Launching a Travel Startup from 3 Continents & 2 Startup Incubators (Chile & South Africa) with David Urmann, CEO of Tourist Link

In this interview we chat with David Urmann, the founder of Touristlink – a startup aiming to connect travels and locals. David founded the company with his co-founder in India via 2 incubators; Startup Chile and 88mph in South Africa.

David, please introduce yourself…

I am originally from Salt Lake City and have a doctorate in Paleoclimatology from Ohio State. I started building simple e-commerce sites around 2003 and sold the first of these in 2005 for $50,000.

I was working with a lot of outsourcing companies in India but things were difficult to manage remotely so I decided to move their in 2006. I met my present business in Nagpur and we founded an outsourcing company which we grew from 3 employees to over 80 in three years and successfully exited in 2011.

What’s the story behind creating Touristlink?

I took a spur of the moment trip in 2011 to the Himalayas and wanted to arrange a trek to Everest Base Camp. Looking for a guide in Kathmandu I couldn’t find any reviews or prices on the internet and had to spend some time walking the street.

The initial idea for Touristlink was to connect travelers to guides but once we built the site we found that most our users are looking not only for guides but locals in general as well as other travelers to connect with.

I am an avid traveler and have to been to over 40 countries. So I really started Touristlink out of my passion for travel.

What we’re the primary challenges you faced when launching, and what did you do to fix them?

Funding the development meant we needed to find a business model that would allow us to bootstrap the concept. Social networks are valuable and can be monetized but the value is proportionate to the size of the network, so a lot of the value creation cannot be immediately realized and put to use.

To solve this we have raised funding from both StartupChile and from 88mph, an accelerator based out in Kenya. We also sell our own packages that we put together in the domestic market in India as a bootstrapping model.

What are your ties with Startup Chile, and how did that come about?

When I first started looking for funding the StartupChile opportunity immediately caught my attention. It’s a great place for seed funding as you don’t have to give up any equity. It’s also a great place to get feedback on your development ideas and interact with other other entrepreneurs.

My wife and I love to travel so getting to spend 6 months in Chile was one opportunity we did not want to miss.

For those who don’t know, what does the Startup Chile program involve, how is it run and who can apply?

Startup Chile is a government funded program that was launched with the intention of creating a “Mini Silicon Valley” in Santiago, Chile.

The program accepts 100 startups at a time and usually accepts several rounds per a year. Anyone with an early stage startup can apply.

If you are accepted you will get 40K in equity free funding. You must be present in Chile throughout the program. My experience was positive but with so many start ups in the program don’t expect a lot of one-on-one time with staff.

On the other hand it’s a great ecosystem and work environment and you get to interact and get
feedback from lots of other entrepreneurs trying to do the same thing.

Tell us how the 88mph program works; how did you get involved, what’s the program about and what was the experience like? is an accelerator program that’s based in Nairobi, Kenya with a primary focus on startups in Africa. It’s a different experience entirely from StartupChile.

For starters its only 10 startups and each team member has fulltime access to designers, programmers and whatever else is needed. The program mentors and advisors meet weekly with all the startups and track key performance indicators and give ideas and feedback.

This compares to StartupChile which offers little actual assistance or advice and instead depends on the community of other entrepreneurs to fill this role. That said I think they are both great programs.

Why did you decide to base Tourist Link out of India?

When my partner and I exited our first business we kept our team that we developed together and went right to work on Touristlink. India is a great place to work and development costs are low but most importantly we have a great team we have put together in the last six years.

What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs who want to set up a development team in India?

I think you need to be committed to spending some real time in India and finding the best people to work with. It’s always hard to find good employees no matter what country you are in.

I think our success in part can be attributed to the strong relationship I have with our cofounder, Jayesh Bagde, who is a Nagpur native.

We didn’t start out as business partners in fact I hired him for a sales and marketing role in 2006 but he was always such a charger that he soon become indispensible.

I think without a strong and trustworthy local partner its going to be difficult.

What’s next for Tourist Link?

Touristlink hit some big milestones in 2013. Over 15,000 visitors a day are coming to the site and over 1000 new members are joining up every week. However the interaction between members is all one-on-one.

To that end 2014 will be about introducing communities and making it easier to meet new people, meet travelers coming to your city and get into discussions with like minded groups.

Members will be able to join or even create their own groups. Users will be able to post pictures, trips and more. We are excited to make it a great year.

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