Startup pitch: Polarsteps automatically tracks and plots worldwide jaunts
As mobile technology evolves, startups are granted new ways to offer travel services – such as Polarsteps, which is leveraging ambient location technology to provide frictionless travel tracking.
The main feature is the ability to easily log travels via a mobile device – even without access to GPS and internet.
That last piece is the true innovation here, insofar as it’s the most recent example of how ambient location tracking can allow for a refresh on the traditional “travel blog” interface and product.
The startup then adds the ability to add photos afterwards to create a true multimedia representation of a journey – something that could then be easily shared on social media or even act as the basis of an in-person presentation after a particular trip.
Yep, that would mean a modern take on the “trip slideshow” where everyone gathers around a slide projector to see snaps from abroad! Full privacy controls creates peace-of-mind for those that don’t want to blindly and broadly share a current location or trip.
The 6-person startup, which was seed-funded by an angel and TMG Startups, explains more about its take on modern trip journaling in the Vine and Q&A below.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
The founders at Polarsteps are a bunch of passionate travellers who – just like any other traveller – want to tell stories that would make Marco Polo jealous. Yet, we felt that the solutions which were available for this did not capture the essence of how we want to report our journeys. That’s why a few years ago, our co-founder Niek decided to jump in and create something himself. He wrote software on a sailing trip that shared trip updates with his family via a satellite phone. His site caused a stir among travelers, who loved the concept of real-time telling your story on a map.
Based on those experiences and the enthusiastic reactions from the travel community, we decided to build an app and website for a greater audience.
What is the size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Polarsteps is founded by an experienced team with a passion for code, design and traveling. We worked for companies and startups including Hyves, Google and Philips, and (co-) founded multiple successful startups in previous roles.
The current team consists of Niek Bokkers (creative & product), Paco Gomez (frontend development), Maximiliano Neustadt (CTO), Job Harmsen (UI/UX), and Koen Droste (CEO).
What is your estimation of market size?
Our primary target audience consists of adventurous young travellers such as backpackers and overlanders. Our secondary target audience are more regular travellers, such as exchange students, roadtrip travellers and young people on a short holiday. According to a study, youth travel stands at about 200 million travellers per year.
Please describe your competition.
In recent years, the platforms which were most used for travel logging are general social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and long-form travel blogs with a focus on desktop (such as TravelPod). With Polarsteps we want to build the best mobile travel log and in this field there has not been much innovation.
The only mobile travel log gaining some amount of traction was EveryTrail. Their product however is very contrary to our product principles. We focus on things like design, simplicity and the use of innovative technology that also works without internet and doesn’t drain your battery.
Please explain your revenue model and strategy for profitability.
With regards to monetization: the current beta version of Polarsteps is primarily aimed at helping consumers log their routes and tell their travel stories. We believe that travel organizations have amazing routes to share as well, and we want to offer them the possibility to create branded accounts where they can share those routes and their stories. Features that we are considering include things like embedding content on their own websites, easily sharing it on social media channels and adding booking & pricing info directly to the trips.
Once we reach a critical mass, we want Polarsteps to become the “top of mind” place for discovering, logging and sharing beautiful routes. The monetization model we see around that focuses on a marketplace for routes and monetizing our trend data about destinations and the collective travel behavior of consumers. Additional income may come from consumer features (such as ordering printed photo albums), but that’s not the core of our envisioned business model.
What problem does the business solve?
Travel storytelling is nothing new. Ever since the beginning of mankind, the story of the traveller has resonated more than any other. From stories at a pre-historic campfires, to the ship logs of 15th century explorers, to the age of photography, video and the internet. We’re now entering the era of mobile, but travel storytelling hasn’t evolved much further than longform travel blogs and general social media. With Polarsteps we want to fill this gap, so travelers can use the full potential of mobile technology to inspire, entertain and educate others with their routes and stories
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
The first idea came from our co-founder Niek, who made a trans-Atlantic sailing trip from France to the Carribean a few years ago. He brought a GPS-device with him to track his route and published updates on a website by sending his coordinates to a server through a satellite phone. His site went viral among backpackers and overlanders, who all loved the concept of telling your story on a map. Ensuing prototypes were tested on an overland trip from the Netherlands to Mongolia in a Jeep Cherokee and a trip on a
Ensuing prototypes were tested on an overland trip from the Netherlands to Mongolia in a Jeep Cherokee and a trip on a motorbike from the Netherlands to South Africa. Based on the lessons learned we started building a version for general release, which is now in public beta. The core vision – telling travel stories on a beautiful map – always remained the same.
The core vision – telling travelstories on a beautiful map – always remained the same.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Polarsteps is perfect for those who are looking for and easy and beautiful way to log their journeys while backpacking, overlanding or road tripping. With Polarsteps, you can even log your route without taking your phone out of your pocket.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Our team has extensive experience in viral growth hacking: using social media, viral marketing and big data to let sites grow. One of the latest sites we built – Upcoming.nl – grew from 0 to 800.000 unique visitors per month within 10 months after launch, with a zero marketing budget. For Polarsteps we plan a similar strategy. We are helped here by the fact that our users have a natural incentive to share their journeys with close friends and family.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
We want to become the best mobile travel log in the world. Once we’ve grown our userbase, we think we can expand to more activities than just the logging of the journey itself. For example it would be great to give our users recommendations on travel routes based on the routes that others followed.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The services that enable travellers to tell their story have not yet embraced the endless possibilities of the mobile era.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
We’d rather align ourselves to the culture and style of a good hostel. Open, inspiring and with a strong believe in travel karma: do good things to people you meet on your travels, and good things will happen to you.
Polarsteps has been working on its product in stealth for nearly a year now, and the timing couldn’t be better for launch. Gyroscope recently opened up its product, which promises to offer an entirely new channel for content creators and marketers alike. This also means that users are already being conditioned to accept — and be excited about — seamless realtime sharing across devices and wearables.
Polarsteps will fit nicely within these larger “super trackers,” and offer an additional compelling reason for travelers to begin sharing. The simplicity of the interface is also key, as it takes no effort to get started. The map then allows travelers to refresh their own experiecne and create a mapped-out memory of each specific point in a trip.
The storytelling capabilities are also robust, allowing each point on the map to be fleshed out with stories and photos to create a full narrative. Of course, there are plenty of travel logging sites that have come and gone. There’s an inherent challenge in this type of business, but with a smart team and a growing community, this could turn into a viable business. Again, the timing for real-time tracking couldn’t be better and this product could find easy integration opportunities within other already-established ecosystems.
Nick Vivion is a writer and strategist. He was a Tnooz reporter and global events lead between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America, at Zomato.