This Startup Cuts The Time It Takes To Plan A Vacation From 30 Hours To 5 Minutes

jamie wong vayableJamie Wong is on to a hot idea.

Photo: Vayable

Vayable, a startup that makes it much easier to organise a vacation experience, is now seeing revenue growth of 30 per cent every week.That’s 30 per cent week-over-week, every week, since May.

That’s pretty impressive for a startup that’s only been around for a year and a half and which began life as a blog.

But there’s a good reason why—it’s ridiculously easy to book a hotel or a flight, but it’s still very hard to book a good experience.

Here’s how it works: a person willing to, say, take a group on a walking tour of Paris offers up the experience on Vayable at a certain price.

Then people who want to sign up order the experience, sort out the final details, and meet the host at the appointed time. The whole process takes about five minutes.

That’s much different than the current way of doing things—which can take up to 30 hours, cofounder Jamie Wong tells us.

And it’s going after a huge market: Tours and other guided travel experiences amount to a $27 billion in the U.S. 

We caught up with Wong to find out what makes Vayable tick. Here’s what we learned:

  • It all started with a blog. Wong herself had spent a lot of time travelling and had developed a network of people to share her experiences with, including her family.
  • Now the site’s revenue grows 30 per cent every week. The wide array of unique experiences turned out to be a huge draw. The company is wrapping up a stint at Y Combinator, one of the top incubators in Silicon Valley.
  • The average Vayable tour guide makes about $130 for a three-hour trip. That means working as a tour guide through Vayable is becoming a plausible way to earn a living.

Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the conversation:

BUSINESS INSIDER: First, tell me a little bit about yourself. 

JAMIE WONG: My background is in journalism and marketing. I got my masters from Columbia, worked at the Daily Show. I consulted for various tech companies on marketing and design. I worked for clients like Juniper Networks and a bunch of other brands. My cofounder Tim Robertson was a senior engineer at Yelp [working on] search and data mining. Prior to that he was one of the first engineers at

BI: What’s the story behind Vayable?

JW: I put up a WordPress site about a year and a half ago. The idea sprang from me travelling to more than 35 countries and also living in New York and San Francisco. I was acting as an impromptu tour guide to friends and family. I was planning vacations, honeymoons, connecting them with people I met on the ground in destinations all over the world. I also speak several languages so I’ve been able to serve as a translator.

So we really wanted to make that process easier, started a blog and put the people and experiences on that blog. I started doing that while I was at The Daily Show because we had nine weeks off a year. I was able to do some travelling and I really started seeing the opportunity to create a global platform for what I was doing. Millions of people like myself are passionate about travelling and want off the beaten path experiences, and want ways to monetise their experience. We released a prototype and got some early traction. Since then we’ve been growing our revenue 30 per cent week over week and got accepted to Y Combinator.


BI: How big is the target audience? Why do we need Vayable?

JW: The market research shows that people spend on average months and more than 30 hours visiting dozens of websites, reading reviews, purchasing guidebooks to plan a single vacation. What’s at the heart of the vacation is the experience. The model, the way people have been planning their travels is a little bit backwards, but that’s due to the way the technology has evolved. The problem of finding a flight and booking that online has been solved. Finding and accommodation has been solved. The third and largest chunk, as far as annual revenue has yet to be solved, which is experiences.

Now we really follow through and make that as easy as booking a flight or finding a hotel. You have a free hour in Paris and want an art student to take you to the Louvre or you book a three-week trip in Nepal. Not only is this easier and many instances more economical, but it’s the kind of travel most people want to do—getting off the double-decker bus and into the lives of individuals—with the peace of mind that the money is going directly to a local rather than a franchise. In the US, it is a $27 billion addressable market. The global numbers are an estimate, but travel is around $220 billion. We’re a small part of that.

BI: How’s your experience with Y Combinator been? 

JW: It’s been great. It’s really provided us with a very strong network as well as advice from people who have pretty much seen it all. The structure, I think, is really beneficial to getting early traction and getting things off the ground. Seeing the progress everyone has made, that’s what’s most important right now.

BI: What are some of the most fun experiences you’ve seen so far? 

JW: You can fish with someone on their own private island. You can fly-fish with the mayor of Kanai, Alaska. Those are two of people’s favourites. There’s a homeless man in the Tenderloin [a neighbourhood in San Francisco]. A member from our team met him at a soup kitchen. He told him about Vayable, and he started offering homeless tours of the Tenderloin.

“There’s a homeless man in the Tenderloin. A member from our team met him at a soup kitchen. He told him about Vayable, and he started offering homeless tours of the Tenderloin.”

Several local journalists have gone on it. The deputy mayor of Atlanta has gone on it. For a while it was one of our most popular tours. He was able to make enough money to buy a cell phone and for a period of time moved out of the shelter.

BI: What about the providers? Is it possible to turn this into a full-on profession?

JW: We have people who are full-time professional tour guides. We have people who will offer one event a month, and others who just do the hobby. We have some people who have a day job that they aren’t crazy about and want to transition into something they’re passionate about. They are starting to grow their business on Vayable and they are transitioning their tours. An average tour guide makes $130 for a three-hour tour. Their hourly rate is pretty good. Of course, it’s on their own schedule and it’s doing exactly what they love. We have some guys that make thousands of dollars a week.

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