How We Began A Digital Tour Information Platform With Over 500K Customers

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Howdy! Who’re you and what enterprise did you begin?

My identify is Jan Doležal and I based SmartGuide with the mission to show vacationers into explorers. The SmartGuide app turns each telephone into a private tour information. It guides vacationers utilizing audio, geolocation, and Augmented Actuality like a dwell information, outdoors of the crowds, protected from Covid-19.

We offer this ready-made know-how to vacationer points of interest, in addition to locations that use our content material platform to digitize tour guides simply with out the necessity to develop an app.

3 years since its founding, SmartGuide has exceeded 500 locations and is approaching half-million customers. High journey manufacturers together with town of Prague, many UNESCO websites, Singapore Heritage Board, and Switzerland Tourism already use SmartGuide as their official information.


What’s your backstory and the way did you give you the thought?

We’re a staff of passionate vacationers. Simply as an example, I’ve visited nearly 70 international locations and didn’t cease exploring even with youngsters. My son visited 30 international locations by age 3.

Throughout our travels, we realized we obtained probably the most out of every place with a superb native information. However we had been pissed off by the shortage of high quality digital guides that we’d anticipate within the twenty first century. We noticed that high quality content material for fascinating locations exists, simply in outdated varieties (paper, internet, brains of some locals).

We additionally noticed time and again how vacationer points of interest and locations develop their information apps to unravel this downside. It takes endlessly, prices a number of cash, and fails. We wished to present storytellers a simple device to share their tales with vacationers and make visiting much less standard locations enriching. If extra folks journey independently additionally outdoors of primary vacationer hotspots, tourism will likely be extra rewarding, sustainable, and pleasurable for all.


Take us by way of the method of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We began promoting the product earlier than we created the primary line of code. As soon as we validated that the proposition was interesting we requested an outsourced improvement firm in Vietnam to construct a Minimal Viable Product. The app was fairly ugly, solely labored on Android and all information was hard-coded, however we might validate it in motion with minimal funding.

I had an important profession as a administration advisor with McKinsey and my technical co-founder had a comfortable company job. After we noticed the traction, we determined to make the leap and give up our jobs. We found out it was simpler to throw away the MVP and construct correct know-how from scratch on stable foundations.

The typical age of a profitable startup founder is 45 years and the success charges are highest for folks of their 50s. So you might be by no means too previous to be an entrepreneur.

We first constructed the app with information decoupled in JSON recordsdata to rise up and working. Then we constructed a correct backend for the info. As soon as the backend was prepared, we constructed an inside content material administration system to switch wild scripts for managing content material immediately on the backend. Then we turned an inside Content material Administration System right into a public device that anybody can use to publish superb digital guides.

Describe the method of launching the platform.

We’re constructing a platform with a robust constructive suggestions loop. The extra vacationers on the platform, the extra enticing it’s for locations to hitch, create extra content material, and appeal to extra vacationers.

Probably the most troublesome a part of constructing a platform is getting it began. No person needs to be the primary one to obtain an app with no content material. And no person needs to create content material for no viewers. To crack this hen and egg downside, we’ve got first aggregated content material for 300 locations from out there sources.

The benefit of journey is that about each fascinating place there may be, somebody has already written one thing fascinating and far of that’s out there totally free. Whenever you plan a visit to Rome, you could find a number of info on-line. We’ve accomplished the tedious be just right for you, appeared by way of many sources, bought some content material, wrote some, took some free, and constructed primary content material protection. We attracted first-end customers immediately.

As soon as we had the know-how prepared, we began providing it to the primary locations to publish their official information. These locations market it to their guests which creates site visitors that encourages extra companions to hitch.

So for instance within the metropolis of Plzen, we first revealed a information for the ZOO. This served as an important reference case for the most important native attraction – the Pilsner Urquell brewery which determined to introduce SmartGuide for his or her international guests. Quickly town itself seen and jumped on the platform to information guests from two main points of interest round the remainder of town. Quickly we added the primary cathedral and the Jewish synagogues didn’t need to keep behind. The snowball began rolling.

We additionally discovered a small advertising and marketing hack. On Google Play, we revealed anchor apps with guides for particular person cities that might have their retailer itemizing, related photographs, and optimized search engine optimisation. These apps did nothing however redirect the person to the “primary app” which incorporates all guides. This labored fairly properly to get preliminary customers on the primary app and compensated for the shortage of choices to advertise location-specific content material successfully on the app retailer.


Since launch, what has labored to draw and retain prospects?

We weren’t the primary ones who thought {that a} journey information ought to be in an app, not on paper or in an outdated audioguide. Everybody agrees with that. And plenty of startups tried to do it. They noticed that vacationers had been shopping for guides and so they thought they might replicate this mannequin with an app. However the identical particular person that’s keen to pay $40 for a thick Lonely Planet guide is commonly not keen to pay $4 for a similar content material in an app.

And even when they’re, they do not journey daily.

So the lifetime worth of an end-user is comparatively low, particularly in comparison with the excessive acquisition prices. These are pushed by corporations like attempting to seize vacationers and it’s an uphill battle competing with their efficiency advertising and marketing. They’ve increased valued merchandise so can make investments extra in acquisition. All these B2C startups did not extract increased lifetime worth than acquisition prices from the end-users.

Different corporations supply white label apps B2B. This enterprise mannequin can work however lacks explosive progress and it ignores the truth that vacationers do not need to set up a distinct app for each place they go to.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Some persons are merely born to be entrepreneurs, however many haven’t found it but. Others see issues as alternatives to unravel and have the drive and persistence to make them occur. These are entrepreneurs.

We do the identical B2B gross sales to let vacationer companies find out about our know-how by way of e mail campaigns, LinkedIn advertising and marketing, and a few content material advertising and marketing. However the distinction is that we allow them to convey their guests on a platform as a substitute of a Whitelabel app. Vacationers desire to make use of an app that exhibits them round a whole bunch of locations globally quite than a single-purpose app. So we get free acquisition of end-users as a byproduct of our B2B offers.

Our companions moreover profit from the publicity to those vacationers introduced by different companions. And for us, it’s simpler to keep up one app as a substitute of 500 apps. Everybody advantages from the platform. I do not like zero-sum video games. However SmartGuide is a win-win-win mannequin which captivates me.


SmartGuide’s distinctive massive information analytics dashboard and vacation spot heatmaps

How are you doing at the moment and what does the longer term appear like?

Whereas most different companies in journey struggled resulting from Covid, SmartGuide grew 700% final 12 months. Whereas different journey corporations let go, we’ve got doubled our staff to about 15 FTEs. We’ve constructive unit economics, however we aren’t worthwhile but as we make investments closely in additional improvement. We’ve validated the product-market match so now we give attention to scaling throughout Europe and globally.


SmartGuide profitable pitch at WTFL Shifting Ahead Innovation Pageant 2021

By way of know-how, we at the moment are targeted on making the Content material Administration System simply as user-friendly because the SmartGuide app. We additionally work on an internet model information for customers who do not initially need to set up an app.

We’re excited concerning the applied sciences we’re about to construct subsequent. We’ve already collected superb information about vacationers. We plan to construct an AI-based suggestion engine that can study your journey preferences and can construct customized journey itineraries for you identical to Netflix provides you suggestions on films to look at. Giving everybody customized suggestions will enable us to interact vacationers extra and on the identical time disperse crowds of vacationers at prime sights which is the primary objective of standard points of interest and locations.

We additionally consider that the longer term will likely be augmented. We’ve constructed prototypes of the Augmented Actuality information and as quickly because the know-how matures a bit, we’ll introduce new immersive Augmented Actuality information experiences. That is one thing paper guides or old school audio guides can’t even dream of.


By beginning the enterprise, have you ever realized something significantly useful or advantageous?

Earlier than beginning the enterprise I appeared on the journey business and thought that it’s the most secure business to be in. It has been rising quickly and constantly and has by no means gone by way of an actual disaster since World Battle 2. Even in 2008 it declined simply 5% and recovered a 12 months later. Shortly after we began the corporate, Covid-19 hit.

Our preliminary runway was ending and I simply deliberate to fundraise as Covid swept the world and everybody panicked. Buyers who usually spend money on journey put a cease to new investments as a result of they realized that they want additional money to maintain their present portfolio alive all through the storm. Buyers who by no means invested in journey earlier than felt insecure inserting their first guess on journey when they didn’t even know whether or not they would be capable of journey for his or her summer season holidays.

We needed to decrease money burn and present outcomes regardless of the uncertainty in the marketplace to present buyers confidence that we are going to be amongst the digital winners coming stronger out of the pandemic. These instances weren’t simple and examined my resilience. If I had the slightest doubt that what we’re doing is the appropriate factor to do, I might have given up. Following my ardour helped me persevere.

What platform/instruments do you utilize for your small business?

We’re utilizing a variety of productiveness instruments from GSuite for storage, Notion for documentation, Slack for staff communication, JIRA for improvement, Figma for prototyping, Trello for job administration, Toggl for timesheets, HubSpot as a CRM, Investory for reporting, Signi for digital signatures, and much more.

To be trustworthy I feel we use too many instruments and I all the time problem the advantages of introducing a brand new specialised device versus mastering a number of instruments. My staff laughs at me that we run the corporate on Google Sheets. We’ve some superior sheets arrange for budgeting linked to our financial institution statements and so on. However at this level, I feel 10 sheets is healthier than but 10 extra completely different instruments.

What have been probably the most influential books, podcasts, or different sources?

If there was just one guide I might learn in my life, it will be Sapiens from professor Harari. His 21 classes for the twenty first century would doubtless comply with.

To maintain up with present affairs I just like the BBC Information Podcast and The Economist.

Recommendation for different entrepreneurs who need to get began or are simply beginning out?

Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Some persons are merely born to be entrepreneurs, however many haven’t found it but. Some see issues and simply fuzz about them. Others see issues as alternatives to unravel and have the drive and persistence to make them occur. These are entrepreneurs.

There’s a stereotype of an entrepreneur being a university dropout. The issue is that you do not see all these drop-outs who failed. Wanting backward, I might have failed if I dropped out of school to begin a enterprise. I might have failed if I began a enterprise proper out of college. Whereas there is no such thing as a assure that I will not fail now, I really feel that 10 years of numerous work experiences ready me properly for the powerful job of beginning a worldwide firm.

A latest Harvard analysis revealed that the common age of a profitable startup founder is 45 years and the success charges are highest for folks of their 50s. So you might be by no means too previous to be an entrepreneur.

Are you seeking to rent for sure positions proper now?

To develop our enterprise globally, we search to construct long-term enterprise relationships with Native Gross sales Reps who’re properly related within the journey business. They change into the face of SmartGuide of their market, supply native leads and shut them along with our inside gross sales staff.


The place can we go to study extra?

When you’ve got any questions or feedback, drop a remark under!


Jan Dolezal
Founding father of SmartGuide

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