TechStars NYC graduated their second class of 12 startups yesterday, selected from a pool of 1,200 startup applicants. While the talent in the room – between the graduating class, previous graduates such as OnSwipe’s CEO Jason Baptiste and a Who’s Who of East Coast VCs and investors – was not a surprise, Mayor Bloomberg’s appearance was.Introduced by standup comedian and VC Brad Feld, Mayor Bloomberg reminisced about getting fired from his previous employer (“getting fired was the best thing that happened to me”) and going on to launch his namesake company. He also talked about Bloomberg TV’s reality show covering TechStars (“we’re like Jersey Shore, without the fake tan lines”).
If Twitter mentions were to be the sole criterion, the clear winners of the day would be Mayor Bloomberg and the Sidetour team. That said, the quality of presentations was consistently good across all 12 startups and their co-founders.
Since Mike Bloomberg is well known – and you can learn more about Bloomberg TV here – let’s talk about Sidetour. Billed as a global peer to peer marketplace for local experiences, the startup is founded by 4 New Yorkers who have been friends and colleagues for a decade. They have created a market for real people to host and book unique, heavily curated experiences that help us discover (or rediscover) the city we live in, in a friendly, social and organic way. The Sidetour team was one of the startups to get sizable early funding and just announced an initial round of $1.5 million in funding, led by RRE and the Foundry Group.
Despite the website launching a scant eight weeks ago, the startup’s members have hosted and participated in 30 unique experiences including the opportunity to drive the iconic Testa Roadster for EV fanatics, lunching with an investment banker turned monk at an East Village monastery for the theologically inclined, be a daredevil luge racer (albeit strapped to a U.S. Olympic medalist) and learning to graffiti with a street artist on a replica subway car. In what could be an early indicator of success, 90% of of the experience inventory has been sold out.The website is built on an appointment-based platform where each experiences is designed as a small group event with a specific date, time and number of spots. Much as Etsy provides a digital storefront to artisans, Sidetour provides a frictionless way for experts to monetise their expertise, or as the founders put it “make friends, memories and money”. Hosts set the prices of the activities and the startup gets a 20% cut on completed transactions – reduced to 15% for the beta period.
Two factors will be critical to the site’s success down the road – the ability to scale in local markets beyond New York City, and attracting repeat business. While time will ultimately be the test of scalability across other cities and countries, co-founder Vipin Goyal says that members purchase 1.5 experiences per order on average and often go on to become Facebook friends and meet and interact with each other even after the experience. The team has also been seeing more and more hosts wanting to share their expertise on the website after hearing about it from others. This early traction – in both acquisition and retention – points to a hitherto hidden but sizable market for unique, curated and above all local experiences. To those familiar with the startup and the founding team, it comes as no surprise that Sidetour has already been featured on TechCrunch, Business Insider and BetaBeat. With the holidays (and holiday parties) just around the corner, the timing of the launch is also serendipitously timed to allow New Yorkers to host and participate in unique holiday experiences that friends will be ‘facebooking’ well into the new year.
This post was originally published on Seedwalker.