Startup Pitch – ViaHero focuses on planning trips to Iceland and Cuba
ViaHero is a trip-planning site which serves as a marketplace platform to connect travellers with locals who serve not only as a guide during the trip but also as a de facto personal travel agent (who works on flat fee basis rather than commission).
Currently the site helps travellers looking to visit Cuba and Iceland, although it plans to add more destinations over time.
Before the Q&A, here’s a 60 second elevator pitch video from its CEO, Greg Buzulencia:
1. What problem does your business solve?
Independent travellers lack the time and local knowledge to plan an international trip, especially one that’s off the beaten path to destinations such as Cuba or Iceland.
Increasingly people want unique, local experiences. Right now you can spend 30+ hours planning it out, wing it once you get there, or use a travel agent that’s incentivized to sell you a more expensive trip and who lacks local knowledge.
2. Names of founders, their management roles, and number of full-time paid staff?
Greg Buzulencia, CEO. Two full-time employees.
3. Funding arrangements?
$230,000 from four investors to date
4. Revenue model?
Locals set a rate, per day of travel planning. We take a 25% cut of their rate. Additionally, for about 50% of trips we can make affiliate revenue when a customer clicks on a booking link our locals provided them.
5. Why do you think the pain point you’re solving is painful enough that customers are willing to pay for your solution?
Firstly, planning your own international trip sucks. There is a dizzying amount of content, reviews and tools to sift through when planning your trip. Plus there are so many variables to your trip that don’t exist when planning a trip to your own country. This is overwhelming to a lot of people.
Currently, there is no good marketplace to find someone to plan your trip. Some travel agents do a great job building a personalized trip for the new generation of travellers, but how do you find those great agents?
And how do you find validation from other customers who have used these agents?
We’re in this cycle of humans providing curation services. Pre-2000 we used travel agents. From 2000-2015 OTAs, review sites and DIY tools made it possible to plan your trip yourself. Now there is so much out there we need curation again.
Travel planning just needs a digital interface for human-based curation. AI and chatbots can assist in this, but ultimately human connection is what can make your trip spectacular.
6. External validation?
We were accepted to the AlphaLab accelerator in Pittsburgh.
Our mentor team includes the former VP of content at TripAdvisor, who was a part of the founding team, and the VP of Gateway Travel Management, which recently sold to Carlson Wagonlit.
The founder has scaled operations in two companies by 1000+%, one leading to an exit with Amazon. Our developer was a part of the UI team at Google Shopping. Our marketing team helped develop Amazon’s SEO strategy.
“Trip planning” is in danger of believing its own publicity – an entire sector predicated on the idea that everyone going on a leisure trip wants to have their itinerary mapped out in advance by a person or an algorithm.
Many sites in this space are also trying to capture the trend to “live like a local” (whatever that might mean) and connect one of these “locals” with the traveller (who is definitely not a tourist).
This ignores the fact that many people are happy hanging out by the pool or on the beach, visiting the mainstream attractions or just seeing what the day might bring.
This is not intended as a specific criticism of ViaHero, which if anything has made a clever move in concentrating, initially at least, on two destinations where advance planning would be of benefit. Turning up in Reykjavík or Havana without any plans is a different proposition to arriving unprepared in London or New York.
And ViaHero is in a good position in that it is not having to chase every traveller visiting every country, just those heading off to Iceland and Cuba. Being able to target its marketing and human resources so tightly could allow it to become a market leader in these destinations, rather than just being lost in the crowd were it to try to have a wider reach.
Perhaps other trip-planning sites could learn from ViaHero’s laser-focus on starting off with two destinations and consider whether they want to be a generalist or a specialist.
Martin Cowen is contributing editor for Tnooz and is based in the UK. Besides reporting and editing, he also oversees our sponsored content initiative and works directly with clients to produce articles and reports.
For the past several years he has worked as a freelance writer, specialising in B2B distribution and technology.
Before freelancing, from 2000-2008, he was launch editor for e-tid.com, the first online-only B2B daily news service for the UK travel sector.