Sydney "experiences" marketplace Arribaa allows locals and travellers to buy and sell unique social tours, with its founders hoping to replicate the success that Airbnb experienced when it commercialised the couch-surfing experience.
Locals had previously used the CouchSurfing community website to freely offer their couch/mattress/bed to travellers and backpackers, but Arribaa co-founder Colette Grgic said that some people would abuse the hosts' trust and generosity.
"It is lovely to give and to share, but sometimes I feel like people are being used, because in areas where it's quite dense, people get inundated with 70 requests a day, and it's not necessarily because you're the nicest person on Earth; it's because you're offering a free couch," she said.
Airbnb addresses this issue, as it measures users' reputations, Grgic said, and (importantly) turns a "share of goodwill" into a transaction.
"Airbnb is so much more successful, because you put a value on your couch. I put effort into it, and I get something in return for it. It's not just a give/take. There's mutual understanding of what something is worth."
Arribaa aims to apply the same model to local tours. Grgic said that she and her co-founders, husband Vinko Grgic (COO) and Roger Barnes (CTO), were inspired to develop Arribaa after an 18-month trip around South-East Asia and Central America. They wanted to experience the real local culture in a city, and simultaneously contribute to the local community.
The site has organised a handful of tours, including macaron tasting around Sydney; graffiti in Glebe; and visits to Sydney art galleries, where travellers pay tour guides for their time and knowledge. The founders have raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding, and have exclusively focused on Sydney to engage early adopters and understand the best way to sell experiences, which includes talented Sydney locals using the website to promote their activities.
The founders have travelled widely, and have personally suffered through the tourist machine versus the opportunity to experience real culture. They have set their sights on people who are truly embedded in a city's cultural fabric, and will test the idea in Sydney before a wider roll-out.
Some experiences will no doubt be more popular than others (eg, macaron tasting), and it will take time to find which ones will be the most profitable.
Everybody wants a unique local experience, and locals want to be rewarded for their knowledge and excellence. The model can be rolled out to different markets once the team identifies the mechanics that make it work.
Airbnb could wipe out all competitors if it opened a similar marketplace to its massive community. Arribaa might have to focus on one type of experience, and dominate that space.
This will work because of the founders' passion, commitment and drive. The website will no doubt evolve towards very specific "experiences", but I'm confident that the founders have the willpower to overcome challenges that come their way. Also, it's a responsible decision to focus on Sydney — to understand what truly works before taking on the world.