An Istanbul-based startup is creating a global travel concept based on going native. Local Guddy (guide-buddy) matches travelers up with locals for an entirely authentic travel experience, said co-founder Emre Semercioğlu.
“You don’t only see the touristic places, but you see the city through eyes of locals,” who know better than anyone where to taste the most flavorful beer, the most delicious foods, where to party and all the cool stuff tourists miss, Semercioğlu said.
And if it works out, Local Guddy tours can turn into more than a one-time experience, because part of the allure is that you meet people during the tours.
“People come, they take the tour from locals and they become friends. So when they come back to the city, they can hang out together again,” he said.
This is relevant to our Dispatches audience because expats are a needy demographic … strangers in a strange land, often arriving without a life-support network.
Moreover, this is a cool idea on several levels, not the least of which is it creates an entire new travel market. In short, young Turkish entrepreneurs Semercioğlu, İhsan Serdaroğlu, and Cihan Bilir have come up with a concept Turkish news site Daily Sabah describes as the “Airbnb for the streets of a foreign city.”
Local Guddy started eight months ago with a simple value proposition – everyone wins when you match bold explorers to locals who create their own tours, showing visitors the real Berlin, Istanbul or Rio.
Local Guddy builds the website and does the marketing; locals do the tours and Semercioğlu & Co. keep $5 in a fixed commission.
Travelers go online, check out the cities, choose their tour, pay online in advance, then meet their guides.
Local Guddy guides work in four categories:
• Local Guddy organizes tours of must-see destinations such as museums as well as hidden spots only locals know.
• Food Walkers show visitors the best places to sample local foods.
• Pub Crawlers take travelers to the best pubs and clubs.
• Hommy Chefs cook local foods at home and host travelers for dinner or for breakfast.
So far, that model has translated into about 500 tours in 40 countries, Semercioğlu said,
This is not an ad hoc effort.
Local Guddy partnered with Be a Better Guide Project to launch Guddy Academy to provide online training videos for Guddies. This includes the dos (be more interactive) and the don’ts (don’t one-up your clients.)
After less than a year, Local Guddy has matched up visitors and locals in London, Barcelona, Milan, Berlin, Istanbul and other cities.
The majority of users are young, in the 25-35 demographic. Most are American first-timers in European cities, looking for “something new and alternative,” said Semercioğlu.
A great startup story
Semercioğlu, Serdaroğlu, and Bilir started Local Guddy with 5,000 euros they raised via crowdfunding.
The origins of Local Guddy are in Istanbul.
“I was hosting at my flat many foreigner friends, and I was showing them around in my free time,” Semercioğlu said. “But when I have to go to work or school, they were trying to explore the city themselves.
“They were going to backstreets and getting lost or going to only most touristic places … while discussing this with them, we came up with the idea.”
In a global world, it figures Local Guddy is an American corporation, incorporated in Delaware.
Semercioğlu, Serdaroğlu, and Bilir went through an accelerator in Berlin in their expansion to Europe, but have been working for about seven months out of Istanbul, where they have their offices.
With proof of concept, Local Guddy is now ready to go to the next level.
“Our long-term strategy is to partner with bigger players in the accommodation sector like Booking.com, Homeaway, etc. because they have the demand, and we have the supply,” Semercioğlu said.
In the short term, Local Guddy partners with smaller platforms and startups.
These are not guys who give up easily
Istanbul native Semercioğlu, who has a background in business and marketing, has been involved in two startups that didn’t fly, including an app/personal assistant that helped users explore cities via WhatsApp, connecting them to real people. The plan was to charge restaurants a fee if clients make reservations.
The project attracted 20,000 users in Istanbul, but raising scale-up capital in Turkey is tough right now, he said.
Instead, they pivoted to Local Guddy with affordable, authentic tours of the world’s coolest cites.
Tours of the Month on the Local Guddy website include:
• a $15 per person tour of London’s Farmers Markets with Gilberto R.
• High level hiking in Pedra da Gàvea with Sal S. in Rio de Janeiro for $20 per person
• Top Midtown walking sites of Midtown in New York City with Lisa F. for $50 per person
• Berlin Food at Its Best with Divina W. for $15 per person
You can also meet Emre Semercioğlu in person and explore Istanbul’s famous nightlife.
So you might want keep Local Guddy in mind whether you just landed, or whether you’re a jaded expat contemplating yet another Sunday hanging around the flea market at Mauerpark.
And you adventurous locals … you can sign up to be a Local Guddy on the website.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.