The illustrious Dan Frommer, a tech writer and editor, formerly of SplatF, Business Insider and ReadWriteWeb fame, is launching a travel startup this evening. And no it is not called Frommer’s because Google now owns that, but yes, it is also a novel approach to the very crowded local guide space.
You know how all you want to do when you get to a new city is have an amazingly cool, connected friend tell you where the five great places to go are? Well City Notes wants to be the mobile app version of that — only offering users 10-25 suggestions per city, starting with NYC Holiday suggestions and expanding as people catch on.
“There is no shortage of travel guides and apps,” Frommer tells me. Yup. “Competitors range from print-legacy companies like Lonely Planet to small shops like the GoGo guides in Paris and London. There’s a company called SuperFuture that makes amazing shopping guides — $20 PDFs. Even Pellegrino (yes, the water) has a travel guide app.”
Like a cheaper, mobile version of the SuperFuture or Blackbook guides (which are differentiated by their attention to high design and sleekness), each individual City Notes app, Frommer tells me, will focus on simplicity and extremely thoughtful editing. In the New York City Holiday Guide app for example, City Notes is suggesting dinner at NYC foodie up-and-comer NoMad and also a simple meal at Mission Chinese Food. These two places ooze “local curation,” as in they’re super-hipster, but are also super-worth going to if you’ve never been.
In addition to getting directions to places in-app, users can vote individual place suggestions up and down and post various guides to Twitter and Facebook, similar to local guide app Urbandig.
Frommer hopes that the service will be available in at least 10 cities next year and have a few different thematic guides for each, such as an individual guide for NYC Burgers, the Upper West Side, NYC With Pets, Obscure Museums, etc., in addition to just a normal, touristy NYC guide. The guides will be updated regularly and eventually will all be aggregated into one uber-City Notes guide if things go according to plan. After NYC, Frommer would like to tackle Tokyo, London, Barcelona, Paris, LA, Berlin and any other destination city.
“Anything that can be used to categorize places, we’ll consider for a guide,” Frommer said, revealing that his dream is to eventually have local notables like Momofuku’s David Chang contribute to City Notes, and that he’s made allowances for user-generated content on his publishing platform. “We want to be the best travel guide app in the App Store,” he says.
While the initial NYC Holiday guide costs $3, Frommer eventually wants the business to run on in-app purchases and a unique usage of native ads against guide content. The eventual pricing on further guides will vary — from free to a couple of dollars based on data from other sales.
Eventually, taking into account his extensive content background, he’d like City Notes to be mirrored by a website with free articles in addition to video and podcast content. “All the stuff a 2013 media company should have,” he says, then adding, “But crucially, everything built first for mobile.” The company is presently raising a seed round in order to make this happen.
Frommer curated the first guide himself, and he used StartAndBuild to build the initial app with co-founder Mark Dorison. When asked why he thought he was qualified to be a local expert, he said, “I’ve traveled extensively my entire life, love it, do it well, and have an open mind. I think that’s enough to become an expert in any field.” … Well sure, that and the fact that he used to get a kick out of checking into hotels while carrying around a physical Frommer’s Guide book and handing over an ID.
The City Notes Holiday NYC app is available in the iOS store here.