Lauren A. Koenig’s love of travel started with cereal. As a Midwestern kid who spent summers in Muskoka, Canada, she longed to understand the mysterious French words on the back of the boxes. That led her to learn the language and eventually spend a year teaching for France’s education ministry.
Back in the U.S., Koenig joined The International Kitchen, a Chicago-based provider of cooking school vacations in Europe. She noticed that people often called looking for travel companions or requesting experiences that were tailored to their specific needs. When Koenig took her own birthday vacation to New Orleans with friends, she recognized why the trip was a success: She had hand-picked a compatible group.
“I realized that people were different away from home,” she says. “You had to not only offer amazing experiences, but to give people a filter to find like-minded people and the specificities they needed.”
That perspective has become especially important with the rise of solo travel. Nearly a quarter of people traveled alone on their most recent leisure trip in 2015, up from 15 percent in 2013, according to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study. First-time travelers were even more likely to journey alone, with 37 percent embarking on their first adventure solo last year. At the same time, many would-be travelers forgo the experience because they don’t want to go by themselves.
A New Social Travel Marketplace
Koenig’s company, TWIP — which stands for Travel With Interesting People — aims to make it easy to find like-minded travel and activity companions. It’s building an online social marketplace that, for a $295 annual membership, will allow travelers to connect with experiences, activities and companions that are on their wavelength. It will also offer a platform for exchanging information and advice with experts and other community members.
Key to the connecting process is a proprietary behavior assessment to determine clients’ “Travanality,” or travel personality. Koenig describes it as the reason why we travel, when you take away time, destination and price. For example, someone may be a “Maverick” who wants to surf and bungee-jump or a “Soulager” who travels for health and wellness. (Each of us is a mix of all 10 “Travanalities” that is as unique as a fingerprint, Koenig says.)
“When you travel, the most important questions are the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’ With this information, you can better find the ‘who.’ Every other travel website in the world can tell you the ‘how much,’ ‘when’ and ‘where,'” she says.
The site, initially available to US residents only, will help users identify, say, Japanese-speakers with a scuba license, single mothers who want to take their kids to Disneyland, or people facing similar accessibility issues. All members will have to complete national- and county-level criminal background checks. Users will also be able to join member-only trips and purchase travel insurance.
“I’m a travel activist — I want people not to have an excuse not to travel,” Koenig says.
She points out that the company isn’t a dating service for singles. In fact, some of its main target customers will be married couples searching for simpatico pairs.
Koenig uses herself as an example: “I can’t tap into my Facebook friends, because no one travels the way I want to. I don’t want to take pictures of my food, travel with children or dogs, go to museums or work out on vacation. I like culture, helping people, sunsets, concerts and festivals. It’s about being able to travel safely and ‘selfishly.’ Even when I do find friends who like to travel the same way, we also need to align on time, destination and price, which is really exhausting.”
Making Vision Into Reality With Gigster
After raising $325,000 from angel investors, including friends and family, Koenig brought on Heather Wilde, the eighth employee and former director of technical support at Evernote, as her CTO and Co-Founder. Hiring in-house developers didn’t make sense, so they turned to Gigster to design and build their technology.
First, they needed a designer to create icons for the 10 “Travanalities.” Gigster connected them with Brian Frick, a design maven who has developed icons for Facebook and Foursquare.
Now TWIP is working with Gigster to finish its website, which will allow users to join, like and review experiences; message and “favorite” travelers; search for companions; take the “Travanality” assessment; among other functions. They’ve also started on the back-end infrastructure which they expect to be ready in the middle of Q2.
Koenig says she had a strong vision for the products going in, and Gigster has delivered.
“I have an extreme amount of confidence in the Gigster team. This isn’t their first rodeo,” she says. “This is my baby, and it feels good to have people I trust to take care of my child.”
Preparing For Takeoff
Koenig, who completed the Women’s Startup Lab, a Silicon Valley accelerator, last year, and the 2020 Startup Accelerator in NYC this past Fall, is now busy raising seed funding.
You can currently purchase a Charter Membership for a discounted price of $149 at www.twip.co. Becoming a Charter Member guarantees that your life membership will never go above $295 and credit towards your first trip. She expects the service to go live in 2017. Once it does, her ambitions for it are vast.
“I want people to sit next to each other and see the world from the same lens,” she says. “We need people to see what’s on the other side of this great planet in order to innovate and solve some our biggest problems. You can’t do that if you don’t use your passport. One day, very soon, there will be a difference between a trip and a TWIP.”
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