One of the best parts about traveling is finding those hidden local gems in every city you visit. Sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor will get you close, but what if you could actually speak one-on-one with someone who knows the ins, outs and what’s happenings of the city?
New platform Yokel looks to bridge that gap for travelers to Columbus.
“It’s connecting travelers with locals so you can get the insider’s version of how to navigate the city,” says Co-Founder Aslyne Rodriguez. “We want to be the connector. You get to really interact with a person who knows the city better than a website.”
Travelers log on to the Yokel website and fill out some basic information about their trip – name, contact information, dates, and a little bit about what they’re looking for on their adventure. For some it might be sports and dive bars, for others, it might be art galleries and fine dining. The platform connects travelers with a city expert, aka a Yokel, that’s well-versed in their must-see list.
“These are people who have proven to us that they know the city like the back of their hand,” Co-Founder Christian Coughlan says. They’ve carefully chosen the first group of Yokels, making sure they represent a variety of tastes and interests.
“We allow them to communicate in three ways – via text, via phone and via email,” Rodriguez says. They’d love to hear stories of personal connections made, but it’s entirely up to the individuals if they want to meet in person.
A Yokel can provide recommendations on everything from restaurants to transportation, or even suggest a full-blown itinerary for the traveler’s time in Columbus.
“After the travel, we send another email just with a short survey and an opportunity to tip your Yokel,” Coughlan says. “That’s what we’re testing right now.”
This recently-launched alpha version of Yokel is testing whether customers are interested in the service, and more so, are they willing to pay for it? The survey responses will also be used to build a system of trust much like Airbnb has done, with responses feeding directly to a Yokel’s profile.
Testing this alpha version comes at the advice of Rev1 Ventures (formerly TechColumbus). The co-founders completed the Concept Academy, an intensive three-day workshop that helps with market validation. If validation goes well, it’s potentially on to investments for a platform with scalability that could have relevance in nearly every city. (And the co-founders are already tapping into their networks in other cities based on requests alone.)
Rev1 was one of several local resources Yokel utilized to develop their business.
Story Forge helped Yokel develop their brand strategy.
“A lot of what we’ve been able to accomplish is because of that partnership,” Coughlan says.
They’ve also partnered with another organization that wants travelers to know about all the great things to do in the city – Experience Columbus. Yokel’s worked with the SBDC and made their rounds on the startup and pitch circuit, too.
“Columbus has a lot of resources and we are really lucky to have access to them,” Rodriguez says.
As first-time entrepreneurs, it’s been a learning curve.
“Everything is a challenge when you’re starting something,” Coughlan says. Becoming the master-of-all-trades because you have to as a small business owner is time-consuming to say the least. The duo are go-getters, often wishing things could move along faster, but have met each challenge with a let’s-solve-it spirit.
For more information, visit cityyokel.com.