The Startup Sit Down: Rob Pyles, Founder of TourSphere, Is Talking Boston Startups And Boxing Rings
My favorite type of travel is when I rock up to a city with a built-in local tour guide, be it a friend, couchsurfing host, or random I met on the journey over. The experience is much more enjoyable, authentic and a far cry from the dreaded tourist traps. But local tour guides are a luxury, and most of the time I’m doing a lot of the “off the beaten path” legwork myself.
Luckily, Boston-based TourSphere is hoping to ease our wandering feet and weary travel-researched mind by providing an easy tour guide app-making platform for museums, cities and even average Joes like me to create custom tours for independent explorers everywhere. This, my traveling friends, is awesome.
I sat down with the founder and CEO, Rob Pyles, to talk TourSphere hatchings, punching things, and Mediterranean melting pots, on this session of The Startup Sit Down.
Hey Rob, thanks for taking the time to give us the TourSphere lowdown. Our KillerStartups fans are looking forward to being inspired!
Let’s get started…
Tell us a little about where you’re coming from and what inspired Toursphere.
RP: I absolutely love to travel–I love to get off the beaten track and really exploring the soul of a place.
We wanted to create a way for businesses and museums and for cities or historic sites to give that experience to their visitors as well. Let’s say you’re the tourism board for Buenos Aires and you want to create an app—it’s really expensive and you’ll only reach iPhone users. You also don’t have a way to keep it updated and fresh.
So, we created a platform that solved all of those problems. Right now, if you wanted to create a “Holly’s Buenos Aires Tour”, you can go on TourSphere and create an app with a built-out GPS-enabled map with all your favorite places; you can also create audio content and connect it with all the point of interests, etc.
The way we look at TourSphere is like WordPress for Smartphone apps. It gives non-technical people the ability to create their own apps, and it works across all platforms.
Ok, so what if I had a museum in Kansas and I wanted to create a tour with TourSphere, do you guys also provide a design and development team?
RP: There’s two ways you can have your app built. One way is to say, “Hey Rob and Toursphere team, can you just build the app for me” and we can absolutely do that. But, what I think is especially ground-breaking and great about TourSphere is that if the museum wants to, they can build the whole app themselves—they can choose the design, colors, etc., and even test and launch the app. They don’t even ever have to talk to us.
How many companies are you working with now?
We have about 300 users on TourSphere right now building their apps, and we have about 50 live clients that range from big museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to small, local historical societies, so there is a really big range.
We’re actually building an app right now for the Embassy of Ecuador. They contacted us and wanted an app, so that’s a really cool one we’re working on.
When we launched we had the tourism and museum market in mind as our target market, but it has become a much broader market than we thought. The Embassy of Ecuador? That’s crazy.
We’re also working with hotels and resorts now, sort of like a mobile concierge.
What’s your office vibe?
RP: It’s very laid back. We all love to travel and explore, so we’re all pretty mellow and go with the flow, which is the vibe in the office.
Biggest startup surprise (good or bad) so far?
RP: The biggest good surprise is that the technology has reached a broader market.
The biggest tech challenge, I think, has been trying to build TourSphere to work across all platforms. But we think that’s what makes us different, so it’s a good challenge to tackle.
Where do you find inspiration or how do you motivate yourself/your team?
RP: When someone builds an app on TourSphere, it’s really fun to go with the team and actually do the tour that’s been built. For example, the Boston Pubic Library has this amazing palatial building downtown, and they’re launching their tour next month, and I can’t wait to go and take the tour.
How do you handle frustration or stress?
RP: I’ve recently joined a boxing gym—it’s incredibly therapeutic. It feels so good to hit something. I go 3 times a week in the morning, and it’s just an awesome release of pint up frustration. Personally, I hate sitting down all day, I just feel like that’s not what the human body is made to do. So being able to do something like boxing, which is so physically challenging is great.
It helps you both physically and mentally process things better so you don’t get so worked up in the day.
Fun questions! What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend?
RP: I would take my wife and little girl sailing in the Mediterranean along the coast of Turkey, Spain, Italy, all of it. The Mediterranean is such a melting pot too; I would love to just experience all the cultures. No technology, just be powered by the wind and have an elemental experience.
So yeah, if I had a year off I think that would be a really cool experience to do with my family.
That’s excellent. I think the Amalfi Coast in Italy is absolutely mind-blowing. Have you been?
RP: Yeah, about 10 years ago now, it was wonderful.
And, do you sail?
RP: Yes, I’m a bad sailor—I consider it a successful voyage if I bring the boat back. But, yeah I do sail here in Boston.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
RP: Patience. I think our culture has really glorified the whole idea of a tech startup that gets a ton of money and goes from $0 to $1 billion in the first 2 years. I think we’ve just glorified getting funding too much.
The tech community here in Boston, I think, is one of the top in the US along with San Francisco and New York. So it’s a really vibrant scene. But people have this idea that if you don’t have funding then you’re not a really serious startup. I totally disagree. I think we need to flip this paradigm.
With a bootstrap startup you are relying on having a good product that’s actually a need in the marketplace that people are willing to pay money for. So, you’re relying on profits rather than funding. Our culture has pushed this instant rockstar startup and people get frustrated if they don’t hit $1 million in 6 months.
You want a steady growth when you are bootstrapped so your growth is organic.
App or site you can’t live without?
Are there one or two tours that you really love on TourSphere?
RP: Yeah, there are definitely a few that I really like—We worked with the City of Washington D.C. to create a series of several tours around the DC area, focused on the unique personalities of the neighborhoods and to get the tourists off the Mall. There’s a really cool sountdrack that we built from scratch that goes along with it. It’s really cool.
The Nation Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinatti, dedicated to telling the story of slavery in America, is also a really great one. The app takes you through the collection and helps to bring the story behind the artifacts. It’s a really powerful museum.
What are your next projects or goals you’re working on?
RP: Man, a lot of things. We’re aiming to have 100 clients on the platform by the end of the year. I’m pretty confident we’ll hit that.
Right now, we’re investing a lot in making the app builder and content manager easy to use for everyone. We’re also doing a big push for hotels and resorts to create what we’re calling a digital concierge.
Close us out with some parting words on why TourSphere is so awesome.
RP: I would just say that TourSphere is, of course, a technology company – but I love what we do because it uses technology to connect people to physical places. It doesn’t cut you off or distract you from your environment – it helps you experience your environment more deeply. That’s why people – me included – get so excited about the idea behind TourSphere.
Thanks Rob! I’ll seriously be thinking about making a “Holly’s BA Tour” with highlights to include Magdalena’s Party in Palermo, and a little high culture experience at the stunning Teatro Colon, all set to the ever-catchy and ever-raunchy South American club hit Loca People.