TLabs Showcase – iGottaGuide

TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based iGottaGuide, a platform to connect travellers with locals in cities.


Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?

I am Keith Petri, lifelong entrepreneur, lover of travel and hater of tourists’ traps. I founded my first business in high school – an online market place for art meant to give artists a less-exclusive retail outlet, and buyers a way to discover new art.

Just like iGottaGuide, the idea was all about democratization  – taking the power away from the gatekeepers and giving customers a greater range of choices at a lower price.

Between then and now, I have started and run a number of other businesses, such as eBranding Me, which is all about educating people (especially students) about the importance of managing their online footprint, and how to do that.

What financial support did you have to launch the business?

iGottaGuide has been completely self-funded up to this point, however, we have some pretty exciting ideas and may look for outside funding to realize them very soon.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Nothing is worse than a spectacular trip made mediocre by bad planning.  Nobody tries to book bland, cookie-cutter trips, but the reality is that the current offering of guidebooks and travel websites don’t make it easy to find unique activities.

Instead of limiting you to established tours, iGottaGuide helps you find an authentic, local experience that caters to your interests.

We want to save you from a vacation wasted on big-box tours where the guides walk backwards with gaggle of tourists in tow.  Don’t compromise  – it’s your vacation and it should be about you, not you and 30 strangers.

Describe the business, core products and services?

iGottaGuide gives visitors a way to find professional and amateur guides with unique local knowledge so that guests can see New York like a real New Yorker.

Our goal isn’t to offer the same generic tours that other sites have; our goal is to host, small, offbeat tours you can’t find on your own.

Who are your key customers and users at launch?

We are focused on New York right now, but once we move out of the beta stage we will be expanding to other cities as well.

Our key customers are visitors to the city, but we’re also marketing our services to New Yorkers who are looking to experience their hometown in a fun, new way.

Actively recruiting new guides has been integral to the success of our site; we’re always looking expand our offerings with more of the unique experiences other New Yorker’s have to offer.

Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?

The hardest thing I have had to learn as an entrepreneur is to trust a good idea, and trust that consumers will recognize the value of that idea.  If you put the money before the customer, you’re bound to poison the well.

Put the customer first, and money will almost always follow.

What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?

My vision is to one day make iGottaGuide entirely free, but in the meantime we charge a 15% service fee with hopes of reducing that in the near future.

SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?


  • We’re the only site to offer a purely open market for local experiences – anyone can become a guide!  Our open market model ensures that costs are kept low, quality is kept high (something assured by our review and ratings system) and ensures that a wide array of tours available.  We want to have tours to suit every interest!


  • In the beginning we have to fight against inertia.  We’re committed to keeping the quality of our offerings high, which means I am personally reviewing our initial tour offerings until the rating system can take over quality control.   It’s time intensive, but we think our customers are worth it.


  • Travel and tourism is a worldwide industry, and the activity market is currently the fastest growing segment – representing $26.7 billion in annual revenue. Tourists aren’t content to simply see sights anymore, they want to get out and do.  iGottaGuide offers intrepid travellers the chance to get out and live like a local.


  • There are a number of tour aggregation websites already in the market.  None of those sites foster the creation of new, unique tours like iGottaGuide does, but because they already have established their web presence they could potentially detract from iGottaGuide’s traffic.

Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?

Initially some were skeptical online communities could autonomously control the quality of their participants. However, websites such as Quora, Wikipedia, and especially eBay, have proven that users can self-regulate with remarkable effectiveness.

What is your success metric 12 months from now?

Within 12 months I would like to have a growing number of independent tours listed in New York, and be in the initial stages of rolling out iGottaGuide across the globe. Hopefully I’ll manage to fit in a vacation of my own as well.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Claude

    The Global Greeters Network already do what you are trying to do > amateur guides with unique local knowledge

    I know a little bit, because I am a greeter for Marseille Provence area and since the begining…

    We are a association, but in other area in France some DMO or Tourism Board handle the greeters network.

    If you are looking for a Marseille tip-top discovery, ask me 🙂



  2. Johannes

    Great to see these guys coming along. In fact GetYourGuide started off with exactly the same value proposition in 2008, but we saw that it didn’t work out for us at the time and pivoted into the professional tours & attractions market.

    The tough part about building a C2C activities website is the chicken & egg, similar to AirBnB’s very rough start. I believe it is possible to do it in the tours & activities space, but you really need to develop a community around the product.

    Good luck!

    • Keith Petri

      The iGottaGuide teams absolutely loves GetYourGuide! I personally did not know your company started with the same vision as we have today. I would value your input and feedback and hope to make your past vision and our current business model succeed. After all, AirBnB has proven their is a market for C2C in travel & leisure!

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Johannes
      I didn’t know that company history of yours. It does make sense though from your company name!

      Do you regret now moving from guides into tours/attractions or do you still think these guide marketplaces are going to struggle and you would make the same decision today?

      I still think one of the largest hurdles with these guide / experience websites is that the PPC model just can’t compete (due to the low value product) vs multi-day tours in the same destination.

      Hence marketing is about partnerships (tricky technically and MOST (not all) don’t do much, even once you have done the integration) or about consumer marketing – which is just expensive again vs the value of the experiences / guide services.

      However, these sites do tend to have the most appealing product, even if no one can crack the marketing challenge (yet)

    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      I remember having those discussions with you back in 2008. The challenges with this model are:

      1. Quality control. Although the wisdom of the crowds is a great source for vetting guides. This is a reactive measure, which means that some or many people will have had bad experiences before the bad guides are weeded out.

      2. Customer service. I am assuming that you are merchant of record for these bookings, which means that inevitably you’re going to get the call from the irate customer. Are you prepared to handle phone calls or emails for an inventory you have no control over?

      3. Guide management & payment. The idea is to have thousands of guides delivering thousands of tours to thousands of travellers. At an average cost of $30, a 15% service fee equates to $4.50. Subtract the credit card costs and the cost of administration to pay the guide the remaining $25.50 and your margin starts to disappear.

      4. Traction. You’re competing in a consumer direct environment so you’re going to need to spend a lot of money on marketing to get the brand out.

      As I said, these are challenges. They can be overcome and perhaps you’ve already figured them out. Good luck!

      • Alex Bainbridge

        Hi Stephen
        On the quality front, specialist tour ops / pros – they spend half their time doing hotel / restaurant visits – going to all the toilets etc – looking at all the licenses – dull stuff – but its this operational quality control that makes working with pros a little less liable for quality issues! (vs working with individuals)

        Traction – yes – marketing this product set is really a tough one. As previously suggested, PPC doesn’t work because the costs are up (due to the multi-day operators bidding the prices up on the same keywords) – so that leaves SEO (tricky), direct marketing (costly vs margins that exist) and partnerships (technically challenging and requires revenue share that, on a slim margin already, just puts the price of the experience up so far that the consumer rightly or wrongly believes that its easier to book / organise when they get there)

        Stephen – while we are on challenges – there is one more. Operational management of the day. Say a guide agrees to pick up a guest from a hotel at a certain time – and doesn’t turn up. What happens then? You now have a live operational issue that needs to be addressed, in live time, probably from half way around the world. If (like you, Johannes or I) we deal with small tour operators / activity companies – they will have, due to having several staff in a place, a local operational process that handles staff illness / cars breaking down etc etc – so will have a fallback plan that hopefully delivers the same experience to the customer, without the customer realising there has been a bit of a hiccup. When you are dealing with non-fulltime individuals, there is little operational resiliency – think this might cause more customer service issues than appreciated from the outside. One solution would be to group individual experience providers into local consortiums that back each other up in case of problems – but, er, that is called a specialist tour operator 😉

        Interesting though that Johannes, Stephen and I all agree its very challenging. Not often we all feel strongly enough and comment on the same thing, all in agreement!

        • Johannes

          Hey Guys,

          I love your comments. As Kevin just tweeted, there is a real wave of tours & activities love in here 🙂

          All of your points are very well taken and describe the key challenges in building a semi-professional tourguide community. I would like to add that EveryTrail on the other hand has been very successful with a model that is somewhat similar: User/community generated tours on mobile devices, simply without the physical tourguide (taking away the transactional cost).

          In our case the pivot was absolutely the right thing to do. While Alex pointed out that there are problems with the small basket size of day tours & attractions, Viator, GetYourGuide and others have shown that you can build a profitable transactional business around this product. We are currently experiencing pretty massive growth (the same is true for Viator from what I hear), thus I believe it is just a matter of time before the product really hits mainstream. There certainly is demand for it on the Internet.

          Call me melancholic, but I still like the idea of the guide community and I wish that someday someone can pull it off – maybe iGottaGuide!

          @Keith: I am happy to share more of my experiences. Just drop me an e-mail to

          • Keith Petri

            Wow, I step away for an evening in the States and there is quite a lively discussion here!

            I think we are all making some strong points on both past experiences and speculation of market trends. Regardless, I feel that there are a number of hurdles for all of us, especially iGottaGuide – focusing on amateur tour guides instead of small and medium size tour companies – to approach in the near future.

            As Johnnes said, there is substantial growth in related industries, shifting towards communal trust and a need for a truly open guide community. iGottaGuide will be attempting to solve quality control problems, customer service in each destination city we enter and how to better facilitate transactions and gain traction in this multi-billion dollar industry.

            We are open to suggestions! ☺ Keith [at]

          • Alex Bainbridge

            Hi Johannes
            What do you mean by “hit the mainstream”?

            To me, its already mainstream on the web – just its supplier direct – not via intermediaries….

            Congrats on the growth – still quite a way to go to catch us up 😉

  3. Liz

    @Kevin May – Thanks for the shout out!

    By nature we are also an open market for local experiences – no two are ever the same, our formula is you + Tripbod = unique experience – but we target travellers who want to do it the local way, themselves.

    Through our 1-to-1 tailored trip planning service, we point them in the right direction, armed with all the personal local knowledge they need to make the most of their time, their way.

    Every passionate, knowledgeable local is welcome to apply and we personally vet all of our budding Tripbods.

    • Keith Petri

      I think Tripbod is great! iGottaGuide enables the eager tourist to actually be guided through the unfamiliar city by their knowledgable local – found through our website. We too vet all of our tour guides before they are listed. Our services actually complement each other and I would love to talk! Keep up the great work.

      • Liz

        Keith – thanks for reaching out. Appreciate the words of support, we certainly share a similar vision, with lots of natural cross-overs. Talking is always good – let’s do it!

      • Alex Bainbridge

        Hi Keith
        If you vet the guides pre-listing, this makes you a closed marketplace – not an open one.
        An open one would be like eBay – where no vetting of suppliers takes place (prior to the first transaction).
        It doesn’t actually matter if you are open or closed – what matters is the overall experience delivered to the consumer – however if you are going to use the word “open marketplace” then remember it comes with baggage and not everyone will agree with your definition! 😉
        Cheers. Alex (who runs an open marketplace system with NO vetting, hence we are open!)

        • Keith Petri


          Thanks for the feedback. I understand we are currently not 100% open. However, it is my hope that over time the community grows and is able to self-monitor through a user review and rating system. Without going into too much detail in a public forum, we do have a unique idea of how to make new tour guides listed on iGottaGuide gain credibility, or perhaps lose trust, when first joining. I would be happy to speak with your directly given your experience in the field.

          I love Small Fish Big Ocean and cannot wait to contribute to the conversation!


  4. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    @igottaguide – I suspect Tripbod (at least) will have something to say about your claim:

    “We’re the only site to offer a purely open market for local experiences – anyone can become a guide!”

    • Tom.L

      I think here’s an alternative (and more on) that seems doing the same – saying “Find local guide” ( just as an example.

      • Keith Petri

        Looks like you guys are doing some great things over at Shiroube! Weird, it hadn’t come up on our radar until now. Thanks for the tip, keep up the great work!


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