Steve Jackson is a British data geek living in Finland.
Serial entrepreneur. Opinionated and passionate about what he does, and he was once slightly famous in analytics industry circles. Steve is driven to use his skills with data and knowledge of internet technology to put the power back into the hands of local businesses.
1. You are the founder of an online marketplace, Toristy. What is Toristy and what inspired the idea?
In Finnish, “Tori” means market, so we used that as part of the name because we’re creating a marketplace of tourist experiences.
The idea was born out of frustration when trying to find a fishing guide during my honeymoon in Bora Bora way back in 2008. I eventually found a captain by asking around the hotel where we were staying, and was told to “go to a restaurant called Bloody Mary’s and ask for Jack, he’ll be at the bar”. While we didn’t initially find Jack that evening, we were able to get his phone number and, eventually, book a trip with him.
We didn’t catch anything, but the stories we got about Bora Bora, Jack’s life, and how he came to be there could’ve been part of a movie script. If it was just about the fishing I’d have been disappointed as we didn’t get a sniff of Marlin all day, but I would’ve paid to have the same experience of listening and learning from Jack any day of the week.
The thing that struck me though was, why we had to dig around to find this genuinely brilliant guy? This was what planted the seed. Why were we relying on word of mouth to find this experience on a holiday island?
Now, flash forward to 2019, and today’s traveler is rapidly evolving, looking less for curated, big ticket experiences and more for tailored, local, artisanal offerings that reflect the uniqueness of the region they are visiting. The “Jacks” of the world, if you will. Everything from lodging, to meals, to experiences is being rethought and re-examined, and the opportunity for small, local businesses, has never been higher.
That’s where Toristy comes in. Quite simply, we’re making it easier for the local businesses to find the relevant travellers that are looking for exactly what they are offering, in an easy and approachable manner.
2. How is Toristy challenging the status quo?
Right now, many smaller businesses can’t compete with the bigger advertising budgets that are dominating an incredibly competitive and diverse market. If we take Jack as an example, even if he had a great web property and social presence, he still wouldn’t have been able to compete with big budget sites. It doesn’t have to be like this.
Our goal isn’t to “out-promote” those types of sites like everyone else. It’s to be smarter and more inclusive, giving something to everyone who stands to win from the right traveler finding Jack’s services.
With Toristy’s technology, Jack’s services would have shown up on our hotel’s website, on our travel agent’s website, on the major travel sites promoting the area, etc. By giving Jack access to the tools and know-how of the Toristy team, he’ll be able to make sure he’s being seen by the people that are looking for his services. We do all of the legwork so he doesn’t have to, partnering with the destination marketing companies and get local services like Jack’s on the relevant websites. We also provide Jack with tools like payments and stock management for his charter service in one easy platform for no upfront or monthly fee, to manage the complexities of running a business with an online presence. As for Toristy, we take a commission when a booking is made but the majority stays with the small businesses that are working so hard to attract their customers.
By embracing the idea that customers should have a choice in the types of experiences that they want, Toristy is challenging the status quo by working with destination marketing groups both big and small to ensure that everyone benefits from travelers finding meaningful and engaging experiences wherever they go.
3. How do you hope Toristy evolves as time goes on?
Today, we have the platform in its early phases, and we’re optimizing for local services in Finland because that’s where we’re based. However, we believe this technology is going to enable us to become the “Airbnb” of local tourist experiences. The more services we onboard, the more cities we work with, the more experiences we can offer, all adds up to making it more compelling for destination marketing companies to onboard our service to generate new revenues. The travel market is a huge business all around the world, and our solution isn’t limited by business size or geography.
Our vision also includes a strong element around sustainability. Whether it be providing funding for the cleaning up of the world’s oceans, cleaning beaches, or working with environmental charities, I feel like we have to give something back so we can all continue to have great experiences no matter where our travels take us.
At this point, we’re still actively pursuing additional funding to keep growing and developing the service faster and more efficiently, which is all part of our aspiration to deliver a service that provides real impact and benefit to these businesses and communities. We’re excited about the journey we are on and look forward to sharing in the success of business owners all around the world.