Two years ago, I had a terrible experience at the Great Wall when I visited its most popular corridor in Badaling. Trapped between tens of thousands of local tourists for miles upon miles one scorchingly humid August day, I eventually managed to get off by riding a roller coaster down the Great Wall that ended up in a bear park. Really!
I’m not alone. AnyRoad co-founders Daniel and Jonathan Yaffe almost ended up doing the same thing, but they were smarter. They asked around and found out about remote parts of the wall where you could walk for miles without seeing another soul. It took hours to get there, but they got lucky and met a courteous taxi driver who showed them exactly what they wanted — that endless, breathtaking view of the crumbling Wall stretching for hundreds of miles into the distance.
With that as inspiration, they decided to do a startup together that would offer custom tours to people in cities like Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, San Francisco and more.
The Yaffe brothers have a colorful background. The older one, Jonathan, founded and was a principal of a charter school named KAIS International in Tokyo for several years, while the younger one, Daniel, ran and sold a drinking magazine called Drink Me and is releasing a book on whiskey later this year. Their technical co-founder Michalis Polakis is a former Soundcloud engineer.
They say they’re not quite like YC-backed Vayable, or other marketplaces for experiences, because they’re partnering with established tour guides and small companies instead of regular, everyday locals that want to give people experiences in their spare time.
AnyRoad has 200 tours available through 150 guides so far in five countries. The average ticket price being about $180. These include experiences like a Candomble tour in Rio de Janeiro, which teaches people about the history of the dance and music or a visit to a whiskey distillery in Brooklyn. About 80 percent of the company’s booking are from outside the U.S.
In their two month beta, they said that bookings are tripling each month and more than 1 percent of visitors to the site book a tour. AnyRoad takes a 14 percent commission off each one.
They had to meet with more than 3,000 tour guides throughout different countries over 18 months to figure out different pain points in the booking process.
The challenges are, of course, about scaling. The strong existing online travel startups have really strong SEO strategies, and are easy to find atop any search for hotels or tours in different cities. The company said it’s focusing on unique distribution channels and other partnerships, without offering too many specifics.
On the supply side, AnyRoad is basically a very customized CMS for tour guides. It’s a self-serve model although AnyRoad curates the marketplace and doesn’t let every potential tour onto the platform. They also verify the guides’ credentials for safety and trust. The startup is bootstrapped so far.