By CLARISA RAMIREZ
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Spearman, 30, sits in front of a slim MacBook at Jo’s Coffee in downtown Austin, wearing a light hoodie and a baseball hat, and talks energetically and authoritatively.
Localeur emerged after Spearman and Chase White, Localeur Co-Founder and President, noticed something missing in the travel industry.As a serial traveler who has spanned the globe from Spain to Brazil to as far as Japan, Spearman quickly realized the best way Millennials get to know a city is not by visiting several tourist attractions, but by having a friend guide them to the coolest spots in town.
“In the absence of that, people end up with Yelp and Trip Advisor,” Spearman says. “We want to be right in the middle.”
The problem with TripAdvisor, Spearman says, is it focuses on tourist attractions and not the hip locations locals know about. “When you go to New York for the first time, if you went to Ground Zero, Times Square and all this you’re not going to connect with anyone who lives in that city,” Spearman says.
Yelp, on the other hand, is flooded with too many reviews – many written by people you don’t know or trust. “On Yelp, Domino’s Pizza could have five stars. But is that the best pizza place in Austin? In our world, Domino’s doesn’t even exist.”
What Spearman learned while working at Bazaarvoice as Director of Market Planning is reviews are for confirmation; they are effective when it comes to selling products, but are not when it comes to helping the consumer decide what kind of experience he wants.
What Millennials want is a limited set of options that’s curated, Spearman says, and what the market needed was a resource travelers and locals could go to for concise recommendations written by trusted locals. The solution: Localeur, a website that helps people experience local by connecting them with people who know and love the city.
“We want to be a one-stop shop for recommendations, inspiration and local knowledge for all of the major cities people care about,” Spearman says. “I believe that from a behavioral standpoint, we’re closer to what a human being wants.”
Localeur cultivates influential, well-connected Millennials who have their own personal brands to be “Localeurs.” They are made up of DJs, marketers, event planners, and other experts in Food & Dining, Art & Culture and other categories listed on the site who are compensated to write two recommendations a month.
It is not a coincidence, Spearman says, that within just weeks after Localeur launched in Houston in June, three Localeurs were listed on The Top 100 Social Media Power Influencers in Houston for 2013.
Eighty percent of Localeurs have been selected by other Localeurs because the connoisseurs of local know each other. “Our Localeurs are your friends,” Spearman says. “So, it’s one big friend network.”
Danny Witte, Field Marketing Manager for KIND Snacks in Texas, was a natural fit for Localeur. He is frequently out and about town for business, so his friends and colleagues visiting from out of town frequently ask him for recommendations of what to do around Austin, a city he’s called home for eight years. His last two Localeur posts were “Top 4 Rainey Street Bar Crawl Stops” and “Avoid Heat Stroke: Go Here for Cheap, Cold Beer.” After publishing his recommendations, he shares them with his friends following him on social media (his Twitter account boasts 1,831 followers).
Witte thinks Localeur will change the way people visit Austin. “Austin’s a finicky city,” he says. “It moves at a quick pace. When it’s new, it’s new for two years and people are over it. It either becomes mainstream, or the cool people move on because it’s not new anymore.”
Localeur is beginning to recognize revenue from advertising and promotion for local businesses and build more lead generation partnerships through hotels and regional partners, and is initiating sponsorship awareness campaigns for brands touted by Localeurs during its events. In terms of usability, Spearman and White plan on making Localeur more social and sharable and are rolling out an app this year. Spearman’s goal is to have Localeur in 250 major cities around the world in the next five years. This fall, Localeur launches in San Francisco and New York, a Marketing Director will join the team as its first full-time hire, and Localeur will move into an office on South 1st Street in August.
Spearman and White met while working at Bazaarvoice. White came up with the idea for Localeur after taking a snowboarding trip in Park City, Utah in January 2012. During the trip, he wanted recommendations from the locals who knew the city best. He presented his idea to Spearmen, who was leading travel marketing at Bazaarvoice at the time, and the first time tech entrepreneurs ran with the idea. White’s role is understanding the product and the user experience and Spearman’s is knowing the Localeur and its audience.
To date, Localeur has raised $350,000 from the founders’ friends and a few angel investors and $125,000 of that was raised during the first three weeks in January.
In just five months, Localeur’s accumulated over 4,500 Facebook likes and over 1,500 Twitter followers – a significant feat considering competitor Gogobot only garnered 9,700 followers in the past three years. To boot, Localeur has spent under $2,000 on marketing.
Spearman would not reveal how much traffic the website receives, but its content did attract Google. Within two months of its launch, Google approached the founders about partnering with its Field Trip app , which alerts travelers of cool destinations that are nearby. The partnership would increase Localeur’s visibility of content, and include them among a list of other household name partners, including Zagat, Eater and Thrillist.
One of the largest investors in Localeur is Travis Devitt, an analyst at Ancient Art and a member of Central Texas Angel Network (CTAN). He was introduced to Spearman and White after they pitched Localeur to CTAN. Although their request did not get funded, Devitt reached out to Spearman because the idea piqued his interest.
“I think this could be a very, very large business – the size of Yelp and TripAdvisor, and that’s a pretty bold statement to make,” says Devitt, who owes his knowledge of the travel sector from investing in online travel businesses, such as Expedia, and participating in travel industry conferences. “Travel spending is a large industry. I see it as a very big opportunity if they can capture any meaningful market share in terms of helping people figure out what they want to do.”
Spearman wants Localeur to stay authentic, so he and White are holding out for venture capital financing until they find the right partner that gets what Localeur wants to be. He compares the startup’s market-driven approach to Airbnb. “It took them three years to prove out their business model,” he says. “It’s not going to take us three years. What we’re going to take to VCs is we’re playing the long-term benefit to users instead of getting in and poaching users of other sites.”
Matt Curtin, Vice President of Enterprise Brands at Bazaarvoice, made a significant investment in Localeur because he likes how it is bucking Austin’s business-to-consumer startup trend, and touts the founders’ strategic planning.
“They’re taking a very focused approach as opposed to going broad and trying to deploy in every city in the country,” Curtin says. “I love that they’re going to specific regions and driving excitement locally. Even its social presence is creating buzz that isn’t in the market today. I haven’t seen this anywhere else.”