LONDON - In this Cocoon Networks Community Series blogpost we are pleased to introduce the company Touriocity. In this series we speak to innovative and expanding businesses as they reveal their highlights and challenges, in addition to providing some top tips for success. This series tells the stories of of bright thinkers who leveraged their creativity to revolutionise the world as we know it.
This week Alex Grant, Founder of Touriocity, tells us about a company that "allows customers to book personalised, bespoke tours in about sixty cities around the world, on demand".
What does Touriocity do?
Touriocity is a technology platform allowing customers to book personalised, bespoke tours in about sixty cities around the world, on demand. Customers can create their own tour on the platform thanks to numerous personalisation options. At the backend we have around 1,000 tour guides around the world who do the tours, on demand. This platform is the first of its kind. We have tours in sixty cities but our main cities are in Europe and they include Rome, London, Berlin, Paris, and Barcelona, amongst others. These are the locations where we put most of our efforts and this is where most of our customers are travelling. The other 55 cities will draw more attention as we bring on more partners that can help us expand our customer base. We offer mainly private tours, about 80% of our business. We are now also going into the group tours space now. The types of tours we offer range from a city’s highlights – with your own personal guide – to very authentic experiences where one can get under the skin of a city. Our customers are mainly from the US. We are also selling tours in Southeast Asia to Australian customers.
The customisation element of our tour is something you cannot see elsewhere. Unless you build technology that can help with that, the customisation of an experience is a very manual task. Full tour customisation is usually not worth the money because - considered the time it takes - the margins are not there. We have built a technology that allows doing this very quickly and efficiently.
How have you come up with this business idea?
I came up with the idea because I used to work for a tour company in Rome and we just saw there was a bit of a shift in the way people were booking tours. People did not want something standardised but, rather, a more personalised experience.
How hard was it to get your idea off the ground? What have you found most challenging?
As we had a background in the sector, it was a lot easier to start the business because we were able to leverage a lot of our contacts in Rome. We could also leverage some of the traffic we had going to our website in Rome. However, we faced a few challenges.
One of the key challenges in this sector is certainly competition. This is a very competitive industry so you need to produce something that is differentiated enough for customers to be willing to book with you. If that’s not the case the customer can go buy from another provider that offers something very similar. We’ve been going for three years now, but Airbnb has just launched its own platform 8 months ago. We are definitely in a very interesting space but it is very challenging as it’s so competitive.
Another challenge was making it easy for customers to understand what we did. Customers don’t have a very long attention span so one can easily confuse them by offering a very complex product. Our solution is to offer something simple but differentiated.
Still, I would say the most challenging part was finding the optimal channel to find customers. You cannot rely on Google these days, as it’s too expensive - especially in our sector.
What have you learned from the process? What advice would you give to other startup founders?
Most startups try and take on too many things; they build too many products. You need to try and find what works as soon as possible and once you find it, you need to work hard to make your product replicable. In addition, one needs to have a guaranteed demand side, regardless of the industry. You can’t just rely on investment money to find customers. You have to be clever about the way you find your customers. This is the biggest learning I’ve had: one needs to have the customers lined-up to buy.
What are the highlights of your expansion?
We managed to make some amazing inroads into the Asian market and we have some very good relationships with top travel companies in Southeast Asia. We are looking to start collaborations with these companies very soon. As a European startup that primarily focuses on the US market, I believe we have done an incredibly good job in doing some business development in Southeast Asia. We feel Southeast Asia is one of the biggest opportunities in travel at this time.
Why are you here at Cocoon? How has this environment contributed to the growth of your company?
We are here at Cocoon Networks because we are in the travel industry and our product would be very attractive in the Chinese market. We do want to enter the Chinese market but this is very difficult, especially when you have a founder that does not speak Mandarin or that is not a Mandarin native. We just felt Cocoon Networks would be the best place for us to be if we wanted to expand in China. Cocoon Networks is definitely a very good base able to support companies that are willing to enter the Chinese market. It’s been very useful to receive feedback from some of the Chinese personnel here at Cocoon Networks. There are a range of issues one can face when working in the Chinese market including technology-based challenges, cultural barriers and linguistic differences. Cocoon Networks can certainly help with that.
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently talking to some large travel companies about implementing a tie-up with them. Our creation would fit very nicely within a larger company. We are considering becoming part of a much larger company, thus having access to all of its customers. It’s very difficult on your own in the travel industry. However, if you go under the umbrella of a much larger company that has abundant resources and many customers, your business will expand at a quicker pace. This can benefit both the large company and the small one. We also have some brand new ideas with respect to the Chinese outbound opportunity. This is something we are working on with Cocoon Networks.