This installment of TZ Startup Hot Seat features Keith Petri, Co-Founder of iGottaGuide. We first learned about them during our trip to New York for BlogWorld & New Media Expo this past May. iGottaGuide is currently in New York Beta before they expand out to other cities. Like in all cities there is the guided tour then the “Real Tour”. The stuff you really want to know about a city or won’t find on any map. iGottaGuide allows you to find just the right person to give you the experience you are looking for.
Let’s dive into the interview and find out what sparked the idea for iGottaGuide and get a few helpful tips from a fellow entrepreneur.
Give Us the Fast Pitch
iGottaGuide connects local and visiting tourists to professional and amateur tour guides for an authentic local experience.
What made you decide to begin working on IGottaGuide?
When I was in college I lived in Galway, Ireland my junior year, and I spent the majority of my time traveling around Europe. I remember being in Rome and going to the Coliseum and didn’t enjoy it, because it was like walking around Times Square – full of tourists. Then I got to Florence and had a completely different experience. I had a friend in Florence, and she was dating a local. He showed us the city in a way we could never have experienced through a guidebook, which is just travel by numbers.
One night at 3AM we were winding up when the local friend said there was one more place we had to go. We protested, but he asked us to trust him. Soon he was knocking on a garage door, a secret bakery only open from 3:30 to 5:30AM that serves all the local stores. Only locals know you can go there at those hours and buy bread and pastries. That experience was the first of many on my travels that sold me on the idea: the best way to travel is to connect with someone who knows the city inside and out.
What is the market opportunity?
Nothing is worse than a spectacular trip made mediocre by bad planning. Nobody tries to book bland, cookie-cutter trips, but the reality is that the current offering of guidebooks and travel websites don’t make it easy to find unique activities. Instead of limiting you to established tours, iGottaGuide helps you find an authentic, local experience that caters to your interests. We want to save you from a vacation wasted on big-box tours where the guides walk backwards with gaggle of tourists in tow. Don’t compromise – it’s your vacation and it should be about you, not you and 30 strangers.
How big is your team?
iGottaGuide was launched by myself and a technical co-founder. I am Keith Petri, lifelong entrepreneur, lover of travel and hater of tourists’ traps. I founded my first business in high school; it was an online market place for art meant to give artists a less-exclusive retail outlet, and buyers a way to discover new art. Just like iGottaGuide, the idea was all about democratization–taking the power away from the gatekeepers and giving customers a greater range of choices at a lower price. Between then and now, I have started and run a number of other businesses, such as eBranding Me, which is all about educating people (especially students) about the importance of managing their online footprint, and how to do that.
Are you Funded? How did your company get its initial funding? How much funding do you currently have?
iGottaGuide has been completely self-funded up to this point; however, we have some pretty exciting ideas and may look for outside funding to realize them very soon.
Have you ever needed to change direction/focus? If so, what was that like?
iGottaGuide launched on April 15th of this year. Thus we are excited for initial feedback and focused on publishing future iterations of the website based on user feedback. We are posed as a nimble startup ready to shift with consumer demands.
How do you deal with competitors? Do you keep up with other companies doing similar things?
The online travel space is crowded. However, since the shift from traditional travel agents to online information outlets to online booking of flights, accommodations and activities the personalization of vacation has been lost. iGottaGuide’s competitors are focused on providing visitors with local insights via mobile applications – but who wants their smartphone to direct them around the Big Apple while on vacation! Don’t walk up 5th avenue and let your iPhone tell you the gigantic skyscraper to your left is the Empire State Building; connect with a local guide who is offering a truly unique experience of the little-known, under-visited hot spots every city has.
What are the most difficult and best things about being an entrepreneur?
Having been an entrepreneur for some time, I can say quite comfortably that managing work/life balance is one of the most difficult things. Managing your time and sustaining relationships becomes a job in and of itself. I highly recommend separating the physical space in which you conduct business in from where you relax. Whether it is a separate bedroom or an office outside of your apartment, do not attempt to work from a mere 5-feet from you bed!
On a lighter note, the best aspect of being an entrepreneur is the feeling of accomplishment. While any mistakes made are your sole responsibility (or your teams), any success is also based on your effort alone. And that feels great. The risk is worth the reward!
What’s one of your most successful decisions?
During the summer before my senior year at Skidmore College I decided to quit my internship and pursue, full-time, my design & photography business (www.KPetri.com). In doing so, I was able to leverage my accumulating business skills and grow my client base to expand beyond my immediate geographical area. This eventually lead to being hired by Wainscott Media and North Jersey Media Group – as well as a very successful e-commerce website which still receives sales to this day. Either way, the internship was unpaid anyway!
With mobile now playing a big part in the space, where you do you see the traveling/touring industry heading?
The majority of a visitor’s travel plans are made while on vacation. Thus, iGottaGuide is already in the process of addressing the need for a mobile app. Currently our website can be accessed by any smartphone, but we are looking forward to improving the experience with a mobile solution.
Where have you struggled? What mistakes have you made that you believe other entrepreneurs could learn from?
Don’t be scared to ask for help! I cannot stress it enough. While many entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to hire people smarter than themselves (Business Insider), I encourage everyone to take advantage of their network. No one has all of the answers, and I definitely didn’t. I could not be where I am today without the help of my family, friends and peers.
Who are your three most influential entrepreneurs?
What does “failure” mean to you?
Failure is my motivation. While others enter routines designed to avoid failure, I embrace it. Check out one of my most recent blog posts: Fear of Failure.
What does “success” mean to you?
Well, success for iGottaGuide would mean having a growing number of independent tours listed in New York, and having the groundwork set to expand both domestically and abroad. However, on a personal level, I have always dreamt of one day living and working from sea – this is the life…
What is coming up next? Your goals, new products, new direction? (Either for you as an entrepreneur or for the company as a whole)
I am solely focused on the growth of iGottaGuide and improving its functionality, design and business model. We are learning about the travel and tech industry everyday, listening to visitors’ feedback and beginning to develop future technologies that will improve tourism. We never want you to feel like a tourist again!