May 22, 2013

Q&A with Vipin Goyal, founder, SideTour

Posted by: in North America

In researching our latest trend report, Travel: Changing Course, we caught up with Vipin Goyal of SideTour, a platform that helps people host and discover unique experiences (e.g., a walking tour of the Greenwich Village beatnik renaissance with a music historian and writer). Founded in 2011, SideTour is part of the emerging peer-to-peer experience category along with startups such as Vayable and Gidsy. The company is based in New York and also operates in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Philadelphia. Before founding SideTour, Goyal was VP of business development at online video company Joost and director of strategy and business development at MTV Networks International. In 2009, he and his wife left their jobs to travel the world, and the idea for SideTour was born out of that trip. Goyal talked to us about why peer-to-peer companies are increasingly appealing to today’s consumers and how traditional travel brands can benefit from this trend as well, creating more “lean-forward” experiences to drive loyalty.

What is SideTour’s 30-second elevator pitch?

SideTour is a platform that helps people host and discover unique experiences, whether it’s sledding down the U.S. luge track with a former Olympic medalist, learning the art of graffiti with an aerosol artist in Queens or dining with an investment banker-turned-monk in an East Village monastery. Our mission is to help people experience the amazing world and the remarkable people that surround all of us.

What do you see as the macro trends driving today’s peer-to-peer marketplace?

One obvious shift on the supply side is the trend around freelancing. In today’s market, more and more people are moving from traditional full-time jobs to freelancing based on their expertise and interests. SideTour builds on this trend by offering a platform for professionals and other individuals to monetize their expertise. In the same way that platforms such as Etsy enable artisans to build a digital storefront and market their goods, SideTour enables experts, whether they’re chefs or monks or musicians or Olympians, to share their abilities and make money while doing so.

Second, there’s been a huge increase in interest in knowing who’s making the stuff we’re buying. That’s what you see with Etsy, Kickstarter and many other peer-to-peer marketplaces. It’s driven by an interest in supporting local community, local artisans, and it’s focused on collaboration, mutual benefit, all of that. It’s a shift from the past few decades, which has been more about mass-market efficiency and low cost, towards smaller-batch and artisanal products. People want to know who’s creating the products they’re consuming and the stories behind them.

There’s a third trend, which is around traveling like a local. This trend has been there for a while, at least 10 years, but it’s accelerated quite a bit in the last five years. Airbnb, for instance, talks about how it’s an experience. It’s not just your accommodations—you’re doing it to travel like a local.

That’s what SideTour is playing on entirely. It’s born of desire for a connection across cultures, across classes. People have become much more interested in the idea, “How can I get an experience that’s more authentic rather than just prepackaged?” People are asking, “How do I really get to know a place and the people behind that place?”

This sounds like it’s tapping into more Old World behaviors or a countertrend to everything being packaged, pretty, polished-looking, as you were saying?

Yes. I feel like there’s a 20-year period, through much of the ’80s and ’90s, when life came in a more packaged form, everything from food to your vacation. There was an emphasis on what’s the easiest or most efficient. But people are willing to work harder to find those gems today. We’re definitely in a cycle of people looking for something more unique, more authentic, smaller batch, something they can memorialize and talk about. Now there’s actually a mechanism to do it at scale, and you can do it efficiently. A lot of the arguments for the prepackaged efficiency of the ’80s and ’90s disappear.

Are there any other travel trends relevant here?

There’s a shift from a “watch and tell” mindset to a “make and do” mindset. It’s part of the whole Maker revolution. It’s very participatory. Even Airbnb starts to feel like that—even though it’s just a place where you’re staying, it starts to feel like you’re more involved in the place. With our experiences on SideTour, that’s an underlying theme: You’re rolling up your sleeves. You’re getting your hands dirty. This is not for people who want to lean back. It’s a lean-forward experience. That’s a big trend in general and for sure affecting travel in a big way.

So many things are digital today, so I think people are longing to lean in, as you’re saying, get their hands dirty.

Travel is actually a forcing mechanism to look up from your screen and engage in the real world. We live so much of our lives with technology and on the Internet. I think you will see the pendulum swing back in a big way, because there are all these other repercussions for people related to sanity and happiness. They’re always on and over-stimulated. One way people solve this is travel, getting away and shutting down their phones for a week and recharging. People will look for more and more ways to do that, but not just for one week a year, because you need that on a more consistent basis.

I think the pendulum will swing back [from digital immersion]. So that you’re not constantly looking at a screen. You don’t jump every time your phone buzzes. People will look for more ways to be fully present and engaged in the real world. That’s something I see happening.

How is the peer-to-peer economy reshaping the way society approaches taking a vacation?

It’s already reshaped the way people think about where to stay. When you look at Airbnb, they’ve unlocked a lot of new potential, whether it’s enabling people to go to places they wouldn’t have otherwise or places they might not have been able to afford. I think the experience economy will have a similar impact. It will dramatically change the way people spend their leisure time, not just on vacation but also in their own cities.

If you think about travel or vacation, you’ve got three big legs of that stool: your flights or your transportation to get somewhere, your accommodations, and then your activities and experiences. On the transportation side, you’ve got some of these things happening with the Ubers and Lyfts of the world. When it comes to accommodations, that’s already reached the point where people think differently about where to stay. My last family trip, we went up to the Poconos. The starting point was Airbnb and HomeAway. And it wasn’t me who did the research, it was my brother-in-law, who’s a doctor—it’s definitely crossed the chasm into the mainstream.

The third bucket is activities and experiences. I think the peer economy will have a similar impact. We’re not there yet in the experience economy, but it will also reshape the way people think about what they’re going to do and how they spend their time when they’re on vacation.

If you can do all these cool things that aren’t cookie-cutter, why wouldn’t you do that instead of following in the footsteps of everybody else?

There are a lot of people who think, “I’m going to New York, I’m an art lover, I’m going to visit the Met or the MoMA.” Yes, you can just go there. You can walk in yourself, you can hire a docent to take you through it. Or you could go to SideTour and have a New York artist who has spent the last 30 years exploring the Met walk you through the museum from his perspective, through his aesthetic lens. It just changes the nature of the experience.

There will always be people who just want to go there and say, “I saw it.” That’s fine. But there’s a larger and larger community looking for those experiences that aren’t just cookie-cutter.

Which generation tends to be most attracted to the peer-to-peer marketplace?

It’s more of a psychographic. People who are curious, adventurous, open, free-spirited. That often translates to a slightly younger demographic, maybe ages 25 to 45, because many people naturally become less adventurous and curious as they get older. That said, we’ve had a ton of people in their 50s and 60s take SideTour experiences as well. Like I said, it’s more of a psychographic.

It’s also still the early days of a new market. If you took Airbnb as an example, when it first started, there are many people who would say, “Are you crazy? I would never do that myself, nor would I ever host something like that. That’s an insane idea.” We’ve crossed that chasm. Now people have heard about it and also have enough stories of friends who have done it that they would say, “You know, I might try that.”

It’s the same thing with the world of experiences. As it gains momentum, the number of people attracted to it will expand. Sure, there will always be people who just won’t find this stuff interesting, maybe ever. But again, it’s more of a mentality than it is a demographic.

The market needs to gain some trust and credibility before you get a lot of people in it.  

Reputation systems are a big part of this. They’re a big part of making these types of marketplaces work. When you have a lot of choices, and customers don’t know or recognize the names of your hosts, how do they decide? How does the platform help them with those choices and decisions? A big piece is reputation, feedback, reviews, endorsements—all these things help people navigate and gain trust.

Do consumers expect P2P services to be more affordable? Or simply more unique?

I don’t think customers think about services in terms of whether they’re “peer-to-peer” or not. That’s an industry term. Customers think about the nature of the experience and the quality of the experience. Whether it’s P2P or not.

You have to be able to compete on quality or there’s no incentive to use your service. Customers use SideTour because they’re looking for something interesting and more unique. The fact that sometimes it may also be more affordable is often just a byproduct of the fact that we’ve eliminated the middleman. You’re eating dinner at the home of a chef—there’s no high real estate cost, there’s not a large serving staff, no major branding and marketing expenses. It’s just you, the chef and the food. All of a sudden the experience becomes not only more personal and exciting but often more affordable.

People are coming for the interesting, the unique, the unusual. But that’s not always the primary motivation either. Take Airbnb. Yes, you can find some unusual stuff, but there’s a ton of mainstream stuff. Sometimes it’s affordable, sometimes it’s not. It really depends on what you’re looking for. What it does provide you with is choice. It provides you with a lot of interesting choice that goes way beyond what the traditional markets have provided.

How are consumers rethinking their relationship to their favorite travel brands because of the rise of the peer-to-peer economy?

First of all, peer-to-peer companies like Airbnb are becoming some of consumers’ favorite travel brands. Other, more traditional brands are also figuring out ways to incorporate these elements into their own products. We’re talking to a bunch of partners that want to bring our experiences to their customers because they know their customers will find our experiences compelling.

As we talked about earlier, there’s also this desire to understand the source and the process of the stuff you’re buying, whether they’re products or services or experiences. It goes back to that Maker mentality and supporting local communities, understanding who’s making this, who created it, what’s the source, what was the process. That’s an important piece. Frankly, traditional travel brands don’t need a peer-to-peer network to bring that mentality to what they do.

There’s also an interest in supporting sources and processes that are consistent with your personal values. Look at platforms like Kickstarter—people are willing to put money into all sorts of projects that fulfill their personal beliefs and values and what they’re excited about. It’s a different kind of relationship. If you think about a traditional travel brand, you’re often consuming a finished product, but how are these brands consistent with people’s personal values? How are they showing me a new place, and how are they investing in that place and the community that’s there? That’s a big piece.

And I can’t overemphasize the importance of the story. This is what we see with SideTour all the time. The stories of our hosts—what got them to where they are, what made them want to share what they love with other people and how they’re trying to build a business out of it. Stories of the people who are attending and how they chose that particular SideTour and how they got there and the dynamic among the group. The stories that they tell other people after that experience, especially in a world where everybody is thinking, “Is that worthy of a tweet or Facebook update?” It’s all about the stories and the experiences you have. What are the stories I want to be able to tell? That’s important for travel brands and for consumers.

What are some credible ways for established brands to participate in this P2P experience market? Can you speak to any of the partnerships SideTour is working on?

We’ve worked with established brands and companies to host experiences and share their stories with customers that they might not have connected with otherwise. We’ve done SideTour experiences with companies as big as Tesla and as small as Brooklyn Gin and Brooklyn Soda Works, as well as more artisanal producers who are trying to build a following.

What’s interesting is that when the stories are personal and compelling, people naturally spread the word. Brooklyn Gin, a small gin distillery in Brooklyn, was doing a pub crawl via SideTour through three or four of the top underground bars in Williamsburg, all about gin-based cocktails and talking about the history of gin, but not trying to sell or push their products. It was more about educating, engaging and informing. Afterwards you’ve got these 20 people who have heard this story from the founders, from the owners, and it’s really compelling. Those customers have told us, “Every time I go to a bar now, I ask for Brooklyn Gin. I just want to support these guys.” And they tell so many other people these stories.

Sometimes brands get concerned with the question of reach. What’s interesting is that a compelling, personal story travels way beyond the direct audience through word-of-mouth. It’s like crazy stories about how the customer service people at Nordstrom are so incredible that someone returned a tire to them and they accepted it even though they don’t sell tires!

More on the travel side, we’ve been working on partnering with tourism boards, hotels, publishers and airlines. All these pillars of the travel industry think about their user experience. We meet with hotels and they’re so focused on their guest experience. And they’re talking about the guest experience beyond the four walls of the room they’re staying in that night. What’s going to get them to keep coming back? What is the loyalty based on? Look at the Ace Hotel. They’re trying to create a space that is an experience. It builds a different type of loyalty that’s not based on number of points you’ve accumulated for a free stay. I want to be in this hotel because it’s an experience.

We’ve talked to a bunch of hotels that are interested in having a weekly SideTour or maybe a daily one that’s actually happening in their space. For example, in a restaurant setting, we did a pig-butchering SideTour at [New York restaurant] Corsino. It was snout to tail. It was an amazing experience for people who are into pork. The thing that was interesting is that it was happening in the middle of the restaurant, and you had all these other people peering over and wondering, “What’s going on over there?” Different than your regular trip to a restaurant, where everything generally looks the same. There’s something happening here. The restaurant loved it. And we’ve done the same experience repeatedly there because other customers keep asking about it.

There are a lot of different things traditional companies can do to enhance people’s experiences.

What’s next for the peer-to-peer travel marketplace?

The whole experience economy will become more and more mainstream. I also think the idea of travel within your own city will take root. The importance of travel, those breaks, and the opportunity to recharge your batteries is so important and becoming more and more so. We’ve always said, “Why should this be something that only happens to you once or twice a year?” Life is short. Those experiences you have when you travel are so meaningful and so important to you. They have to happen with more frequency.

People from all over the world come to New York City as a highlight in their life. We’re living here and surrounded by all these fascinating people. The problem is, it’s not easy to find these people and discover these experiences, the kinds of things that allow you to step into their shoes for an hour or two. Travel is a mentality. How do you bring that to 52 weeks of your life rather than two weeks?

Last, what’s next for SideTour?

Our aspiration is to build a global marketplace for local experiences. The other part of our business that’s not really related to travel: Our “companies” business has been growing quite a bit. A bunch of startups, media companies and bigger corporations such as American Express and Yahoo have started using SideTour for team events, community events and client entertainment. It’s happened quite organically. Foursquare took their whole marketing and communications team on a hip-hop SideTour. They said it was single-handedly one of the best things they’ve ever done as a team. So we’ve been putting a bit more resources against that business.

1 Response to "Q&A with Vipin Goyal, founder, SideTour"

1 | Deborah Drake

January 16th, 2014 at 5:44 pm


This morning (1/16/14) while commuting to work, one of my local Seattle NPR stations featured a story on SideTour and EatWith and I got curious and landed here. Reading this rich and lively interview with Vipin Goyal, prompts excitement in me! Why? Because I see how Peer to Peer builds community and connection and how it is the stories that people share that create a “rememorable” peak moment. I was reminded of my solo journey through Scotland where I landed and stayed one night in a B&B but everyday there after was with the people who I had befriended at the Pub I chose for a home base. I left friends behind in Scotland and came home with memories that are forever vivid. Had SideTour existed back in 1997 (when I took that trip I know I would have appreciated it as a resource.

There is another travel related venture I am aware of that is up to “doing good as a social enterprise” that builds a global community…and I wonder if there is any potential synergy?

Moving Worlds was a semi-finalist in the SVP Fast Pitch Seattle 2013 program..and I am inspired by how they and SideTour are creating platforms that allow for travel experiences that are extraordinary.

Here is hoping that indeed the pendulum swings back to a place where people connect, and we get to know our neighbors again and leave behind new friends as we pass through. I know I am raising my own daughter (all of 14) to be a global citizen at every age.

I’d say that those who “Have what it takes to be them selves” are tailor-made for hosting P2P experiences and thoroughly enjoying them as well. As we say around the office, we are first and foremost a person

Great interview Jessica! Thank you Goyal for sharing so generously.

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New Trend Report: The Future of Payments & Currency

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Snapcash
    November 19, 2014 | 4:54 pm

    Disruption in the payments sphere is opening the way for social media brands to act as intermediaries between consumers and their money, as we note in our report on payments and currency. Facebook is said to be planning a P2P payments feature for Messenger, South Korea’s KakaoTalk announced a PayPal-like service in September, and Line is creating a mobile service that will let users make on- and offline purchases. Now, Snapchat is partnering with Square to enable payments between users, as explained in this video’s energetic retro musical number.

    After users (U.S. only and 18-plus only) enter debit card info, they simply send a cash amount within a text. While Snapchat’s recent data breaches may give some users pause, the P2P payments space is a smart place to be as young consumers get accustomed to services like Venmo that make it easy and even fun to pay friends. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Payment in a heartbeat
    November 11, 2014 | 5:26 pm


    Our recent report on the future of payments and currency spotlights the rise of biometric payments—using a unique physical characteristic to authenticate transactions—which promise to greatly improve security and help remove friction. So far we’ve seen systems that rely on fingerprints (e.g., Apple Pay) and the palm’s unique vein payment (see Quixter). Now, the startup Bionym is exploring ways to harness its Nymi wristband, which uses the wearer’s unique cardiac rhythm as authentication, for payments.

    Bionym is linking with MasterCard and the Royal Bank of Canada for a test in which an NFC chip in the wristband enables contactless payments. The company, which is looking to license its technology into other wearables, recently raised $14 million in a Series A funding round and has racked up 10,000 preorders for the Nymi. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nymi

  • Vegetable co-stars
    November 4, 2014 | 6:31 pm


    “Vegetable co-stars” is one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2014—the idea that veggies are gaining a higher profile on restaurant menus—and more star chefs are indeed embracing this trend. José Andrés and his ThinkFood restaurant group plan to open Beefsteak (as in tomatoes), a vegetable-focused fast casual eatery in Washington, D.C., next year. The Washington Post also points to chef Roy Choi’s new greenhouse-like Commissary in L.A., which says it serves “good food and drink based around plants as the foundation.”

    “Chefs around the country, and the globe, are pushing meat from the center of the plate—and sometimes off it altogether,” notes The Wall Street Journal, citing examples like Alain Ducasse revamping his menu at the posh Plaza Athénée in Paris. Catering to a growing group of diners looking to eat less meat, vegetable-heavy dishes also offer new opportunities for creativity. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Plaza Athénée

  • Xiaomi zooms ahead
    October 30, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Xiaomi, which we included on our 100 Things to Watch in 2014 list, is now the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The young company has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, per IDC, surging ahead of both LG and Lenovo. Often described as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi released its first phone just three years ago; its latest, Mi4, is an iPhone clone that runs on a modified version of Android.

    The company is expanding beyond China into India and Singapore, and planning to enter a slew of other growth markets, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. For more on whether Chinese brands can succeed on the world stage, see our report Remaking “Made in China.”Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Xiaomi


  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am


    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm


    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • High-tech tasting
    October 2, 2014 | 6:00 pm


    Thailand got a lot of buzz this week with an innovative idea: a taste-tester robot, or electronic tongue, that’s programmed to distinguish authentic Thai dishes from wanna-be’s. Artificial tongues aren’t new but have been evolving. Most recently, Danish researchers developed a nanosensor that mimics “what happens in your mouth when you drink wine,” enabling winemakers to control astringency very early on. In Spain, researchers created a beer-tasting robot that can distinguish between varieties of brew.

    Meanwhile, advanced technology can also create recipes: IBM has touted how Watson, its “cognitive computing system,” can analyze the components of ingredients to come up with novel ideas for dishes; find a few of them here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aarhus Universitet

  • Marriage gets marginalized
    September 25, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    One of our 10 Trends for 2012 was Marriage Optional: More people around the world are living together or remaining solo instead of marrying. Pew reports this week that 1 in 5 Americans age 25 and up have never married, a fundamental shift since 1960, when only about 1 in 10 could say the same. Millennials are especially ambivalent: Two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by Pew agree that “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children” vs. 53 percent of the next generation up (age 30 to 49).

    Europe is seeing a similar move away from marriage, driven by “austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution,” notes The Guardian. It says weddings are at historical lows in some nations; last year Italy recorded the fewest since World War I. For a look at how changing marriage patterns are affecting families, see our report Meet the New Family. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: JD Hancock


  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm


    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

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