How does a pre-product startup raise $1.4 million from the likes of Jack Dorsey, Eric Schmidt and Khosla Ventures with just an idea? It helps if you’ve worked with the investors before. And if you’re trying to bring a fragmented offline industry online, a particular hobbyhorse of Mr. Dorsey’s, whose mobile payments company Square has done just that with mom and pop shops.
Peek CEO and founder Ruzwana Bashir first met Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Schmidt when she directed business development and marketing for Art.sy, another investment of theirs, she told Betabeat earlier this week.
Today, the former New Yorker is launching Peek, a San Franciso-based travel startup looking at a different slice of the market: booking activities like museum tickets, sporty jaunts, culinary tours, and seats at a film festival, starting with California and Hawaii.
The lush and user-friendly site shows hand-picked and vetted activities for each city in categories like Food & Wine, Arts & Culture, or Water Sports, in Hawaii. It aggregates reviews from a variety of travel sources, takes original photography, and builds relationships with the businesses featured on the site, so the information (like hours) is always updated. For that service, Peek takes a 15 to 30 percent commission of any booking you make online.
Ms. Bashir is one of the startup scene’s sudden influx of female Harvard Business School CEOs–in fact, she used to work with her fellow alums in strategy and biz dev at Gilt Groupe–and thus comes armed with plenty of market research. More than $26 billion was spent on activities in the U.S. in 2009. But while 80 percent of travelers look for activities online, only 20 percent of those sales are made online. That’s because many activities providers lack a website (Betabeat found this out the hard way when a friend recommended “migrant worker roller skating” in Shanghai).
Perhaps the most compelling feature on the site is suggested itineraries called “Perfect Day.” The startup, which is cofounded by CTO Oskar Bruening, a veteran of VMware and Symantec, has managed to lure a number of bold-faced names for the task, like Piers Morgan, Tory Burch, French Laundry chef Timothy Hollingsworth, and Jack Dorsey, whose “Perfect Day” background image (below) is a drawing he made of the Golden Gate bridge.
In a statement emailed to Betabeat, Mr. Schmidt said one of the trends reshaping this part of the travel industry is, “The UI: new technologies allow for amazing new visuals, much much better approaches for visual representations.”
As travel lovers, we’re excited to see some disruption in the space, although we remain skeptical as to how the concept will scale without significant investment in on the ground travel experts. After all, San Francisco and Hawaii are a little more developed and tourist-friendly than say Shanghai or even New York. But Ms. Bashir insisted the initial locations were chosen because they represent different types of challenges. “San Francisco is a big city with lots of stuff to do. Wine Country is more dispersed and Hawaii is a resort destination,” she argued. “What we’ve learned has created a process that’s extremely scaleable.
Peek plans on expanding to the East Coast and Mexico next year. Can we make a humble plea to have Jack Dorsey’s “Perfect Day” in New York? Besides riding in Square cabs with Bloomberg, of course.