Nextstop Wants To Be Yelp For Travelers

nextstop-mapNewly launched Nextstop is aiming to be a sort of Yelp for travelers, drawing on a community of users who recommend things to do around the world and in their own hometowns. Founded by a pair of former Google product managers, the service seems useful enough, if you’re looking for vegetarian restaurants in Denver, towns on the Basque coast, or places to get mugged in San Francisco. But Nextstop is also rooted in an ad-driven, community-based model that’s proving to be slow and increasingly difficult to monetize — if it ever catches on at all.

Nextstop is, in more than one way, a mashup. Much of its content comes from Google’s APIs — maps, local search, and image search, to name three — which are integrated with user-generated “tour guides” and recommendations. Moreover, it includes familiar attributes of other Web 2.0 services: a recommendation engine based in part on user reputations, a Twitter-like “follow” function for friends and favorite tour guides, and interestingly, a comments section that’s limited to an SMS-length 160 characters, for cultural reasons rather than technological limitations.

Still bootstrapped by its co-founders, Nextstop hasn’t raised any venture money yet. According to co-founder Adrian Graham, the company is able to keep costs down by adding content through APIs, drawing on its users’ passions, using open-source software and cheap hosting, and keeping a lean staff of five people. The company has no plans to institute an editorially driven model or to pay for content creation, Graham said.

The company’s lone source of income is expected to be advertising, despite the rough market for ad-driven startups. If that seems like a tough slog, consider this: Nextstop isn’t planning to spend much on marketing, either. Graham pointed to Wikipedia as an example of the adoption pattern Nextstop is aiming for, in which a small set of people contribute most of the relevant information. But Wikipedia was online for several years before it became useful, and Yelp — a brand which surely overlaps with Nextstop’s intended market — took awhile to reach critical mass as well. (Founded in 2004, Yelp still hasn’t caught on in many cities, despite more than $30 million in venture money.)

Graham said fundraising is still several months away, although a VC round is likely sometime in the next year. Until then, the company is “reaching out to people who will get the community going,” he said, and counting on a handful of Gladwellian connectors, mavens and salespeople to kickstart interest in the site. And while Nextstop may prove useful to travelers in the end, it may have to navigate a long road to get there.

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