Austin—Localeur, a travel recommendation startup, is celebrating its (nearly) fifth anniversary by announcing its 100th city.
The Austin startup focuses on recruiting a group of local residents who can provide insider information on each travel destination. The “localeurs”—a portmanteau of local and connoisseur—are millennials catering to the tastes of their own. Localeur made its debut in 2013 at South By Southwest with Austin as its first city and then expanded to San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles that year. Now, Localeur’s network includes more further afield places like Tblisi, Georgia, and Split, Croatia.
Localeur’s revenues come from selling content to these businesses, says Joah Spearman, Localeur’s founder and CEO. “[JetBlue uses] our content on their website, Instagram, Facebook, newsletters to inform and inspire their customers to go to destinations that they fly to,” he says. Similarly, Match.com uses Localeur content to give its customers more information on places to visit while they are traveling for work, he adds.
As Localeur hits its 100th city milestone, we catch up with Spearman and speak about millennials growing up, traveling off the beaten path, and his experience as a black founder in tech.
Xconomy: At this milestone, how have things aligned or not aligned with your expectations for Localeur?
Joah Spearman: There will no longer be companies that are built off of 100 percent free content and data. Let’s say Yelp, and people writing reviews for free. I thought that can’t last too much longer. People will say these companies are making millions of dollars and we’re writing for free … Some of these companies are getting more sophisticated in that they recognize they need to align their interests with their users’. Airbnb has put in a request to find out if it’s possible for hosts to share in some of the stock of the company. It hasn’t happened in the content space, but it’s an eventuality. I don’t foresee there being people who watched the rise of Instagram and all these users contributing for free anymore. Someone’s going to come around and figure out how to align the interests with their users. We haven’t done that completely but we figured out a way we are able to find a way to compensate our users, get them partnerships as benefits, make sure they are getting more of a benefit than some kind of badge on an app.
We had a lot of meetings with VCs in 2013 who asked ‘Is this just an Austin thing? Does anyone care about locals? Now, Airbnb has this local experience thing, and Expedia and Trip Advisor, to make it more community driven.
X: Millennials are getting older; how have their desires changed? Are you seeing that reflected in content posted?
JS: So true; I’m living this. I’m 35 and I started started [Localeur] at 29. I’m at a different stage in my life now. When I started … We even had a recommendation for “Places to go to make out with a stranger.” That was the kind of context that we were serving up. People wanted that stuff. Now, it’s “Where to have a picnic in the park in Madrid.” We skew a little more daytime friendly, family friendly, a little more mature. With the rise of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, they don’t need [us] to put them in positions to go on dates. Now, most people have traveled, so they’re looking for the new cool destination that I haven’t been to. So now it’s Jackson Hole or Geneva or Auckland. We’re launching more extreme destinations. The bigger markets are saturated.
X: Any interesting geographies that are thriving or not?
JS: I am in Madrid for a reason; it’s one of the best cities on Localeur. The content contributors are great; we translate their writing from Spanish to English. We did our first Spanish language issue for our print magazine in the fall. When I started Localeur, most people said, ‘Hey, do you want to go Spain and they would have said Barcelona.’ It has this reputation globally, a known city, a party city. What people have realized now is that Madrid is a hidden gem. Same for Bogota, Columbia. That’s the direction that Localeur is headed in. We assumed we would be where everyone is going to be: New York during fashion week or LA during Coachella. People were so saturated around these events. It’s a better strategy trying to meet locals where they are and having the travelers come to Localeur to get inspiration.
X: We’ve spoken before about the lack of diversity in tech, the more difficult path you see that non-typical startups founders have. How has that changed since you founded Localeur or in the last year because of increased awareness with of #metoo, etc.?
JS: Has it gotten better? For me, yes, it has. Is it still hard for a female or an African-American or Latino founder, I’m sure it is. I don’t think it’s as hard as when I was starting out. There wasn’t a Backstage Capital. There weren’t as many black or female VCs, it’s more feasible to go after tech and startup ecosystem now.
This idea of meritocracy: I know how to ID a “founder.” They’re white or Asian males with hoodies, who went to Harvard or Stanford. There’s so much more information and awareness. I have 100 angel investors; over 70 of them have reinvested, and these are white males.