Phocuswright: Groupon founder seeks digital redemption in audio tours start-up

Phocuswright: Groupon founder seeks digital redemption in audio tours start-up

Image via Aaron Fulkerson

Groupon founder Andrew Mason says he turned to travel for his new start-up Detour, because he wanted to do something online that would make him a better person.

Mason was fired in 2013 from the discount shopping website after poor performance saw its stock market valuation plummet.

He first came up with the idea of creating location-based audio tours in 2007, while travelling he used a downloadable podcast tour of the Roman ruins while on a trip to Rome.

Mason says the audio tour technology Detour has developed gets the visitor much closer to the destination than a conventional guided tour.

He hoped to create a centralised marketplace for audio tours which users download onto their phones and can sync with other people they are travelling with.

Examples created for San Francisco use voiceovers from local people to add colour to the commentary and deliver relevant information using GPS and iBeacons to locate precisely where the user is.

Mason said while at Groupon the best selling deal it ever sold was an architectural boat tour in Chicago.

“We used to run it every six months and we’d sell 20,000 tickets in three or four hours. That told me that consumers are looking for great things to do in their city. There are just not a lot of them.

“Most walking tours are targeted at tourists but we saw locals buying these things up in droves. That got me convinced I was not the only person curious about this stuff and maybe there was a business here.”

Mason said that technology was now sophisticated enough to allow a more immersive location-based tour.

But he said this was different to how technology has been used to date to make everything “faster, easier and cheaper”, something he said he realised after Groupon had made him a shittier person.

“I wanted to build something to get people out into the world, to take a screen away from between them and the world and to celebrate the rough edges.

“It gives customers what they want but does not make them shittier people.”

Mason hopes that creating a Detour will become as easy as writing a blog post or Podcast and that it will be used as a platform for others.

Detour, which will launch in beta in January, plans to sell its tours for $8 to $10.

“We have no idea how many people are going to take these things or if the price is right.

“These are things we are going to learn. Our hope is by opening up as a platform we can enable a community of entrepreneurs to make and manage their content over time.”

Asked about whether Detour will have to police the quality of the tours on the platform, Mason said: “The person who invented music probably did not imagine David Hasslehoff – the good stuff will rise to the top.”

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