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SideTour: The Airbnb of Experiences

As part of our report on The Airbnb of Anything: The Growth of P2P Markets, we wanted to talk to a young company in the collaborative consumption space about the challenges they're facing, and the strides they've made.

We found SideTour -- the Airbnb of "authentic experiences" -- and picked the brain of one of their co-founders, Mark Webster.

Here's what he had to say:

TriplePundit: Why is this happening now?
Is it a return to a normal pattern of human consumption (trading and bartering in a small community of people who are assumed, or known, to be well-intentioned)?

Mark Webster: Our theory is that two key trends are colliding at the same time and blossoming into this new access economy:

  • The first is that in today's market, more and more people are moving from traditional full-time jobs to freelancing based on their expertise and interests, and hence looking for new ways and platforms to support themselves.

  • The second is that there is a renewed interest in the origin and authenticity of the things we spend our money on. We care about the people who create the things we enjoy and are tired of being sold pre-packaged things that lack soul or personality.

We want meaning from how we spend our money, and that’s helping to fuel this movement.

3p: How can you reduce fear among users? How much responsibility does the platform have for the behavior of its users?

MW: Our experience is that this fear is much more prevalent in marketplaces that involve physical assets. If you’re lending your apartment or car to someone, there is a much bigger concern about who that person is than if you're going on a tour together.

SideTour is about experiences and activities, so it changes the dynamics of trust a bit.

You’re just spending time with someone participating in an activity together, so there is much less cause for concern. Also, all SideTour experiences are small group events, and many of them take place at public venues, both of which add additional layers of trust and safety around the people you meet on SideTour.

However, it’s something we take very seriously, as some of our experiences are more intimate, such as when a small group is invited into a host's home. Here the group dynamic helps ensure a certain level of trust about everyone’s behavior, and as our product continues to evolve, we’ll be adding some features that show the host more information about who is going to be attending their experience.

Responsibility of the marketplace
A marketplace is responsible for providing its users with the tools and information needed to make good decisions.

It's extremely powerful to offer new ways for people to interact with each other, but it's important to allow them to be able to evaluate whether they will feel comfortable interacting with those people. The platform provider should also be able to act as a mediator between parties when necessary.

3p: How can someone get started in this space? Do you have any tips for assembling a critical mass of initial users?

MW: Starting a marketplace is not for the faint-of-heart :)

You have to build two sides of the business at once, and each in relative proportion to the other, so that, in our case, both our hosts and their guests have a positive experience.

When you are dealing with individuals (as opposed to businesses) on the supply side of a marketplace, there is also a greater likelihood that things will change in their lives that affect their ability to participate in your business. They may move, or take on a new job, or anything else that may change their willingness to, say, offer their apartment for rent, or share their car, or host an experience.

The reason our team felt confident we could take on a challenge like this is that we have three co-founders with deep experiences in entertainment and scaling businesses, and all of us share a common vision for how to make this very exciting business successful.

That aside, it really helps to find a behavior that people are already doing and help them turn it into a way to make money. A lot of the success we're seeing in the access economy is being driven by people taking things they have done for their friends and offering those things to other people at a price:

  • Friends often stay in your spare room, but now you can offer it to a paying guest.

  • People lend their cars to their friends, but now they’re renting them to strangers.

  • Chefs host dinner parties for their friends, but now guests can pay to access that type of experience.

Creating new behaviors is extremely difficult, and building a way to help people find value in the things they already do is much easier.

3p: Let's get more SideTour specific: Who are you? What's your governing philosophy? What are your goals and expansion plans?

MW: Our philosophy is that happiness and meaning in life comes from the experiences we have, not from material goods.

And we believe there are three parts to having an amazing experience:

  1. The activity you’re involved in

  2. The person helping guide you through that experience

  3. The people you’re sharing the experience with

SideTour brings all three together to create unique and memorable experiences that help you explore a city in a whole new way. Cities are full of creative and vibrant people -- artists, actors, chefs, sommeliers, educators, students, explorers, philosophers, shoppers, collectors, talkers, walkers, runners and rock climbers -- doing fun and interesting things that we would all love to be a part of if only we could find them.

That’s why we created SideTour.

The founders and the initial idea
The company was started by Vipin Goyal, Mark Webster and Minesh Mistry. The three co-founders and friends brought together their deep backgrounds in entertainment and technology to launch SideTour.

The idea behind SideTour was inspired by a trip around the world that Vipin and his wife took a couple years ago. They spent six months traveling and looking for unique and interesting ways to experience new places, then arrived back in New York wanting to continue that sense of exploration. Vipin noted how we’re in discovery mode while we travel, but then come back to our own city only to do the same things and spend time with the same people time and time again.

Why not bring the adventure and experience of travel to your own city? That’s what SideTour is all about.

We’re a relatively new company. We launched our platform six months ago and we’re only available in New York right now but plan to launch in other cities this year.

Our mission is to change the way people spend their time and explore the world around them.

Thanks, Mark! If you missed our story on the The Airbnb of Anything: The Growth of P2P Markets panel, do check it out!

Alison Monahan is a web developer, turned lawyer, turned entrepreneur. She runs The Girl's Guide to Law School and co-founded the Law School Toolbox. You'll find her on Twitter at @GirlsGuideToLS.

Alison Monahan

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School, and is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and other blogs. She's a former patent litigator, an ex-web developer, and a trained architect. She writes and Tweets at the intersection of law, technology, design, and business, drawing on her unique background and experience to bridge these worlds for her readers.

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