If you’re a trip planning start-up that puts travellers in touch with local experts but you’re not sure about your branding, having your first customer called Kim buy from another Kim is a gift.
This was how Palo Alto-based Kimkim.com changed its name from Travel Hive and set it on what its founders hope is the path to travel greatness.
Joost Schreve, one of two co-founders, the other being fellow former TripAdvisor colleague Benoit Zeler, believes Kimkim’s success will be as much down to timing as anything else.
He said before leaving TripAdvisor last October he saw a degree of weariness among travellers about the long-winded and often fraught planning process online.
“We bring travel experts back into travel planning along with new technology like messaging. We have created a marketplace in which we recruit experts.
“Mostly they are professional small business entrepreneurs who run their own travel companies. They can work on the platform to help travellers plan their trips.”
Trip planning start-ups come and go regularly – one of the latest to call it a day being San Francisco-based Bucket – as they struggle to content with infrequency of purchase and customer demand.
However, Shreve believes Kimkim’s time has come as Airbnb leads the way in terms of putting travellers in direct contact with local experts.
He does not believe Kimkim is in direct competion with the vacation rental peer-to-peer giant, but it will ride on its coat tails as the web pivots around social networks and sharing.
Kimkim has launched with just three destinations – an eclectic mix of Croatia, Japan, Nepal – reflecting where it has been able to recruit its 20 in-destination experts.
It has shied away from offering international flights, but pretty much everything else is catered for, with Kimkim enabling bookings via its local experts and taking a 10% flat commission.
A small team in California offers advice and expertise which helps Kimkim cope with time differences that may mean its in-destination experts are not available.
It has built its own Wechat-style messaging platform that will eventually, through artificial intelligence, allow it to offer wide-ranging automated answers to users’ questions.
However, the people element will remain crucial as the modern traveller looks for that human touch, said Schreve.
“This is really about making trip planning more convenient. Most travellers come to us because although they know they can do it themselves it’s going to take 10 hours to plan a complex trip.
“Also they will get a better outcome because people really enjoy access to local partnerships and talking to someone rather than browsing individual websites.
“In many different ways I have seen people struggle with the current model for planning a trip online. TripAdvisor really works as a business, but when you look beneath the surface you see people struggling.
“It’s not a really happy experience, and I thought we could do this differently and a lot better.”
Schreve came to TripAdvisor having sold Every Trail, a developer of location-based solutions for travel, to the reviews giant in 2011 after five years.
Every Trail raised funding in Silicon Valley, and Kimkim has done the same with $1 million secured from angel investors. It will look to complete a Series A round later the year, said Schreve.
“We see some nice early proof that what we are doing is working but we fell we need a little bit more of a proven track record and grown bookings for several months consecutively.
“To me the exciting thing is that we have a product live that works. We have people booking with us trip of up to $5,500 to $6,000 which are big purchases particularly on a site that’s new.”
The challenge for Schreve will be to scale up the business but he is confident he can do this both in terms of experts and therefore destinations it offers as well as traffic.
He said the most promising experts tend to be English speaking expats or well-travelled locals who can engage with Kimkim’s English speaking audience.