Brothers Jonathan and Daniel Yaffe have always loved to travel and they’ve done a lot of it, so it’s natural that their new startup, AnyRoad, is focused on a previously untapped corner of the travel industry–bringing the independent tour guides of the world online.
We’re not talking about the guides on those big bus tours that disgorge packs of tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf, but the unique, sometimes quirky, truly authentic tours only knowledgeable locals can provide.
The brothers Yaffe are off to a good start with their project. Having just launched into public beta in mid-April, by last week they already had over 200 tours available in six markets – the metro areas of SF, New York, Tokyo, London, and Rio de Janeiro, plus the small country of Israel.
“The independent tour guide business is a $200 million industry that is almost entirely offline,” says Jonathan, the older of the two brothers and AnyRoad’s CEO. “We talked to 3,000 guides around the world, 600 of them in one-to-one meetings and they told us they get business mostly by word-of-mouth.”
“There are all kinds of niche tours,” adds Daniel, “such as bird-watching, religious-based tours, tours for the disabled, tours based on art and architecture, food and wine, scuba diving, skiing, safaris, kayaking.
"Our core product is a CMS (content management system) for the guides. We handle the booking, scheduling, credit card payments, marketing, SEO, and so on. We’re taking all the elements of their business and putting it online.”
From the beginning the brothers view theirs as a global business, and already 80 percent of their bookings are international (from outside the U.S.), a figure they think may well increase over time.
The customer pays by credit card and the company holds the funds in escrow until a week after the tour. Both the customer and the guide can rate each other; the guide’s ratings will determine how visible they will be on the service in the future.
AnyRoad takes a 14 percent commission off the price of the tours, and donates 5 percent of the profits to a local charity favored by the tour guide.
The CMS is the self-serve variety, and as of last week, over 525 tour guides had already signed up.
Rather than proceeding guide by guide, the team is meeting with associations of tour guides like the San Francisco Guild Guide and the Guide Association of New York City to gain rapid exposure for their service. They also are partnering with various conferences, including the Manhattan Cocktail Conference last weekend.
The bootstrapped startup has three full-timers and four part-time tour curators here and in Tokyo. It is currently seeking a seed round, possibly from international investors.