From Graffiti Lessons To Olympic Luging: SideTour Raises $1.5 Million

What would you pay to watch me — a bona fide professional blogger — sit in my apartment, whipping up this post amidst a flurry of irritating phone calls, order-in lunch, and dirty laundry? To witness the magic that drives TechCrunch?

Okay, so anyone in their right mind would pass on that offer (and frankly, I don’t want the company). But what about a home-cooked meal prepared by the sou chef of a top restaurant, or graffiti lessons from a pro, or lunch with a former investment banker-turned monk? That’s the promise of SideTour, a startup that lets users showcase (and sell) unique, genuine experiences — things that you can’t buy tickets for normally, but would be very enjoyable all the same.

Today, the startup, which is part of the latest batch of TechStars NYC companies, is announcing that it’s raised a funding round of $1.5 million, led by RRE and Foundry Group.

The service, which is limiting itself to users in NYC for now, launched eight weeks ago. The array of experiences listed on the site include everything from learning about spices, to dance lessons to, yes, playing pinball with the GroupMe team. Each experience lists a day and time, as well as how many slots are left open and the cost. From there, you can book it through Eventbrite — SideTour takes a 20% cut, which has been reduced to 15% for the beta period.

The site is still pretty early on, so a few obvious features are missing. But Vipin Goyal says that there’s a lot on the way: users and hosts will be able to create profiles, and hosts will be able to accept/reject people who want to attend their experiences (a particularly good idea if you’re inviting people into your home). Another obvious addition would be a review system so that attendees can rate how each experience went.

Goyal acknowledges that there are several other startups, like Skyara and  Vayable, setting out to do similar things (I’ve heard the ‘Airbnb for activities’ pitch several times). But he says most of them are using a listing model, where users find something they want to do and then contact the host to arrange it. In contrast, SideTour uses an appointment system — a professional chef, for example, would specify exactly which night they were going to be making that homecooked meal, and then people buy tickets to that event.

This model lends itself well to social experiences — Goyal says that oftentimes the five or ten people at a given experience wind up bonding (they might know each other to start, but they’re all there because they have a shared interest), and will sometimes meet up again after the event. And as a sign that the site is starting to get some traction, he says that a it’s starting to get inbound attention from hosts (like the aforementioned sou chef) who want to offer their skills in a different setting.