CityInsidr: The Kiwi-created app aiming to be the next big thing in travel

We gave CityInsidr co-founder Matt Hockly-Holdich a little longer than an elevator ride to convince us the travel advisory startup could compete with giants like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet.

So, what is CityInsidr?

It’s a peer-to-peer travel advisory app. What it does is understand who you are, then matches you to somebody who is like you in another city or another country and gives you their recommendations. So you can cut through all the reviews that are out there and get straight to the reviews that are relevant to you. 

How is that different from what’s out there already?

Current recommendation platforms are just an aggregation of thousands or millions of reviews from people that may not have anything in common with you. And a lot of them are fake and written by the hotels and restaurants. We try to cut through all that by making sure we match you to someone else who’s like you before we give you the reviews. You can then talk directly to the person we’ve matched you with to get more detailed information and services.

The best advice you usually get is from people who are like you, which is usually your friends and family. So when you go on holiday, you usually ask your friends if they’ve been there before. And they usually give you good advice. So what this app does is try to mimic that by understanding who you are and matching you with somebody in a different place who has similar preferences and similar demographics to yourself.

And how do you make those matches?

We’re picking out some of your Facebook data – your likes, your city, your postcode, your friends – and if you don’t have a very deep Facebook profile, if you don’t share a lot or you’re very private, we will ask you a few questions so we can understand who you are better. And as you use the app, it will learn what you like and suggest new people you should be matched to.

What was the inspiration? 

Using TripAdvisor and being massively disappointed. I had a holiday in Malaysia last year and I went to this island and stayed in this top-rated hotel and there were fantastic reviews and it wasn’t good at all. So it just struck me: clearly there’s something wrong with this system. Either the hotel is gaming it by getting people to review it very positively or I’m being matched wrong with this hotel.

A couple of years ago I was in Paris and TripAdvisor said to go to this restaurant, so I went and it really catered to Americans, the portion sizes were really big and it was more of an American experience than a French experience. It’s that disconnect between what’s highly ranked for you is not highly ranked for someone else.

To be useful, you’re going to need a lot of users in a lot of different cities. What market penetration do you need for it to work as intended?

We will aim to seed users in major cities and countries, which New Zealanders and Australians visit, places like London, New York, etc. And we’ll have a range of people from across demographics in those cities. We think around 100 per city will be enough to get good coverage for our initial launch. So we won’t just let it grow organically, we’ll go out and find advocates, we’ll set up community managers and get that person to start creating some buzz around the app and getting people onboard. 

What's exciting about CityInsidr is we give something back to those advocates, who we call ‘Insidrs’, so they can actually earn some revenue from it. By doing that we think we'll get an engaged user base quite quickly. 

What stage are you at now?

We released a beta of the product earlier this year and we’re currently developing the second release, which we’re going to be implementing in July.

     

And you’ve just completed an equity crowdfunding campaign. Why was that the best way for you to raise capital?

What’s great about equity crowdfunding is it engages a large group of people who are highly interested in your product. So, for an app like ours, it needs a certain amount of people using it to make it successful, and equity crowdfunding can give us that base – especially in New Zealand – of people who are engaged in the app. Our perfect investment would be a whole lot of retail investors who are really interested in the travel advisory industry, rather than one investor who won't be as engaged at that grassroots level.

That all sounds great. How are you going to make money?

An Insidr can use the platform to generate revenue by providing online services like creating an itinerary which they can then sell to people for $2.99. So it might be a trip to Japan in a week, and instead of going and buying a Lonely Planet to understand how to get around Japan, you can purchase this itinerary off somebody for a very small amount of money. The Insidr can also provide a tour if they live in that city. And we'll take a small part of that revenue.

Additionally, our loyalty program will be strong. If you write reviews on TripAdvisor, they don't give anything back. They send you an email once a week. Because we’re using your content to generate revenue we want to use that to give you something back. It’ll be like an airline loyalty programme where you'll get points and you’ll be able to use them to either purchase things or get discounts or experiences.