Itay Nagler, our CEO, on Cool Cousin's exciting and challenging road ahead, where it leads and what we all have to gain.
Two years ago, we started working on Cool Cousin with child-like innocence and naive notions that the world needs something like this. We needed something like CC. For the longest time we lived off of positive feedback. Every time someone used the app and loved it - we felt rich! The more we grew and deepened our commitment, as in all relationships, we started seeing problems and all the things we’d have to learn to live with, or reject. The first time someone asked to become a Cousin, we made sure they felt like a king! Why? Because our Cousins are our highest priority. But now we’re growing, and growing, (and growing) and all of a sudden we’re backlogged with Cousin requests. So we hired more people but it’s not enough to treat everyone like a king.
At the same time, we began to realize how difficult it would be to grow while maintaining our authenticity. Businesses offered us payment to appear in the app, people applying to be Cousins added spots that didn’t actually exist, and we’ve even had bots applying to become Cousins! Meanwhile, we knew we’d eventually have to discuss the elephant in the room: how are we going to make money? How can CC, together with our Cousins and investors, create a service people are willing to pay for?
Looking forward, we knew that soon enough we’d have to tackle these issues, and adopt a stable model with which all players are happy and making a profit. That’s challenging! So in 2017 we began strategizing the best way to drive the Cool Cousin goals: how do we scale the community and develop a revenue stream without hurting the authenticity and credibility of the recommendations? How do we empower our community while maintaining high standards? How do we balance our community’s drive for positive world impact, reducing cultural and language barriers and making knowledge accessible, while also being profitable? We knew that by 2018 we'd have to tackle these questions and challenges, but we didn't know how we'd do it.
Gil, our rock-star CTO, has been active in the blockchain space since 2012. He exposed us to the technology and the opportunities it holds. From all the available options, we fell in love with the idea of using blockchain, smart contracts and utility tokens. The philosophy behind blockchain technology cuts the middle-man (originally the banks) and gives power back to the people. It allows decentralization - there’s not one single source of truth, and smart contracts written on this network enable articulating a set of rules that cannot be altered, making sure that every participant can trust that others are playing by the same permanent rules. Tokens are the entrance ticket into the system, enabling participants to pay, make decisions, contribute and get something back in return. We’re in love, and understandably so:
Cool Cousin was born of the idea that there's no single source of truth — what’s right for one person, may not be right for another. We don't believe in “top 10 things to do in London”, or “5 best clothing stores for women in Lisbon”. John and Rachel have completely different interests and they should get different recommendations. Their individual “top 5” would be different - but true and valuable to them. Rather than a generic list funneling them to Big Ben and Primark, they’ll each choose the suitable person who hits their taste. Our concept was decentralized, and now so is our technology.
CC is scaling like a boss - but how can we manage the pipeline of requests to become a Cousin? What’s the best way to review the content - maps, writing, etc? One standard option is to build a large content department, but the increased expense would eventually be rolled onto the users. The new system offers a solution here too: the Community will manage itself! Cousins will approve new Cousins, the Community will oversee quality assurance, and active involvement will be rewarded with tokens that hold real-life value. What if these tokens can pay for your next vacation? The better the content, the more people use CC, and the entire ecosystem wins - while still maintaining the balance between affordable prices and high quality.
Add these exciting features to the fact that blockchain technology enables transfering funds from one destination to another at lower costs, and we have a product that's cheaper than anything else on the market, and still makes a profitable business.
YUP - we’re in love.
With the opportunities this tech brings, why shouldn't we try to think even BIGGER and make all our dreams a reality? Let me share some mind-blowing data: research shows travel-agents are making a comeback, bigtime. Millennials are using travel agents more than any other age group. In fact, 34% of American Millennials used a travel agent in 2015 (!). Surprised? But wait, they didn’t use the service thanks to the agent’s magnificent booking skills. So why use them? There’s an overload of information and online sources are hard to trust - most of them are tainted by commercial interests. In a time when experiences are more valuable than property, it’s totally reasonable to pay a little for a personally curated, upgraded travel experience.
In the past few months we’ve talked to hundreds of users. We wanted to hear what was their “magic moment” in their CC journey. We learned that they had messaged cousins with questions about accomodation — not necessarily specific hotels, but which neighborhoods to stay in. We learned that our Cousins helped them with various concerns: how to get fair-priced tickets to a soccer game in Milano; the best way to commute; the best dates to visit the city; and even how to book a local singer for a perfect destination wedding proposal. Can you see what’s happening here? Users are reaching out to cousins and seeking out your knowledge for exactly the same reason people turn to travel agents - they are looking for your curation and are searching for clarity.
We said we want to follow our dreams... Well, our dream is to see our Cousins making money off of the amazing service they’re providing. Nowadays, a travel agent’s biggest asset is their local knowledge and the ability to match experiences to specific tastes. Well guess what? Our Cousins have the world’s best local knowledge - they live and breathe their city, they love it, take pride in it, and are thrilled when others enjoy it. If Airbnb trained people with an extra room to be hosts (not hoteliers), we have our Cousins, not professional travel agents. Each one of them will have the option (based on their desire, their availability, their terms and their wishes) to offer services that use their knowledge — from building a custom itinerary, answering questions, recommending live shows or even setting things up - sky’s the limit and it’s up to them!
We have a few ideas in mind. We envision our Cousins enhancing travel experience worldwide and making a few hundred bucks a month with minimal effort by just being themselves.
So what are we doing to make this happen? What's our first step? After months of careful deliberation, our first and biggest decision was to forgo the original idea of raising round A, and launching an ICO. Rather than selling shares in the company, we’re selling the tokens with which travelers can use the platform. It’s kind of a new and exciting way to crowdsource. Who is going to buy these tokens? People who want to use the product. People who believe in CC, who believe in us, who appreciate what we’ve built and who believe CC is a useful and needed platform. Yes, ICOs are trendy, but most companies use this tool without even having a product. They have no idea if anyone will want the product they’re building, or even how they’ll build it. CC is different. Over half a million people have traveled with CC. They've sent you tens of thousands of personal messages, asked questions, shown their gratitude and recieved amazing answers. Mostly, they've significantly upgraded their travel experiences. Cool Cousin is not committing to an ICO because it's a buzzword or because it's easy - trust us, it's not. But it's the right thing for us. Our investors, our team, my co-founders, everyone we work with and everyone who's helped, all believe this to be true — and so do I. This will be the tipping point for CC. Why are we so sure it’s going to work? Because we have a topnotch team, momentum, mature technology and most importantly - an amazing community.
I have so much more to share with you about how great this change can be. Did you know that when people use your city guides, they spend their money in local businesses rather than multinational chains? Did you know that when people get recommendations from like-minded locals, they fall in love with the city and feel utterly grateful? Some of them even reach out and wish to pay it forward, becoming Cousins themselves. Did you know that we've been getting particularly warm reactions from expats, who say that CC makes them feel more at home? And that's just the start of it, but let's save the rest for another opportunity.
Achieving this is no small feat, but we believe in our ability to succeed, we believe in our Cousins, and most of all we believe we can do it because it is the right thing to do. It's not going to be easy, we're going to have to get ordinary people who just want to travel to adopt a new approach, but we have an in-depth plan for how to make it easy for them. We need to implement new technology, and we need to convince the world that we can reinvent the way people travel. What's more, we have to do all this with limited resources and with a great deal of patience. We're going to make mistakes, we're going to fail, but at the end, we must succeed.
Much love, and good-luck to us!