Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
We’re really excited today because we have Jamie Wong, who is the founder and CEO of Vayable, here with us.
Vayable is a marketplace for unique local experiences. Vayable connects independent travelers and local explorers with experts for custom, authentic and meaningful experiences, enabling people to explore the world from the inside out.
With that said, Jamie, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Jamie: Sure. My name is Jamie Wong. I am one of the co-founders of Vayable. We just launched two weeks ago. My background is actually in journalism and television, so very content-heavy. I’m also a world traveler. I’ve been to about 30 countries and I speak four languages.
Matthew: Wow. You said you were a journalist before you launched Vayable. What kind of work did you do?
Jamie: Sort of alternative journalism. I worked at The Daily Show for a couple of years and I’ve been a writer and a strategist consulting at tech startups in the Bay Area. My master’s is in journalism. I’ve worked on lots of documentary films.
Matthew: Excellent. So what is Vayable? What makes it unique? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Jamie: Vayable is a marketplace that lets people buy and sell unique travel experiences and activities. The idea is that right now people who are looking for non-cruise package tours or expensive group adventures have to resort to several sources to both discover what they want to do and also book what they want to do, so the planning and organization.
We want to make that easy, where people can go to one destination and connect with locals to figure out what to do. Right now you can get there in a click by booking flights on any of numerous search engines. You can also book your accommodations and figure out where to stay in a click, but the ‘what to do’ part is very painful. We want to provide that service and specifically to the market people who are looking for the local, unique experience at their destination.
Matthew: Excellent. Given your expertise in this space, what are some of the technology and market trends that you’re seeing and where do you see things going or developing in the future for your space?
Jamie: People are really catching on to the fact that for travel planning what exists is very old. People still resort to The Lonely Planet, which is more than 30 years old and there hasn’t been much innovation since then. Even their online site doesn’t provide much more functionality for users.
People are trying to bring what’s happening offline, that organic experience of going where you know people or where you have friends or friends of friends, spontaneously trying to meet people in a bar or a drive on the side of the road and get to know a destination from the inside through that intermediary.
People are trying to put that online right now. One thing you do see is travel meet-up type events and people leveraging social networking to try to do that recommendation services. Another kind we’re also seeing is the growth of deals in travel, last minute deals, everyone riding the Groupon wave.
Lastly, I’d say one of the largest trends is focused on hyper-local, seeing where your friends are, chatting with people who are around you, where people, clearly like Foursquare, are checking in and checking out, but also applying that to travel. Again, that’s more providing a reporting-type service. We haven’t yet seen a peer-to-peer marketplace where activities are focused on any kind of travelers.
Matthew: Excellent. We’ve covered your background and an overview of Vayable. Can you tell us what inspired you to start Vayable? Was there an ‘a-ha’ moment or did you do a bunch of marketing research that led you to the opportunity? What’s the story?
Jamie: I think there were several ‘a-ha’ moments. I went down many paths. This all really started from my own personal experience. The story of arriving at where Vayable is right now is very organic.
I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve never spent more than $800 on a single trip and I’ve gone for months at a time and far distances. That is because I’ve always leveraged my own network and resources, whether it’s getting grants through my university, going where I knew people and tapping into local communities, or volunteering to offset the cost.
I became, in my community, the travel expert. People wanted advice; how do I do this cheaply, how do I get there. Even recommendations; where should I go eat, who should I go talk to. I’ve planned friends’ trips, their honeymoons. I have personally guided people through the Bay Area, in New York where I lived for ten years, different parts of Thailand, Tibet.
It’s become painful for me, so I wanted to try to find a platform just to help myself, where I can send people that will immediately have the answers and the contacts and the information, everything that they want to figure out what to do when they get somewhere.
This really came out of a personal need. Also, I really wanted to help people enrich the way they travel and experience the world. I know for me that there have been lots of benefits from getting to know locals and having a cultural understanding. Frankly, I think that’s good for the world, so that’s been another motivator.
Matthew: Excellent. Who are your co-founders and how did you meet, and what qualities were you looking for?
Jamie: My co-founder’s name is Sam Jeyaprakash. He and I met using Airbnb. I had been working with someone else, and this is a story that has become public at this point, but things didn’t go so well, so I was at this huge loss. It was probably the most challenging point. I knew I needed a co-founder and I was desperately looking.
There were lots of engineers who were really interested. I was taking meetings. In the middle of this I get a standby request on Airbnb. I’m a host here in San Francisco and I never do this. Typically the timing is wrong. I accepted the request. It was 10:00 on a Sunday. This guy shows up at my door. His name is Sam. He comes in. We start talking. We don’t stop talking. We still haven’t stopped talking.
Within three days we had a very basic prototype of the site up. He ended up extending his Airbnb stay at my place for two and a half weeks and we built and launched. What we had discovered was a shared affinity for travel, for cross-cultural understanding and for this vision of how to bring it to the world. He also speaks four languages. He grew up in India and has lived all over the world.
Matthew: So he’s your technical co-founder?
Jamie: He is my technical co-founder, yes.