Stockholm-based social travel startup Tripbirds launches out of private beta today, entering an increasingly crowded online travel market. But while others like Wanderfly intend to be the “Pinterest for travel,” Tripbirds hopes to make the process of planning a trip more like an organic discussion with friends, family and trusted colleagues, and one a traveler can have over the web with people all over the world.
Does the world need another travel-focused startup? Tripbirds founder and CEO Ted Valentin believes it does, with the qualification that said startup offer a unique approach that isn’t already widely available elsewhere. That’s why Tripbirds focuses only on a very specific set of input sources, instead of trying to cram in as much information as possible. Valentin said that his service differs by focusing exclusively on information from people who really matter, the close connections of users.
Tripbirds doesn’t want to help users create vacations based on the advice of strangers; it aims to have friends give friends advice about where to go, where to stay and what to see. The site pulls information from a user’s Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare check-ins, and uses that to populate a timeline of where they’ve been and where they’re going. From the location information of its roughly 3,500 closed beta testers and their accumulated check-ins, it’s already managed to populate a huge database of places.
“We’ve actually got about 50 to 100 times as much data per user as Foursquare,” Valentin said in an interview about the service’s venue library at launch. “It’s really quite heavy […] It’s a lot of data: if one influential user connects, that person and that person’s friends can have like 50,000 check-ins that we need to collect, geocode and turn into trips within a few seconds basically, and we have to be able to do that for hundreds of simultaneous users.” Luckily, Valentin says he can handle the challenge; co-founder Jonatan Heyman has a solid background from his studies for a PhD in database technology.
Users can browse the massive database of locations to recommend places to their friends, as well as create to-dos out of any venue. Using databases and friends’ recommendations, users can create an entire itinerary for a trip on Tripbirds, and the site will help create the best trip possible by surfacing friends who’ve travelled to that target destination most frequently, or who actually live there. But again, those friends have to be signed up for the whole thing to work.
As a result of its friend-focused model, Tripbirds requires a Facebook sign-in for initial setup, and also depends on users convincing their friends to also join the service. Valentin admits that users need to reach a critical mass of around 10 friends signing up before they’ll be able to fully enjoy what Tripbirds has to offer, and he says that growing its user base will likely be the service’s biggest hurdle to overcome. But, he believes what the site has to offer will help convince power users to spread the word among their followers.
“We need to find groups where it works first, and then we need to grow those groups,” Valentin told BetaKit. “Our plan is to get influencers on board first, and then get the ‘achievers,’ or people who are active on services like Foursquare and Instagram.” The plan is designed to help make sure that when average users get to the site, they have connections already there and content waiting for them. Valentin also thinks that the fact that Tripbirds is providing a targeted service aimed at travellers will help encourage growth, since users will know who to ask for recommendations among their own connections, which will hopefully lead to a high conversion rate in terms of sign-ups resulting from requests from Tripbirds users to Facebook friends.
Aside from attracting users, Tripbirds other big challenge will be differentiating itself from the wealth of travel-focused startups already on the market, but Valentin clearly believes the product speaks for itself in that regard. It’s “definitely not Pinterest for travel,” he said when asked about competitors with similar approaches like the recently-redesigned Wanderfly, and its strict connections-first approach reminds a little of Dave Morin’s Path, in that it emphasizes a selective rather than a scattershot mode of networking. Morin is in fact a Tripbirds seed funder, as are SoundCloud founders Eric Whalforss and Alexander Ljung and Index Ventures, among others.
Tripbirds is available on the web today to all in a format that should be accessible on a range of devices, and Valentin says that mobile apps are in the pipeline. Eventually, Valentin’s revenue plans involve forming partnerships with outside booking services, which is a proven model that’s already in place at other sites in the travel space. Tripbirds’ ability to get to the point where it can start capitalizing on revenue opportunites will be entirely dependent on what kind of community it can build, and how quickly it can scale users.