Monday, March 26, 2012
Interview with Aigerim Duiseneyeva and Shana Zheng, TripTrotting
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Have you ever traveled to a foreign country, and wish you had a local friend who could show you around? Tired of packaged tours where you really don't get to experience the local culture? That's what TripTrotting (www.triptrotting.com) is hoping to fix. The Los Angeles startup is looking to help connect travelers with local guides and hosts. Aigerim Duiseneyeva and Shana Zheng are the co-founders of the firm, and told us more about the service.
First, for people who have never used your service, can you talk about how it works?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: What we do, is connect travelers with like-minded locals. Anywhere you go, you have a local friend. People want to use our offerings because there is no other, better way to connect with strangers, especially when you are traveling in a foreign land. We've developed an algorithm to match other people who are like-minded with you. One of our advisors is Galen Buckwalter, the former Chief Scientist at eHarmony. He helped us develop the algorithm, which suggests people in your destination most in common with you. On the traveler's side, we not just connecting you with locals, we're connecting you with people with shared interests, professions. For locals, you get to meet travelers from all over the world, who might be your future friends, who share interests, and maybe even professions. It's great for networking, and for developing friendships. There is no other site that helps you connect with people and also finds those with things in common.
What's the story on how the company came about?
Shana Zheng: Traveling is a passion of mine and Aigerim. We met in college, and we both traveled a lot. We met at USC, and we had traveled a lot with study abroad programs. After college, and after we graduated, we still traveled while we were working. However, we felt the pain that everywhere you go, particularly on tours, you end up ushered around places by people who are always trying to sell you things. It's difficult to find people who we'd actually like to meet. When we were in college, as business students in Thailand, we found it was very difficult to find and meet with other business students in Thailand. We wanted to learn about what was going on in the area, in Southeast Asia, and what business was like growing up in Thailand. Instead, we ended up at the usual floating markets, the white elephant. After that, we ended up in corporate jobs in banking, and the usual corporate, professional careers. But, the idea and passion for traveling came back, and we came to the idea of solving that pain of traveling.
How did you end up working with Idealab?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: We met with Idealab through a USC Marshall competition. That was actually how we were introduced to Bill Gross, who really liked our idea. He decided to invest in us in January of last year, and one of the first New Venture companies. We were still very early stage--an idea on a napkin--and for the past year, we've been building out our product. We were then invited to join LaunchpadLA with Mark Suster, the accelerator in Santa Monica, and we also just raised funding in the last two months.
What made you decide to abandon the corporate world and actually jump full time into this?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: I think a couple of things. We were always thinking about this idea, and we just decided, after doing two years of investment banking, that we had enough. We really wanted to do something that had impact on the world, where we could be in the driver's seat, and do something we really thought could make a difference. I think we realized that the best way to make a difference, was to do something you really cared about.
Shana Zheng: When you are working for other people, your ideas don't get seriously considered. For us, we had all these great ideas that we wanted to implement. Like Aigerim said, we wanted to work on something we were passionate about, that we had control over.
Back to the service--do people express any concern about safety and trust issues with a service like yours?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: That's the number one reason we started this, actually. One of the main things we did when starting this business early on, was to put in a verification process. We wanted to up the quality, versus quantity. We verify email addresses, college and work email addresses, and required a referral from someone in the community. So, everyone here has to have verification from a person. As we continue to scale, we realize that's not the most scalable model, so we're working on using online information for verification. Everyone has a presence online, whether that is on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or so on. We are going to allow users to provide more transparency on their profiles, as well as provide recommendations and reviews. If you sign up, you'll get reviews from other people, who can also vouch for you, and help boost your credibility from the community.
Is this something people can use now?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: We have members in over 2,000 cities across the world, and we have very active users all of the world. We have a set of local advisors--kind of like Yelp Elite--who are also hosting local events. For example, we recently held an vent in India, which was covered on the radio there, and we've had events all over Europe, Jakarta, and elsewhere in Asia. Those events have attracted hundreds of people. In China, one of our events had over 250 people show up, a mixture of travelers, locals, university students, professionals. Those local advisors on the ground have been critical for us, to grow our community and our culture.
Why do people want to become a host, and why take your time to show someone around your country?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: We get that question a lot from Americans. Around the world, there are lots of cultures where people are very hospitable, and they want to share their culture, and showcase what their city is all about, and show people what a true, local experience looks like. They really want to meet people coming into their country. Their motivation might be they'd like to make friends from other countries, or maybe they just like to share their culture and experience. It's also great for networking. If you think about it, Americans can easily get on a plane and go anywhere without a visa. However, in most other countries, people cannot leave and travel as easily. This is a way to be able to meet friends, make friends from all over the world, and extend their network globally.
What are your plans with the new funding?
Shana Zheng: The funding will help us to build out a better offering, and more or less continue brand building. We've found the events are good to let people see what the community looks like, and what it's like to meet up. Branding is a very important aspects. We're also mobilizing lots of our members to build our community, while keeping the quality.
Finally, what's your next big project?
Aigerim Duiseneyeva: We have just finished our fundraising, and started buildling out the business. Our next big piece is to really overhaul our product, because we have some things that are pretty cool in the works. You'll see some interesting changes in the next couple of months, different experiences, and new product launches.