Earlier this month, investor Jeff Clavier told us on TechCrunch TV that he had just invested in a promising startup that was related to the geo-location space. Without giving us too many clues, he said it was not a primary check-in player like Foursquare, but a service that aggregates geo-location data from several sources and uses it for a very targeted, specific application. Well, we didn’t have to go very far to unveil the identity of Clavier’s mystery startup. Less than two weeks later, Geoff Lewis, the founder of Topguest knocked on our door.
New York based Topguest is a travel rewards service based on the geo-location game. The service helps you easily aggregate points for travel rewards programs, by synching up with many of the major check-in apps, including Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Google’s Latitude, Yelp and Twitter. Therefore, regardless of whether you check-in to a hotel partner on Gowalla or Foursquare for example, all the points are stored in one location.
The startup, which launched in June, plans to partner with several travel rewards programs, including hotels, airlines, car services and other businesses related to travel. On Thursday, Topguest unveiled its latest partnership with the InterContinental Priority Club. That’s a fairly large coup for the young startup, given InterContinental’s reach of 4,400 properties (the hotel group’s lineup includes the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo). Prior to the Intercontinental, the service had just two partners, the Standard and the Soho & Tribeca Grand hotels.
The points awarded per check-in and the awards available vary by program. However, a common transaction Lewis says is 50 points per check-in for a hotel activity (i.e. a stay, a spa treatment, a conference or a drink at the restaurant), a free night’s stay could be awarded after accumulating 1700 points (or roughly 34 check-ins). Some programs also offer discounts, for example, at the Standard you can get 25% off your next stay after 10 check-ins at their hotel, bar or restaurant. For someone who travels a lot or lives in a major city, that’s a pretty compelling offer. Although their sample size is small, Lewis claims his service is driving significant check-ins at their partner locations.
“What we’re doing is accretive to the ecosystem, it’s driving more people to check-in and it’s creating a real incentive layer, a real value…for a mainstream user,” he says. “The number of check-ins happening at our partner properties is dramatically higher versus before Topguest existed, I think we’ve seen something like a 400% increase of geo-location check-ins at Standard Hotels since our program launched about four weeks ago versus the previous four weeks… Users are inviting like two friends on average to join Topguest, something like 70% of the people who visit the site join.”
While there does seem to be a tight correlation between a Topguest partnership and increased check-ins, the site will need to expand rapidly in the coming months in order to add significant value for their hotel partners. Currently, there are 10,000 members.
In addition, there is always the concern that a primary check-in service, like Foursquare, or another player like Facebook will try to enter their market and directly compete with Topguest for those lucrative travel rewards partnerships. While Lewis has not ruled out the possibility, he believes Topguest is more of an ally to check-in services because it encourages consumer usage. Topguest, he says, also has an advantage because it is a neutral party and can accept check-ins from so many different platforms.
That may sound like PR fluff but there’s some evidence that he’s not alone in his thinking. In June, they raised a seed round of $350,000 with Conway, Founders Fund, Keith Rabois, Jeff Clavier, Kal Vepuri and Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir. Thus, Topguest shares an investor with Foursquare, SV Angel’s Ron Conway, and an investor with Gowalla, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Topguest is not profitable yet, but it’s on the brink of raising another round. According to reports, Topguest is currently on track to raise over one million with their Series A round, which will reportedly include many of the same investors (and will close by the end of this summer).