No one likes to look like a tourist, even when they are one. New New Yorkers even go so far as to buy fancy little moleskine notebooks with tiny subway maps in the beginning so no one can tell when they’re double-checking to figure out if they should stay on the A or hop off and grab the C.
Unfortunately, there’s really no way to truly act like a native unless, well, you’re a native. What you can do, however, is head on over to Suggestme, a new site that may change the way you approach your next trip. Suggestme tracks what’s being said on social networks (Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook) to figure out what the locals are talking about. They then supply you with that information, which means that even if you can’t be a native, you can act like one.
KillerStartups sat down with co-founder Henk Jan Bijmolt to talk about what makes Suggestme so great, where they’re headed, and what keeps them going.
What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?
Sick of trawling along the tourist trail? Would you like to find the extraordinary things to see and do during your city trip? Travelers take our suggestions from social media and turn them into a personal city guide. Right now we have free personal and social city guides for London, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and Barcelona.
The most important goal of the site is to provide travelers with interesting and appropriate highlights of their trip. As well as presenting the most well-known highlights, the website will show suggestions that’ll make their trip different. Through the continual monitoring of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, we know all the things happening in a particular city at any one moment.
The company is based in The Netherlands, Europe and is owned by;
Arne Bos: co-founder and programmer. He runs a tight ship. Programming faster than the speed of light.
Peter Bosma: co-founder and programmer. The senior in the house. It’s never good enough.
and myself, Henk Jan Bijmolt: co-founder and online marketing specialist. Get tired of him. Every minute another 1000 ideas. I sold my Affiliate Network Cleafs to the stock listed company affili.net (Sedo Group) in 2012.
We all worked in the online travel industry for many years and love to fix the well known problem during city trips: Where to go? What are unique spots to visit?
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
Do you have any idea where to go during your city trips beside the main highlights? We found that combining existing tourist information (from sources likes paper guides and our hand picks, including our personal visits to our cities) with social data (from Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and more) creates cool and personalized recommendations. Travelers easily create their personal city guides with those suggestions. An example of this can be seen at Suggestme.com
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
We came up with the name suggestme.com in July 2012. This name makes it clear that we are specialized in suggesting tourist hotspots based on social data.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
My first computer was actually a games console and I wasted a lot of my childhood days gaming on my NES 8 bit! I absolutely loved Mario Bros 2 and it was the most addictive game I have ever played. By the time I was 15, I had saved up enough money to buy my first computer. At the time, we were on a dial-up connection, and our monthly phone bills quickly escalated to $300 dollars. I remember my dad asking me if it was all worth it. I answered ‘yes’ and started investing more time and effort into designing and learning html. Thanks, Dad.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
My workdays are usually from 9 to 6. I have learnt that making time for family and exercise keeps you fit and more productive the next day!
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
Earlier this year my colleagues and I went on a two-week work/holiday trip to Curacao. We stayed in a nice villa, had meetings by the pool and brainstorming sessions on the beach! Everyone got to know each other better and a lot of cool new ideas were born.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Check to see what’s currently trending by visiting our city pages. Only tourist hotspots where people talk about on social media will be showed on the website. That makes it exciting everyday.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
When I’m brushing my teeth at night, right before going to bed!
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started out with 5 people and we currently have a team of 8.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
Through our own personal needs we came up with the concept for Suggestme.com. Before going on holiday, we used to ask friends on Facebook and search on Twitter for things to do in the destination we wanted to go to. We have learnt that if you are passionate about an idea, others get excited too!
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
In the early days we spent many days and nights adding tourist hotspots to our maps. We now have more than 120,000 sights, museums and other city highlights. It took us a year to build the first version. We only show highlights where people talk about in the last 30 days.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
It was not difficult to find social data for the city hotspots. The main problem we had was deciding what to show our visitors, and which filters to use to give travellers the best suggestions.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
We have one big open-plan office, which makes it easy to discuss changes and problems. Our office is in the center of the city of Groningen, a fun, young city with more than 45,000 students.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
We hope that we can change the face of the travel sector with a social travel website that is equipped with the tools to help people get the most out of their trips. It would be great if people had more fun during their trip because of our social travel data. The biggest dream would be eventually to create a real-time travel guide, with live suggestions.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
I love the basics of the book Good to Great – How can you be the best in the world? What are you truly passionate about? And how can you make that work pay? Another of my favorites is the book Thinking Fast and Slow that teaches your body not to be fooled by your own brain.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded? Where’d you get the money, man?
Our Dutch travel website helps us to finance our bigger international plans ourselves. I sold my company, affiliate network Cleafs, in 2012 to Affili.net (Sedo Group). I help with some funding nowadays.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
The money isn’t important, add something cool to the world. Living for a better world is the new status symbol and should always be appreciated more than any amount of cash.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
The best entrepreneurs ask questions and listen to the answers. A large ego is your biggest enemy.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
Continue the same thing we do now. I already have that amount of money in my bank account and I don’t have any ideas about what to do with it. I should probably spend it on a worldwide TV channel broadcasting the message that it is time to work together. We have to work together to save the planet for future generations; harvest the earth, don’t destroy it! This is the century where we can show people that we are intelligent beings. With social media we have a chance.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
For me personally, success is not the purpose of creating Suggestme.com. I enjoying receiving messages from travellers who have used our site and hearing their tips about how to make their trips an even better experience.
Top 5 websites you couldn’t live without and why?
Springwise.com – Sometimes they have good suggestions for new businesses.
TheNextWeb – For checking the daily media business news;
SearchEngineWatch – I love Google SEO talk;
trendwatching.com – Always the latest buzz words and trends;
Business Insider – Fresh business and tech news.
Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?
WhatsApp – because it’s free and that’s what Dutch people like above anything! We use groups for management chats as well.
Flitsmeister – provides the best traffic information from radar checks on the road
Linkedin – to keep my network up to date
Dichtbij – a Dutch app with the best local deals around you
Top 40 music – with the latest hits
What is your music streaming player of choice, and what are you listening to right now?
iTunes- Ben Howard, I like the message behind the song: “Keep your head up, keep your mind set, keep your heart strong.”
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? (And why that country?)
I have always wanted to visit South Africa. I have heard really interesting stories about the variety within the country: Cape Town, the garden route, wildlife, the culture, and also it is a small piece of Dutch history.
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
Skift– the better travel industry news
Tnooz – the travel technology experts
ForbesTech – USA tech news
I believe that you shouldn’t follow too many people or read too many management books, but leave free space in your brain for your own vision.
However, one of our best city twitter accounts is New York. We use their tweets to post cool things to do, special events and some great hand picked highlights in New York.
Please share some specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) that highlight your growth.
Visitors per month: 350,000 planned for this year
Funding: 200,000 euro
Revenue: Just enough to pay the bills. We earn now with hotel and flight commissions. Later this year we will add premium city guides and a mobile version.
Thanks so much Henk!