When you’re traveling you don’t want to go where the big tourist sites are, you want to know where the local people hang out and which underground places to go to, to actually have a good time. While travel websites try to do this, there is no substitute for a local travel guide who knows the ins and outs of the area and can lead you to the best time possible. The new company I-AM-LOCL is trying to address exactly this problem. With their easy to use platform you can find the guide you want and in doing so take the first step towards an authentic exploration.
Mark Kahn tells AlleyWatch how they are putting a new spin on the age-old pastime of exploration.
Tell us about the product or service.
The I-AM-LOCL Mission is to connect a Traveler (also called an Explorer) with a LOCL Guide. All of our users have access to a wide array of digital tools to enhance their travel, tour and discovery experience. But our main focus is to enable the connection between the Traveler and the Guide. LOCL Guides are sometimes called “Professional or Local Guides”, “Travel Agents”, “Tour Operators”, “Travel Concierges”, “Travel Planners”, “Educators”, “Experts”, and/or just “Genuine LOCLs”. We provide our LOCL Guides with a platform to power their business. And we provide Travelers with a way to find a trusted LOCL Guide, wherever they may be going so they can enjoy a truly unique local experience based upon an interest or theme.
The current travel market feels cold and fragmented. And it often appears to be more about getting you to a particular venue and sheltering you than it is about what you are going to do once you are there: the specific places you want to visit, the experiences you want to enjoy and the local connections that you want to make. Our collective Shared Economy empowers individuals. And the entrepreneurial home-based travel counselors and advisers now make up more than half of the travel agency distribution system. All you need in order to participate is an interest, pride in your local area or venue and a smile. You create your own Tour Offerings, you set your own price, and you create your own schedule. Beyond that, you already embody the same principles and traditions that we do. Traditions that everyone is born with and which are common to all of us.
Who are our I-AM-LOCL Travelers and Clients? Anyone who not only wants a genuine travel or local experience, but the best kind of experience possible while exploring an unknown destination. I-AM-LOCL is different from any other travel service out there. We enable anyone to find an experienced, knowledgeable, trusting and enthusiastic LOCL Guide. We don’t do everything, just the most important thing: getting LOCL.
The I-AM-LOCL business emulates the best and most widely-embraced models pioneered by leaders such as Uber, AirBNB, Wag and Handy. However our Guides don’t need a car, an apartment, a pooper-scooper or a toolbox. We provide them with a robust business platform, especially designed for those seeking greater opportunity or competitive advantages within the massive and fragmented travel industry universe–and the business of just wanting someone to help someone else get around and to earn. Add a dash of passion and a healthy side order of “service with a smile,” and you are off the races.
I-AM-LOCL offers an open source, sharing community to anyone who wants to distribute, add, share, and create editorial content with the use of text, photos and videos. I-AM-LOCL is a team effort: we are all working together towards a common goal.
How is it different?
We believe that I-AM-LOCL is different in four significant ways:
- We are focused on offering and model, unlike the norm in the travel industry which tends to take the approach of offering everything from planning to price comparison, shopping to booking, etc… and in the process trying to address every travel professional constituent and every possible traveler need. We are focused on one goal: connecting a traveler with a local guide, to deliver on a travel experience while at their destination.
- Our Guides’ tour offerings are unique and sometimes offbeat. By design they are not “packaged,” but rather are theme-based and centered around subjects of interest. They are beyond “custom”, rather truly personalized. This approach to the tour offerings creates a better match between the interests of the traveler and those of a particular guide.
- We exclusively embrace the shared economy business model, leaving pricing, tour offering schedule and tour theme to the Guide. Supply and demand is not forced, but rather reflects true market pricing. We create a connection, and a personal one on one relationship between traveler and guide. Guides with stronger credentials, reviews, social connections and local chops rise to the top, as they should.
- We embrace an open, entirely community-driven platform for both users and developers. By doing so, we further embrace and welcome an individual’s choice of social platform or digital tool of preference. We want to be global in scope, a service which supports individuality of culture and encourages users to personalize the service and make it their own, while be a part of global citizenship.
What is the market you are attacking and how big is it?
By any measure, the Travel and Tour Industry worldwide is massive. We are however initially focused on getting a foothold in its fastest-growing segment: the “@home” travel operator/professional area which has exploded in the past 5 years and now makes up 50% of the professional travel service industry. We are also focusing on specific geographic locations as we roll out to maximize coverage and to address high value markets that serve as influencers for the global travel industry and economy.
What is the business model?
The I-AM-LOCL business model emulates the best and most widely embraced models of leaders such as Uber, AirBNB, Wag or Handy. Simply put, our business model is to provide LOCL Guides with a shared economy platform to power their business with virtually no barriers to entry. This platform provides greater opportunity and competitive advantages within the massive and fragmented universe of the travel industry and channels dollars directly to the local individual or group. Our model entails an open source, sharing community open to anyone who has the requisite passion to distribute, add, share, and create editorial content with the use of text, photos and videos. On the Traveler/Client side of things, we provide an easy, instant way for them to find a LOCL Guide so they can have a unique 1 on 1 experience tailored specifically to their interest or passion.
What inspired the business?
We have collectively followed the emerging and disruptive shared economy evolution and revolution, and the businesses that paved the way. And have for a long time thought about participating in some way. The questions were where, when and what. As we researched the players and vetted categories that lacked a leader or participants, we saw an opportunity in the gaps and fragmentation that exists in the travel industry. We realized that our vertical was ideal, not simply because of AirBnB and its success, but because it was an industry that was stuck in the past with consumers wanting a different kind of service. We also wanted to be independent and entrepreneurial and provide a service to our own local communities. We started by examining what was most vital to us in our own travel experiences–what was most memorable about a travel experience. What did we really want to do when we traveled? In every case, the answer always came down to the same thing, i.e making a connection with a local and a unique local experience. I guess the light bulb went off, and we found exactly what we had been searching for right in front of our face. Simple, focused and in high demand, but as of yet have not been served. That’s how iamlocl.com was born.
Why has no one company been able to succeed in the tour booking engine-shared economy?
We believe that we are the first company that understands how to apply best practices in terms of the sharing economy and how to create a unique offering that differs from what was previously available. Also it is clear that the travel industry is mired in old business models and antiquated digital models. Too many things cannibalize the dollars that are really meant for the local guide. The other problem is a lack of focus, which goes back to those travel services that try to do everything for everyone–what consumers really want, we now realize, is a service that delivers to quality and experiences in one area. We subscribe to the hedgehog principle: let’s not focus on being all things to all people, but rather let’s bring a community-based, one-to-one connection to a travel market. Do one thing well. Individuals need to earn money and they want to share their interests with others. This has been problematic in the past, because the tour business is filled with bureaucracy and multiple barriers to entry. We are doing away with these, and in the process empowering individuals so they can control their own businesses.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We hope to keep signing key sponsors and to attract attention from the investment community in order to fuel further growth. We are embarking on our first 6-city tour to sign up LOCL Guides (NYC, Philadelphia, Charleston, Charlottesville, Raleigh Durham, D.C.). We are also partnering with local tourism bureaus in specific high-travel traffic locations. We strongly believe in forming local business partnerships with locals and have made strong progress in this area.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel: just find a great idea that fills a demonstrated need and believe in yourself and your product. Stay focused and listen to customers and partners.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Wow… tough question. There are so many constituents that we would like to get in front of who are members of the NY community: strategic investors who understand what a great financial opportunity this is, as well as local businesses and organizations. We know that we have a lot to offer, from supporting the local economy, to creating the best travel experiences in the world and creating new jobs. How about I think more about this some more and when we speak, I will narrow it down to say three!
Why did you launch in New York?
New York is my home. I was born and raised here: I’m a true local. It is also home to several of our founding team members. And we believe that New York is still the cultural capital of the world and the home to Silicon Alley–what better place to launch? We take pride in New York the way others take pride in their home cities…but still New York is unique, right? I just moved to Harlem which is an amazingly diverse neighborhood, culturally and otherwise, that mutually respect each other. Those simple basics crystallized our focus for creating I-AM-LOCL.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
There are so many. Central Park: there is something there for everybody: culture, the outdoors, and sports. And it gives you direct access to everything from Midtown to Harlem to places like the Met and the Museum of Natural history, as well as great restaurants and shops.