Everyone has that friend who loves to brag about how he knows all the hot areas in your town, and could probably lead a professional tour if asked to (and if you don’t, it’s probably you). So why shouldn’t they get paid for their intricate research and priceless knowledge about their city? At Your Local Cousin they can. With the YLC platform tourists can be connected to these whizzes and avoid overpriced tours and uninformative tour books. With multiple payment options you get to choose between asking questions, custom itineraries or simply speaking with a local genius.
Actual cousins and cofounders Aarti Kanodia and Kunal Jain, talk about their NY upbringing as well as their original way of doing travel in our connected world today.
Tell us about the product or service.
Your Local Cousin connects travelers with locals for customized trip planning. Travelers can choose to text, call or message ‘Local Cousins’ as well as order customized maps and itineraries. Travelers spend $10 – $60 and locals are paid for their time. The idea is to find people across the world that share your interests and travel style so their recommendations are spot-on and you save time searching for tourist traps online. Locals recommend hidden gems, what to pack and even money saving tips.
The majority of people who use our service seek travel advice but many want to know about real estate, expat life and even college experiences. Hence ‘Local Cousins’ provide location-based knowledge on a range of topics. We currently have over 600 ‘Local Cousins’ in 80+ countries and 200+ cities.
How is it different?
Your Local Cousin puts a human back into travel planning. It’s that simple.
We allow travelers to communicate with actual locals just as they would a friend they were visiting. There are no fancy algorithms and no “black box” concierge service of people claiming to be experts who work out of a call center. Travelers choose the locals they wish to communicate with and we vet all of our ‘Local Cousins’ over videoconference as well as check their LinkedIn and social media profiles. We have strict standards for why someone can be a local for a particular city and we completely discourage “travel junkies” from creating a laundry list of every city they have been to.
We are fortunate to have a diverse range of locals – from a lawyer in Mongolia to a cheese farmer in Palermo. Some are even Airbnb hosts, Yelp Elite and one is an Olympic silver medalist from Amsterdam!
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
For now we are looking to disrupt how people plan their trips. This is a large market but we are targeting travelers who want to “live like a local” and the space is competitive.
We are also looking at partnerships in the travel industry. Cruise companies see us as a value-added service as do travel agencies and destination marketing organizations that have decreased in popularity over the years.
What is the business model?
We are a peer-to-peer on demand network where travelers pay $10 – $60 and locals keep 70% of revenue.
What inspired the business?
We are two actual cousins who come from a large, loud and very opinionated Indian family. When we need advice about anything – from travel to cooking to dating – there is always someone ready to chime in. Our best travel experiences have always been when one of our cousins – who know our interests – gives us insider knowledge about a place. Then we get to brag about our experiences on social media and to our friends. We want travelers to be able to do the same thing with their ‘Local Cousin’.
How do you plan on competing in a space where are there competitors that are much more established and have received significant amounts of funding?
We are executing Your Local Cousin very differently from our competitors and the space is heating up. Airbnb experimented this past December with hosts planning entire trips. However in this case renters should have the same interests as their hosts, which is a real shot in the dark. Unlike Your Local Cousin, few other platforms allow travelers the simple act of connecting with an actual local who shares their interests.
Community building is also key. Our locals are the social planners in their friend’s circle and love to brag about the coolest places they know. They also have a great deal of pride for the cities they live in and want to help people explore their favorite hidden gems. Our best ‘Local Cousins’ also create engaging content and have a desire to connect with each other and are active on social media. This same mentality can be seen with Yelp Elites and members of other social platforms. On our platform locals get paid for their knowledge so it’s an attractive opportunity for someone opinionated and also leaves room for partnership opportunities.
Lastly, video is hot right now, not only for inspiring travel but also for creating engagement between people. In the coming months all local’s profiles will have minute long videos so travelers get a real sense of who they are connecting with (it’s a way to sample a person!). Videos from tourism boards will also be displayed when searching destinations.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We hope to establish several partnership opportunities, grow our user base, integrate rich content from our locals and hopefully raise a seed round. Community building is also important to us.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
No matter how smart you are, you’ll always need a great team and a great rival.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Anthony Bourdain. He would be the ultimate ‘Local Cousin’ for a potential guest series and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to living like a local. We also enjoy his interactions with locals he features on his shows – it would be amazing to get them on our site!
Why did you launch in New York?
I’m from New York and have my roots here. New York is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the US and it’s also a great place to speak with random travelers on the street to gain firsthand knowledge of what they really want. The opportunities to meet potential locals, travelers and partners are endless.
Where is your favorite bar in the city for an after work drink?
Apotheke in Chinatown. It’s a speakeasy style bar that you would never walk past and think it’s a bar and it’s certainly not touristy. The mixologists are phenomenal and really take the time to make superior cocktails. Bonus – on Wednesdays they hold Prohibition night where a password from Twitter gets you into a space that feels like the roaring twenties!