piecing together resources, planning and booking. On the other hand, to get a convenient travel experiences, travelers must sacrifice an individualized, authentic experience. Take traditional tour packages for instance. They allow you to purchase a trip in a few clicks, but you’re placed in a large, unfamiliar group, loaded onto coach buses and led by a tour guide holding some sort of flag.

With Noken, you’re getting a superior experience with unparalleled ease, and the Noken fee is only ~3% of your trip value.

External validation?

Noken was founded by Marc and Emily at Harvard Business School and was incubated through the Rock Accelerator at Harvard. Marc previously worked for Turo, a successful peer-to-peer car rental startup, and Emily has worked at various startups and most recently was the special assistant to the CEO at Box.

During Noken’s beta period in 2017, the company scrappily rolled-out its beta in Iceland with a prototyped app via Invision. Noken sent hundreds of beta travelers to Iceland with the prototyped app and received wildly high NPS scores. Noken is set to launch in the beginning of February 2018.

Tnooz view:

We’re excited! At heart, Noken is the modern, digital interpretation of an old-school travel agency accessible on a flash app—but it shows promise.


The detailed, informative guides, the 24/7 concierge answering advice via chat, helpful step-by-step navigation, a clean UX on the web and the app, and beautiful imagery all show how carefully the developers thought through the pain points of travel.


Eschewing any trip ratings feature in favor of curated travel expert insights reflects Noken’s retro-revamp travel agency mindset. It may be a good idea given growing skepticism and systematic manipulations of reviews. It’s a hassle they avoid.


There are great opportunities to grow partnerships as Noken adds destinations. Airlines connecting through an API would simplify the flight bookings for customers and might boost revenue further.


If the founders at Noken can keep to this formula while scaling, they may be on to something big (and make themselves a good prospect for acquisition).

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is a guest editorial contributor. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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