Our Google Calendar reminded us this morning that today 10 years ago we went to the Chamber of Commerce in Amsterdam to register our company Spotted by Locals. “Cool” I thought and went over to co-founder (and wife) Sanne’s desk to toast with a cup of espresso before getting back to work on the many projects that we have on our plate this summer.
There’s so much we want to do and so little time, so we don’t look back very often. But during our morning meeting we decided to drop all work for a day, remember why we started Spotted by Locals in 2007 and reflect on how we’ve been doing in the 10 years since we cashed our life-savings and hit the road with our old Opel Astra to hunt for Spotters in 20 cities in Europe who believed in our idea and vision…. Are we still relevant?
Live our dream
Sanne & I got married in 2006. Sanne ran a successful one woman company, I had a good job as a management consultant that I really liked, we had 2 cars, a little dream apartment in Amsterdam, many good friends and lots of fun. The next step for us according to our friends & family were obvious: move up on the career ladder, have children, move to a bigger house…
We weren’t so sure of this. As a brainwashed management consultant I saw (and still see) everything as a “project”, so why not our personal future? I proposed we kick off this project by both writing down what we wanted out of life. Our dreams matched remarkably well. Many “brainstorm sessions” (beach walks) later the basics of what we wanted out of life were pretty clear: no kids, to be entrepreneurs, to travel a lot, be free to work & live wherever we want, to do “something meaningful” and “something with people”.
About half a year later the idea for Spotted by Locals hit us on a city trip to Brussels: a network of city guides for people like us who wanted to skip the tourist highlights and know where locals hang out in cities. It matched perfectly with our dream life.
Now 10 years ago we went to the Chamber of Commerce and signed a formal cooperation contract as business partners (definitely scarier than signing our wedding papers!).
Are we still “living the dream”? Hell yes. Of course some things are more routine than they were when we first started, but we really feel like there is no better job for us on earth. We live a semi-nomadic life, meet super interesting people all the time, we are doing something positive for many people and are still 100% independent as a company without any outside funding.
A useful service for travelers & locals
10 years ago, there was a gap in the market for Spotted by Locals. Traditional guidebooks, user generated travel content websites (unbelievable, but there was no App Store yet in 2007!), blogs… they all could not deliver what a niche audience of travelers like us who weren’t interested in tourist highlights needed: guaranteed up-to-date tips by real locals. Not ending up at a restaurant that is no longer cool, or worse: one that has closed down…
Ten years later traditional guidebooks still have the same problem (great for highlights and background information, but they just can’t keep up with the many cool places popping up and closing down in cities).
Since 2007 many amazing websites and other initiatives have popped up that allow you to meet, receive a tour from or stay the night with a local. Wonderful, but meeting other people in real life on a city trip is just not for everybody.
Then of course there are billions of travel tips out there stocked in databases, but still no algorithm can give you up-to-date information about which places are really local and cool to visit now, together with a personal story from a real local.
No other app / website is doing what we are doing: curating tips by locals who speak the local language, and who we meet in person. We are confident we are adding even more value for travelers & locals than we were in 2007. Our content is stronger thanks to even better and more motivated Spotters, our website & apps are better and used by more people than ever.
Help local entrepreneurs & governments
Spotted by Locals helps spread tourists to neighborhoods that are less “popular” with tourists, as locals often write about authentic little places in non-touristy areas. Also, quite a few Spotted by Locals users (like us) probably skip tourist highlights altogether, spending their money at places run by local entrepreneurs instead of at big multinational tourist factories.
Every year, more people travel to cities. Some cities are so swamped by tourists that locals starts disliking their own city. Tourists who come to visit the main tourist sights are great for the economy, but too many of them can destroy cities. Local governments in cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon and Venice (55.000 inhabitants in the city center, 27 million tourists a year) have been talking for years about what they can and should do about it.
It’s nice to know we’ve helped local entrepreneurs get their local business of the grounds. And we’re happy to have worked together with quite a few tourists boards who believe we can help them by promoting “local travel”. It’s more important than ever!
We have always believed strongly that the root cause of any of the world’s problems is people from different cultures not understanding each other. From world leaders to “normal” people: so many people are prejudiced. When we started Spotted by Locals, we thought we could do something about it by encouraging travelers to see a destination from a local’s perspective.
Currently we are expanding to cities in & close to The Middle East, all cities few people have actually traveled to but many people have prejudgements about.
Many millions have used our website or app intensively over the years. While it’s difficult to prove, we must have sparked a “cultural understanding” flame in hundreds of thousands of people who think about the benefits of really connecting with other cultures by reading about or visiting our locals’ favorite local spots.
We are pretty sure we have made the world a little bit nicer. It’s more needed than ever it seems, and it’s a nice feeling. Our Spotters can be proud!
A cool Spotters community
In 2007 we thought and hoped that Spotters would be like-minded people that would get along and “one day” meet each other when they traveled. We created a website to make it easier. It was so nice to see the first pictures of Spotters meeting other Spotters in cities in 2009.
Today the Spotters community is so much more active than we ever thought it would be. More Spotters than we dreamed of visit the epic bi-yearly Spotters Weekends. Spotters help each other and cooperate in all kinds of ways, for business and pleasure. Quite a few Spotters have changed careers or started their own business, because other Spotters or we inspired them to follow their dreams.
It’s impossible for Sanne & me to keep track of who’s meeting who and where. It’s WAY out of control for us, and that’s good! There have even been some wonderful long (and short!) lasting romances between Spotters who never met each other before Spotted by Locals. And a wedding!
The success of the Spotters community is one of the most surprising and coolest things for us.
Although we are more driven by a vision and passion, Spotted by Locals is a for profit company. When we wrote our business plan in 2007, we of course predicted a future with lots of money!
It hasn’t turned out like that (yet). We rent out our Amsterdam apartment and spend much of our time in countries where life is cheaper, we have become minimalists and sold most of our “stuff”, our personal expenses are much lower than they were 10 years ago, we keep business expenses low by not having an office and we invest all our earnings into growing Spotted by Locals. Many of our Spotters help tremendously by donating their earnings so we can organize Spotters Weekends and keep growing.
It’s not always easy to live and run a business with little money (read more about that here), but it’s so worth it… We are happier persons, we are doing something useful for the world and we feel like we add value to the lives of many Spotters and our users. Yes, Spotted by Locals is a successful business and we thank it all to our wonderful Spotters.
And we’ve only just started… right!?