TripTrotting Celebrates Oversubscribed Round by Eating Its Own Dogfood

By Michael Carney , written on May 22, 2012

From The News Desk

There's nothing worse than coming home from an international trip and hearing about all the cool stuff you missed out on, because it was only known to locals.

TripTrotting is a startup that aims to solve this by combining travelers with local hosts.

“Oh, like couchsurfing?” you ask. No, couchsurfing is about lodging and is more often the domain of backpacking youth. If anything, it’s actually more like the ultra-exclusive social network aSmallWorld, except without the doucherie or implied trade of sexual favors (and typically without the Ferraris).

TripTrotting has been growing so impressively, that its recently announced $1 million Series A Seed financing was seriously oversubscribed and has now been increased to $1.5 million. Beyond the additional $500,000 the company has already accepted, they are already in ongoing discussions with much larger strategic investors about a potential follow-on financing.

The traveler’s network has an on-the-ground presence in 150 countries and 2,000 cities worldwide. It has tens of thousands of users distributed approximately one third across Asia, one third across Europe, one sixth in North America, and the rest in South America and Australia.

The network offers more than just a loose collection of global members. TripTrotting has constructed a recommendation engine through consultation with former eHarmony chief scientist Galen Buckwalter. The system matches travelers with local hosts that share similar interests, who then offer anything from recommendations to transportation, tours, or even accommodations.

TripTrotting recently launched a redesigned website that now includes member profiles and a “social activities” section. These activities are personalized based on user interests and can be sorted by location, date, time, and popularity. The end result is a list of unique activities curated by locals and then refined by tourists.

Local hosts, which are the backbone of the system, are incentivized by the opportunity to connect with interesting foreigners (they only occasionally charge for their services). While this may seem nonsensical to many Westerners, the closest many people around the world get to international travel is interacting with tourists visiting their home town. In other cases, the locals are expats who have developed pride in their home-away-from-home and are eager to share the best it has to offer.

In addition to local members acting as hosts, the company has installed 40 country ambassadors, who spend as much as 20 hours per week working for free on behalf of the travel startup. Thus far they have only been compensated with “official titles” and recognition for their contributions on the TripTrotting website.

The ambassadors, many of whom proudly list the position on their social networking profiles and professional resumes, also host a special community event series called “TRIPups.” Dozens of these gatherings have been hosted to date in the US, China, Brazil, Russia, Cambodia, and elsewhere.

An event last week in Hangzhou, China had more than 100 people in attendance. One in Los Angeles took over a hotel bar on a Sunday afternoon with several hundred exchange students and international travelers. Often the events are sponsored by airlines or hotel chains who give away services to attendees.

TripTrotting’s founders are extremely worldly themselves. Shana Zheng and Aigerim Shorman are both USC grads, but neither was born in the US. Zheng is Chinese (from Inner Mongolia), while Shorman is Kazakhstani. They founded their startup to solve a personal frustration with traveling as “clueless tourists.”

The founders recently “ate their own dogfood,” putting their member community to the test during a trip to Mexico City. The pair was traveling as part of Geeks on a Plane, but arrived late and not as part of the larger group. In a city where foreigners are warned to keep their guard up at all time, they arranged rides from the airport by locals for themselves and a few other stranded “Geeks.”

“Our host was Hugo, who is an architect and a member of the Mexican national rugby team,” says Zheng. “He took us out at night and escorted us to the gate of the US Ambassador’s house where we had dinner. While others in the group were worried about going out at night or taking Taxis, we felt perfectly safe traveling with a local host.”

Proud of their home in Los Angeles and of their early success as women entrepreneurs, Zheng and Shorman were adamant that they wanted to bring onboard investors that represented these strengths.

This latest funding announcement adds the LA chapter of the women entrepreneur-focused angel network Golden Seeds and the Chinese VC firm WI Harper to the previously announced seed round investors, Google Ventures, 500 Startups, IdeaLab, Safa Rashtchy, and Eric Chen.

Triptrotting has now raised a total of $1.8 million including $150,000 from its time within two incubators, first IdeaLab and most recently LaunchPad LA.