Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Discovering Great, Local Attractions With Idealab-backed Crash
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Are you tired of the same old tourist guidebooks, and wish you could really find those unique, local attractions in a city? Newly launched Crash is hoping to help solve that problem, by surfacing "photo-worthy" locations around you in its mobile app--sourced from its users. We spoke with Erick Laubach, the founder of Crash--which is backed by famed startup incubator Idealab--to hear about how the company is hoping to tap the power of the crowd to help others find interesting, local attractions.
What is Crash?
Erick Laubach: Crash is an attraction discovery app. Basically, what that means, is we're surfacing photo-worthy, tourist attractions close to you. That's the gist of it. Photo-worthy means things like street art, scenic viewpoints, museums, and film locations. It's anything you would want to take your camera out and take a picture of. I describe it as similar to what you'd see at Disneyland or Disney World, those Kodak photo spots. It's those locations that, as a tourist, you'd want to take a photo. I am attempting to do that in every city in the U.S., and obviously, in the rest of the world through expansion. We want to get all of the great areas for people to shoot awesome photos so they can save those memories.
How did the company start?
Erick Laubach: Originally, I started a travel startup in 2007 called Driftr. It got a little bit of press, and did fairly well, but eventually fizzled. One of the main pieces was taking photos of places you were going to, and letting you share that with friends and family. That one small part of the service was easily the most popular part of the service. Everyone commented on the wierd attractions people were taking pictures of. That stuck with me. Throughout the year, I had worked in places in LA, where there were lots of tour buses going by. I would think--wow, people are paying $30 to $40 a pop to see these attractions, which could easily be found on a phone for free. That's kind of where this all blossomed from. Plus, I had been in LA for fifteen years, and I had kind of run out of things to do. My family would come out to visit, but they'd already seen all the mainstream stuff, and were tired of doing that stuff. I had to find something that would surface cool and weird and unique things so that we could check them out. The app really helps locals really discover their backyard, and it's a good way for you, me, and everyone else to learn as much about LA. It's unbelievably fund, and as we've been expanding into new cities, I feel like I'm becoming a tourism expert in all of those cities.
How did you end up working with Idealab?
Erick Laubach: I had quit my job, and was working at a startup you may have of, ThisNext. I was their VP of Product. I decided to quit, and start this company. As I was gathering information, I was taking photos, doing UX and product work, and building the concept. I happened to be introduced to Bill Gross through a mutual friend, and although I was not quite ready to join an incubator or raise money, I did want to build the product and have it go out. I met his team, met with Bill and Marcia, and they made me an offer to join Idelab. They gave me enough seed to build the beta product, which was in July or August, and we launched in December, although we didn't tell anyone until the end of January.
There's lots of mobile apps out there, how do you plan to get critical mass on users in your cities and get above the noise?
Erick Laubach: That's a good question, and a hard one to answer. We're in five cities right now, and everything in the app is curated. That's important for a travel app. So, what we're trying to do now, is surface content that people wouldn't have heard of. If you go to Tripadvisor, you're not going to find the 10 hidden waterfalls in the Pasadena area. Those kinds of weird, unique things, which are beautiful and photogenic, are what we're trying to use to separate us from others. We want to own tourist attractions which are photo worthy, and it takes us two to three weeks to expand into a new city, from which we'll keep moving forward and growing.
When you were considering whether to go it alone or work with Idealab, what were the advantages and disadvantages you considered?
Erick Laubach: Number one, they gave me money, which is something I needed. Number two, the biggest thing Idealab has is a great shared resources pool. They handle legal, finance, and even design help and engineering. That allowed me to come in here and focus on what I really needed to work on to make the product great. Idealab is fantastic with that. Obviously, they also heavily helps when it comes to PR, and helping to get introductions. Eveyrone knows who Bill Gross is, and if we need a meeting, we're in. It's been enormous for us.
Finally, what's your next big goal?
Erick Laubach: The next big product thing we're working on right now is called Lists. We have almost 600 attractions in LA, and we're finding there's lots of great, crazy stuff. But it's tricky to surface the things people are interested in. So, we're buildling lists of things to help you find what you're looking for--examples might be the Los Angeles Death Tour, or Street Art in LA, or LA's Ten Hidden Waterfalls. It's smaller chunks of content, broken out, rated, and ranked, and even lets users add their own lists. That lets them discover the city in smaller chunks, so they're not overwhelmed by 600 things.