New York, San Francisco, Miami, Denver, Chicago, London, Paris…this is my month of travel. Most people look at this and think it means I’m making a ton of money and vacationing. WRONG. Here’s a little inside baseball stuff to help you understand... Building a community around Localeur isn’t an easy task, but it's paramount to our success. The first 10 to 20 Localeurs we get in each city are critical to what we do and how we set the tone for authentic and credible content in a new city. Building a community around anything is hard, but imagine doing it for a concept you and your buddy came up with that is competing with a company (Yelp) that absolutely everyone knows and uses. It’s challenging and fun and rewarding, and can't ever be mistaken for something anyone could do. My personality is pretty much perfect for this kind of work, and I smile every day I get to continue doing it and am thankful to have a partner in Chase who sees the value in this work. I find myself deploying every single experience I’ve ever had, leveraging every resource I’ve acquired and using every skill I’ve learned over the years – from working for the Texas Longhorns and Southwest Airlines to FEMA and Bazaarvoice – to get people on board with our experience local movement. I get a lot of inspiration from AirBnB because it took them well over a year before the founders started getting any real traction, but once they did their business went from being worth around $1 million to $1 billion in three years and it was a real business, not just a fly-by-night app with lots of press and buzz. I respect that. Yes, Localeur is a technology startup and Chase and our product team (using the term “team” loosely, as we have no full-time employees) spends all their time building a beautiful product that allows for a high degree of scalability without a lot of manual labor, but don’t be fooled…what community-building lacks in technical acumen, it more than makes up for in social requirements. If this were easy, someone else would have already done it. A lot of people don’t realize that Yelp only had 12,000 users at the end of their first year, and that’s after raising $1 million; it was their second year (similar to where Localeur is today) where it went up to 100,000 and they started their march toward being big enough to turn down a $1 billion Google acquisition offer. So when I’m on the road, most of my time is spent putting myself in position to meet cool local people in the cities we plan to launch in because these are the people that are most likely to understand why supporting local businesses matters so much. In the next six months, we’re planning to launch in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New Orleans, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. That would double the reach of Localeur, but it’d have an exponential impact on our ability to fulfill our mission of helping people experience local in whatever city they’re in. You may have read on TechCrunch that AirBnB recently raised a $500 million round from institutional investors like TPG and T. Rowe Price (Wall Street Journal is saying it was $450mm, but who cares at that level). This is rumored to value the company at a whopping $10 billion! That’s a lot of money for a private company that’s only about six years old. To give you some scale, Yelp, our main competitor, has a market valuation of between $5 billion and $6 billion and they’ve been public (and doing well in trading) for the last two years. AirBnB is building all the necessary elements to build a company that will one-day be worth $50 billion (double what Twitter’s present-day value is) or maybe even $100 billion with the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google. I think a novice investor would say “oh, it’s the marketplace…that’s where the value is”…again, WRONG. The value in AirBnB is in the community they’ve built and how they’ve been able to fundamentally alter the way people think about travel. Ten years ago, people were either trying to stay on a friend’s couch or they were paying for hotels. AirBnB made us realize that there was a ton of inventory in between, and that this inventory (people’s apartments, primarily) would likely make for more authentic, local experiences. Now, my next door neighbor can act as a hotelier for a couple visiting during ACL Fest just as much as the guy who’s franchising a La Quinta. I love a great hotel, I love boutique hotels like Hotel San Jose and The Standard, and I think there will always be a market for them and the experiences they provide and services they offer. But the market AirBnB is in is massive. Localeur is doing the same thing in many ways. TripAdvisor and Yelp are worth as much as many of the biggest hotel chains that have been around for decades. We are helping people realize that there’s a world of opportunity between asking your friends where they go and relying on reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor. There’s something more authentic and more local right there in the middle, and we plan to give people what they don’t yet realize they want. There’s a lot of competition. A ton of location-based startups, a ton of media and editor-driven sites and travel books still get printed. But 16 months after I raised our first investment round for Localeur, and I’m still certain we are doing it better than them all. It’s a process and not everyone can see where it’s headed, but I’m very proud of the community we’ve built, the investors we’ve secured, and the people working on this with us. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, but none that have put us out of the game before we got a chance to show how long we could hit this home run. So when I travel to these cities it’s not about partying my ass off or going to all the cool local spots as much as it’s about building a community of people who are awakened to what the world will be like when we rely on locals instead of tourists for our information and when we experience local instead of doing the traditional travel guide book thing. I use the word “movement” very deliberately. In this world – the world Localeur is trying to make possible - local businesses don’t just survive, but they thrive. I owned a local business and I can promise you this is the kind of marketing support every local business owner wants…something people can trust and something people can rely upon even if they’re not a traveler, but a local. Yelp is not the answer. In this world, travelers aren’t just doing stuff, writing reviews, taking photos and checking boxes of things they saw, but they’re actually experiencing cities the right way. In this world, Localeur isn’t just a technology startup or a brand either, but it’s a community. An awakened and genuine community that any person can rely on for authentic insight about places they should eat, drink, shop, work out or hang out. AirBnB once offered potential investors 10 percent of their company for $100,000 and no one took it. For the non-math folks out there, that means their valuation was at $1 million in late 2008. That was just five and a half years ago. I’m not super inspired by the money AirBnB’s cofounders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia are making as much as I’m inspired by the community they’ve built and how they never gave up (despite mounting credit card debt and plenty rejection) and how they are still working everyday to fulfill the mission they set out to do. I’m also inspired by their CEO Brian Chesky’s story of staying in AirBnB spaces all over the world rather than buying a home because he believes it will keep him closer to his community and product and prevent his company from losing touch with the folks who’ve helped build it. Before they raised their first venture capital round, AirBnB’s founders traveled to New York to meet some of their early renters, get product feedback and take photos of the places to improve the look-and-feel of the site. What I’m doing on the road isn’t all that different from what they did and knowing that those guys did something that wasn’t seen as scalable, but found value in over time gives me ample confidence that the result of my efforts on the road for Localeur may not be too dissimilar either.
Not that you asked, but I have a handful of observations to share after my fifth and most recent trip to the Bay Area in the last year.
1. San Francisco is most definitely the new D.C.
It’s super expensive to live in, the segregation is more socio-economic than ethnic, it has its own celeb culture (D.C. with pols, SF with entrepreneurs/investors), and young people flock to both cities to change the world and gain influence. Considering I lived in D.C. for nearly four years, I don’t consider this a bad comparison…if anything it’s a testament to how much of a driver technology has become in our way of life even more than politics in many ways.
2. Oakland is a great counterpart to San Francisco.
The weather feels a little less temperamental, the people more diverse, the city a little more gritty and the hustle just as hard (albeit less lucrative). If you have more than two days in SF, I’d highly recommend renting a ZipCar or whatever and going across the Bay Bridge and at least going for a walk/run around Lake Merritt, catching a bite or game in Oaktown.
3. Yellow Cab is officially the underdog.
You could make the argument that Uber hasn’t yet taken over the car service/cab market and that maybe Lyft or SideCar should be considered the underdog in the ground transportation fight in the near-term, but if you go to San Francisco you realize that Uber and Lyft have already won. They’ve already proven that when given the choice, people will actually take out their phones before they stick up their arms on the curb. Yellow Cab is going to need to think proactively about building a campaign as the underdog if they hope to survive beyond the next 3-5 years.
4. Office dating in San Francisco…how does it work?
To my earlier point about SF being the new D.C., here’s a real question I have moreso than an observation. In D.C., there are pretty clear rules about when to make a relationship with a co-worker or colleague public. If you’re in or around the public sector, you probably shouldn’t be in the same office for long...maybe through a campaign and transition, but then you don't need to interact daily. This makes sense with few exceptions. But in the private sector, specifically the high-growth tech industry, how does this work? I mean what happens if you work for a startup with 12 employees, they raise a crazy VC round and hire 50 to 100 people and your boyfriend or girlfriend gets a call from a recruiter? Do you disclose then pre-interview that your boyfriend/girlfriend works there? What if you only just became official? What if you’re not officially together? I’m sure this doesn’t happen all the time, but I bet it happens enough to have the question answered. Maybe one of my tech friends can provide a response. I need to know for future hiring purposes.
5. I think San Francisco is the best shopping city in America. I know New York has everything and everyone starts there, but the thing I like about shopping in San Francisco is that a) the local boutiques are never too crowded the way the shops in Manhattan are, b) the shop owners are more routinely present and friendly, and c) the weather is such that you can buy the same items in April as you can in September so there’s more universality to whatever you buy.
I spent some time today walking around Downtown Greenville, a part of town I always loved growing up here, and venturing around all the great brick buildings with my mom. These were all taken with my iPhone 5S using VSCO as listed. I don't think I'll ever take photos as good as my friends @masterwilliams or @niraj26 but I wanted to capture my favorite buildings in the beautiful downtown area of the city I grew up in. I used to go to shows, watch fireworks and spend countless hours around here at Coffee Underground.