Three travellers who couldn’t find a fellow backpacker during a trip to the Peruvian Andes have created an app that hopes to connect young travellers all over the world.
Tripwire is a social platform where users post their journey plans and are connected to others on a similar route. They can chat publically and privately to arrange activities and meet-ups or recommend places to stay.
Co-founders Hal Tyler, Sam Hiscocks and Stewart Chan had arranged to rendezvous with James Ward in Cusco during their 2014 trip but couldn’t get back in touch.
“We didn’t have a phone number and there must have been 10,000 people called James Ward on Facebook,” said marketing specialist Hiscocks.
“The first light-bulb moment came in 2011 when me, Hal and a few others were travelling round south east Asia. We found it frustrating that we kept missing out on reconnecting with a load of people who were also there. We thought it would be great if there was an app that would enable you to plot your route and notify you when you’re crossing paths with friends.”
Now there is.
Tripwire creates a ‘tribe’ of travellers for you when you touch down in your destination, and using the app you can see what they are posting among the travelling community, be it pictures, videos, advice, warnings or recommendations.
It’s targeted at gap year travellers and so far has 5,000 users, which Tripwire calls ‘beta-testers’ as it is yet to spend a penny on marketing.
Its recommendations include 4,000 “handpicked” things to do around the world and the rest of the activities list is populated through an API.
It was launched “undercover” in 2016 and secured £200,000 of funding from investors. Hal, 23, Sam, 26 and Stewart, 24, have now set their eyes on a further £350,000 boost which they would use to spend on marketing for its “official launch” and to hire another web developer to add to their one full-time member of staff, Ziad Khouri. They’ve already secured £75,000 of it.
Tripwire hopes to eat into market of an estimated 20 million backpackers travelling each year and eventually move into the wider youth traveller market, which the company reckons is worth around £230 billion.
“When we first had the idea, Wi-Fi in hostels wasn’t great and not many backpackers had smart phones,” Hiscocks recalled. “But now’s the perfect time. Smart phones have grown exponentially and Wi-Fi has improved dramatically, especially in South East Asia.”
So the trio, keen travellers themselves (Sam has worked in Toronto, Johannesburg and Melbourne and Hal has travelled extensively through south east Asia and taught in Seville), went back out to South East Asia for three months to test the market.
Hiscocks said backpackers were “100% positive” so wrote a lot of their comments off as “vanity feedback” while focussing on getting testers to try the app out, “answer questions without knowing it” and bounce ideas around.
“It was fun, of course, but it was market research,” he said. “What we found was that people didn’t understand the core value proposition. It was too multi-faceted, so we had to make it more simple.”
Version two, to be released in November, will replace its ‘path’, ‘home’ and ‘nearby’ tabs with ‘trip’ and ‘wire’. You will upload your plans to ‘trip’ and all your updates will be posted into ‘wire’.
“People are disillusioned with traditional travel guides,” Hiscocks added. “Backpackers are moving away from the one-way conversation you get in Lonely Planet and people are wising up to the number of fake reviews on Trip Advisor. Very few people carry around a travel guide now.”
“We see ourselves as a socially-enabled travel agent and there’s room in the market for us.”
So far, most downloads have been – perhaps unsurprisingly – in South East Asia and the majority of users are English speakers, predominantly from the UK, USA and Australia as well as Germany and the Netherlands.
Investors might be wondering how the app makes money. Hostels and tour operators pay a commission on bookings made through the app.
Email alerts are sent to users’ email addresses reminding them of what they found and encouraging them to book an activity or a place to stay.
“As the app develops, we’ll be able to do that in advance of people’s stays,” explained Hiscocks. “But for now we are focussing on growing the community, not making money. Our projections are that we’ll have 50,000 people registered by the end of 2017. Then we’ll look to secure Series A funding.”
So the three TripwiRe founders, old friends from Chiswick, are looking to the future. But they never did find James Ward.