Withlocals is a new marketplace for travelers to connect with local people in Asian countries to get a more genuine and unique travel experience. They currently have listings in 7 countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Users can chose to book with local residents in three areas: Eat Withlocals, Tours Withlocals, and Activities Withlocals. Eat Withlocals features a large number of “home restaurants” where visitors can taste authentic local cuisine in a regular family home setting. The list of Tours and Activities includes everything from watching the sunrise from on top of a volcano to classes on making silver jewelry. Withlocals is backed by the Greenhouse Group business accelerator and is based in the Netherlands. I recently had a chance to ask co-founder Marijn Maas a few questions about the company:
How did you first get the idea for Withlocals and decide to go ahead with turning it into a business?
Two ideas came together. My brother Willem Maas, co-founder, could be called a true travel guru. He has traveled to many places all over the world and has especially fallen in love with South East Asia. His many authentic travel experiences inspired him to create the concept of Withlocals. On the other hand, the idea for Eat Withlocals came up in Sri Lanka during my honeymoon trip. After my wife and I had dinner day after day in high-end restaurants, we by coincidence experienced a home dinner with local Sri Lankan people. It was so amazing, listening to each other’s stories, experiencing their way of living while eating the best food of our entire trip. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if all travelers could have an experience like this? We love the sharing economy and wanted to give travelers and locals in Asia the opportunity to connect with one another.
What’s unique about Withlocals that hasn’t been done by anyone else up until now?
- Withlocals is the first to introduce the Home dining category across Asia.
- Withlocals is the only “one stop” local experience website, offering a total local experience for travelers from Home-dining to tours to activities with locals.
- We strongly believe the success of an online marketplace is all about having traffic. Many people who have had beautiful ideas in the home restaurant and tour category didn’t make it because of the lack of traffic, thus demand. Being part of a group of 170 online geeks, online marketing is our specialty.
What kind of support does Withlocals enjoy by inclusion in the Greenhouse Group of companies?
Being part of a group of 170 online geeks, working for customers like Vodafone, Microsoft and Mars, online marketing is our group’s specialty. So we get a lot of support in that area to further roll out our platform. Furthermore, Greenhouse Group supports us on various other areas, such as growth strategy, Finance and Legal challenges. Next to the ‘official’ support, we get an amazing amount of support from individuals throughout the whole group, willing to help us out with our beautiful concept.
What kind of response has the platform gotten so far from locals and travelers who have used it?
Withlocals has been received very well and we already have quite a lot of traction. Within 1 month after announcing our idea, over 10,000 potential hosts across Asia applied to be part. Our website has over 150K visitors a month, and we have about 68K fans on Facebook. Regarding the numbers of bookings we are even ahead of schedule and the most important part was the validation of our service.
Since our launch in December such beautiful things are happening. Travelers meet local people and create memorable stories together. We even have a 100% customer satisfaction and amazing reviews. Our customers love it! Most of the guests are travelers visiting the local hosts. But for Eat Withlocals we also see an internal market. So a citizen of a certain city chooses instead of eating in a traditional restaurant again to have dinner with a family in the same city. We didn’t expect that to happen so often. But we think it is great—it’s a new way of dining out and meeting new people! So Thai people, come and register as a host or join Withlocals as a guest
What recruiting methods are you using to get local cooks, tour guides, and artisans on board?
We use several different recruiting methods. We received a huge amount of media attention, from which a natural flow of new sign-ups comes in. From a paid campaigning perspective, we run several targeted campaigns to approach potential local hosts. Next to that, we have a local ambassador network throughout Asia, consisting of Withlocals representatives who also recruit local hosts for us.
Where there any challenges (legal, technical, or practical) to getting set up working with locals in so many different countries?
The biggest challenge is time—keeping up with the pace the market is developing at, and new competitors appearing in the same or similar business.
In the short term, we have to validate and fine-tune our business model. In the medium term, we are aiming to create 10,000 new locally hosted home dining spots through Asia. The first challenge we see is, as being a marketplace, to keep demand and supply in balance. So not having lots of supply and no demand, or the other way around. The other challenge we see is to keep up the quality and authenticity of the experiences offered on our marketplace during our expansion phase. Our ambassador network and elaborate review system play an important role in this.
Were there any setbacks that you didn’t expect, or anything you would have done differently with the launch phase?
We believe in the principles of “the lean start up”. So we will learn along the way. And during our development stage many changes are already made based on input of hosts and our “fans”. For example, we didn’t expect so many enthusiastic Asian hosts to register on our website in our Alpha stage. Now we are on a run rate of 10,000 potential Asian hosts applying. Our processes, resources, and systems were not calculated for these kind of numbers, so we had to adjust them really fast.
What plans for expansion, if any, do you currently have? And what are the future expectations you have in place?
Our first goal is to open 10,000 new locally hosted home dining spots throughout the Asian region. Right now we’re active in 7 Asian countries and are about to expand to 5 more later this year. On a longer time period, we’re aiming to expand outside Southeast Asia and open-up in more continents and countries.