The Story of a Start-up


Lessons learned from road trips, business model pivots, and most importantly… LISTENING

In some ways we’re not that different from other start-ups. Someone has an original idea and a keen passion (in our case it was Nick, our founder). He, in turn, ignites the fire in a small group of similarly-minded people (like Susan, Nancy, Sheila, Matt and the rest of our motley crew). The creativity starts to flow and you all hit the ground running, right? Well, that’s sort of how it went.

I equate kicking off a start-up to hosting a dinner party. Weird analogy I know, but stay with me here. As hosts, you start out with a set of people you really want to connect with (in our case guides and travelers) and you throw together an initial plan. It’s pretty simple stuff really. But then the details start to get in the way (like surprise vegetarians, those damn paleo people, picky eaters, the sudden disappearance of every fresh salmon in the region, discovering an empty BBQ tank just as the first guest arrives, drunk Aunt Shelley, that one guest with the shockingly awkward wardrobe malfunction… you get where I’m going here right?) and you have to change gears quickly (and sometimes dramatically) to adapt to whatever hits the fan as the event unfolds.

So, we started out with a purpose on a quest that we are still completely 100% passionate about!  Discovering how to connect authentic, experienced and amazing guides all over the world with interested travelers sitting on the other side of the globe. All without messing with, or complicating any established planning and booking processes. This has been our goal since day one.

We wanted to create the opportunity (and the framework) for these two groups to easily and seamlessly find each other – so that together they can plan and create the most memorable travel experiences possible.

It’s true that other similar sites already existed, but something was missing. As travelers ourselves, we found we weren’t able to connect with local guides (from wherever we were busily making our plans) who were willing to go “off the beaten path” to show us what we really wanted to see. We needed to better understand how to differentiate ourselves in order to fill that unmet need – for both guides and travelers – and to ensure that our product was something they not just needed, but wanted as well.

So how did we do it?

Well, first we hit the road. Hard. We talked to guides on the tops of mountains, on the water, in the cities and everywhere in between. Weeks and weeks spent on the road traveling by motorhome – from one uber-glamorous Walmart parking lot to another (one of us whose name will not be mentioned was way too cheap to agree to pay campsite fees). And it was AWESOME! Here are a few of the people we heard from, and a few of the places we visited.  

There is nothing quite like close quarters with work colleagues over extended periods to foster team building… said no one ever. And man did we travel in style! Also, any eccentricities or mild obsessive compulsive disorders become eminently apparent. Yeah, we’re looking at you, Susan. But I digress….

So what did we learn?

In short? A lot. But there were a few consistent messages we heard time and again that made us change tacks in our business model, product and strategy in that first year – ones that have been a big success with both guides and travelers. In no particular order, they were…

  1. Don’t get in the middle! Guides wanted us to make the intro, and then leave it in their capable hands to finalize all the details. Traveler’s wanted answers directly from those in the know… the guides themselves of course!
  2. We want you to help give us and our tours visibility, by pooling our resources, so let’s find a business model that works for all. Help us small business owners keep tourist dollars invested in our communities and our local economies.
  3. Let us be flexible! Guides customize tours for travelers all the time, and travelers want to call the shots to make their experience unique and personal. There is no one size fits all in this marketplace.
  4. Help us with the tech stuff and marketing. We love to guide, we don’t love building websites or advertising!

So out the door went the typical commission model, and in came the free, business and premium listings, and all sorts of other cool features that rolled out this past year ( 2-way Site Linking, direct Book Now function, Review Request Tool, etc.).  Do we have more to learn? Absolutely, but feedback like this lets us know we’re on the right track.

I think you and have found the most practical solution for many companies and you are doing an amazing job in facilitating a meeting place for my company and my clients. Thank you!

Paul Washington, Reggae Jamaica Tours, Jamaica

The stats really show the difference in the quality of traffic coming from GuideAdvisor – their targeting strategy works, and when I have feedback for them, they listen. It’s clear that my success is important to them and I like that!”.

Joao Dickmann, TakingUthere New Travel Experiences, Portugal

So we’re growing fast, making big plans, staying true to our vision, and keeping our ears and eyes wide open. Oh, and we’ve got a couple of exciting things in the development hopper that are going to be crazy popular with both guides and travelers.

Truly, this is just the first chapter of our story.

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