Our tech start-up of the week is TripClocker.com, a new discovery platform for independent travellers. The idea of the web-based application is to help people going on a holiday or globe-trotting to find and book experiences and activities faster and more cheaply, without having to spend time trawling through numerous websites and blogs.
TripClocker launched last December and is currently taking part in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme at Hothouse at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).
The Dublin-based venture has been co-founded by Irishman Olan O’Sullivan and Ivan Garcia, who hails from Spain. Formerly based in Barcelona, Garcia migrated to Dublin to co-found TripClocker and has since taken on the role of chief technology officer. Meanwhile, O’Sullivan is CEO of the start-up.
In all, five people are currently working on TripClocker. As well as the two co-founders, Patrick Hession is chief operational officer. The two remaining team members are Holly Trantham and Alex Puzzolo – both are from the US. They are interning at TripClocker for the summer as part of their studies at two respective US universities.
What is TripClocker?
O’Sullivan says TripClocker is a platform for "free-thinking" travellers, mainly those in the 25-40 year-old age bracket, who are searching for unique experiences when travelling.
Describing the application as a “personal browser” for fun things to do, he says the site offers a curated selection of independent activities, a booking process, plus information on various destinations.
“Unlike random internet searching, TripClocker delivers everything in one place so you can save time and experience more,” he claims.
The days of travel agents before the internet age
Hark back to the pre-internet age when people often depended solely on their local travel agent to research and book a holiday for them. Now the web appears to be the main window to the world in terms of checking out destinations and activities to do while on holiday, be it surfing off the north west coast of Ireland in Bundoran, Co Donegal; tours such as the Inca Trail in Peru in South America; or aqua experiences such as the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia.
According to O’Sullivan, however, there is currently a mismatch in terms of supply and demand in the online space for researching tours and activities.
While it is easy to source your flight or hotel through the likes of websites such as Kayak, Skyscanner or Booking.com, finding fun things to do while on holiday can take hours of independent research on blogs and sites such as TripAdvisor, he says.
The average traveller, claims O’Sullivan, can spend up to seven hours and visit 22 websites before booking a trip – this is based on Google analysis carried out in 2011.
How the idea was spawned
So how did the digital service come to fruition? The initial idea for TripClocker struck O’Sullivan while he was on holiday in Singapore, Borneo and Bali last year.
“My girlfriend and I booked all our flights and then looked about finding the experiences that motivated us to book the trip in the first place," he explains. “We looked at bespoke travel agents such as Trailfinders and Intrepid, but felt we could do better in terms of price by going directly to the local suppliers.”
There was just one small glitch – O’Sullivan says they didn’t factor in the time it would take to do this independent online research.
“We read stacks of travel blogs before leaving, but by departure day we had next to nothing booked and were still unsure of what we would be doing,” he says.
To cut a long story short, he says they ended up rushing from place to place to partake in the activities that they had set out to do.
“We arrived into Kota Kinabulu in Borneo, frazzled from a day of travelling, to find out we needed to get on a night bus straight away if we wanted to do the ‘jungle trip’ we had planned. This was the same scenario for our diving trip in the southern part of the island,” explains O’Sullivan.
“We still had an amazing time, but we were convinced that there was a more efficient way of finding and booking independent suppliers – so we could save time and experience more.”
O’Sullivan’s own background seems quite diverse. He studied economics and politics at University College Dublin, followed by international relations at Dublin City University.
He then had a stint in London as an oil market analyst. He has also worked as an investment analyst for the Irish financier and businessman Dermot Desmond.
In 2009, O’Sullivan decided to go travelling and he spent 13 months exploring South America, New Zealand, Australia, India and South East Asia. During this trip he also worked in an orphanage in Cambodia.
Upon his return to Ireland in 2010, he says he was fired up to go down the entrepreneurial route. Against the backdrop of the economic climate in Ireland, however, he decided to bide his time before setting up a venture. He took a role with AIB Corporate Finance and continued to look for interesting ideas.
“What kickstarted things for me was opening myself up to other people and ideas. I participated in the NDRC’s inaugural Swequity Exchange, helping to launch the start-up FAB All Things. I started to talk to people about my idea and once you do that, well, things start to happen,” he reflects.
Dublin and Belfast first
So what is TripClocker in a nutshell?
“We’ve built a highly flexible e-commerce system for tours and activity companies and we’re working on creating some pretty cool social features,” says O’Sullivan.
The platform has initially launched in Dublin and currently has between 30 and 40 products available for the city and the surrounding county.
“Presently, we’re focused on building supply in Belfast and hope to launch there in the next month," he says.
As a platform, TripClocker is focused on two audiences: building supply and driving traffic to the application.
“In terms of supply, we’re primarily focused on businesses in the tours and activities sector without retail distribution. This is an estimated €100bn market opportunity globally,” O’Sullivan claims.
TripClocker features six categories: adventure, food and wine, sightseeing, alternative, cultural and ‘off the beaten path’.
“We’re seeking to list companies across these categories that have regular availability (typically weekly) with regular scheduled tours and activities.”
The TripClocker team is mainly targeting what O’Sullivan describes as 25-40 year-old ‘urbanites’.
“Consumer behaviour research tells us that this group is highly independent in their travel purchases and is increasingly more interested in experience over material goods,” he says. Think soaking up the atmosphere of a city or exploring a natural heritage site such as the Burren in Co Clare.
And while the TripClocker team is initially focusing its marketing efforts locally, it’s also working on building up supply to offer the service for Northern Ireland and the UK.
“We will begin to address the UK outbound market, primarily within the greater London area. The UK is the largest European travel market. In London alone, there are over 2m people in the 25-40 age cohort, representing almost 30pc of the population,” he says.
As to how the team planning to monetise from the platform, O’Sullivan says their business model is pretty simple.
"We charge a booking commission for business we deliver to our suppliers. There is no upfront cost to list on the platform.”
In the future, he says the goal would be to integrate with online travel agents, hotel groups and digital publishers.
Goals for next 12 months in Europe
The immediate plan, however, is to continue building TripClocker’s inventory across the major European markets.
“Our target is to have 100 suppliers per region, in 10 European regions or cities in the next 12 months,” says O’Sullivan.
While building the overall consumer brand, another plan is to integrate with third-party distributors to drive bookings to TripClocker’s suppliers.
Start-up accelerator and advice
As for being involved in the New Frontiers programme at DIT Hothouse, O’Sullivan describes it as a "fantastic" support for budding entrepreneurs.
“It differs slightly from some of the new accelerators, but exposes you to a broader set of businesses and gives you the freedom to concentrate on your business,” he says.
As well as this, TripClocker has also been selected to pitch for the Enterprise Ireland Competitive Start fund.
Finally, in terms of advice to others thinking of setting up a digital enterprise in Ireland, O’Sullivan says there are plenty of “great supports” out there.
“Sometimes we can over-think things and convince ourselves that our ideas aren’t good enough, be too guarded or feel that we don’t possess the necessary experience. Undoubtedly, it’s still difficult but if you take a step and put yourself out there (in my experience) things start to happen.”