Startup Spotlight: Utrip aims to take the headaches out of travel planning

Planning a vacation can sometimes be more stress than it’s actually worth.  Flight times, tickets, events, hotels, transportation, food — it’s all just a big headache. Seattle’s Utrip wants to do all of that work for you, removing the need for you to spend hours flipping through guide books.

The service allows you to set dates to leave and return on, towns you would like to visit, and what type of accommodations you’d prefer. They also offer 13 different categories to rate on how important each is to you (your budget, shopping, culture, sports, nature, etc.). Each time you update one category, the suggestions auto-update.  If you don’t want to take the time to customize the categories yourself, there are also preset options for “The Student,” “The First Timer,” ‘The Returning Traveler,” “Utrip Team Picks,” and “The Luxury Traveler” that pre-populate your trip with suggested stops.

The industry seems ripe for disruption, with veteran entrepreneur Tony Wright working on a similar travel company called Tomo (specifically aimed at on-the-ground traveling).  Flights and hotels are currently serviced by companies like Expedia and Kayak, and the market received yet another jolt today when Google announced its purchase of online travel guide Frommer’s.

Utrip was founded in April of last year by Gilad Berenstein, Edan Shahar and Yair Berenstein. Berenstein and Shahar graduated from the University of Washington with a degrees in accounting/finance and physics/economics, respectively.  The team has since grown to 10 core team members along with different partners around the world.  We caught up with the entrepreneurs for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Utrip helps travelers plan the most personal trip of their lives to their dream destination.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Gilad, the co-founder and CEO, took a trip to Europe with some friends after grad school. Unfortunately, reading a dozen travel books, blogs, and websites was just not good enough. Travel guides turned out to be outdated and plans fell through. Their lodging was far away from the rest of their activities and places had closed since the guides were written. He wondered if there was a way to plan a highly personalized experience without paying a travel agent or spending an exorbitant amount of time which most of us just don’t have. The thought inspired and motivated him to start Utrip.”

Most of the Utrip team

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrapped angel… like a sweating Gabriel. Although we have recently added new angels into our family, we wake up every morning with the tenacity of the bootstrappers.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “A splash of Artificial Intelligence whisked together with a whole lot of travel experience and gently folded into your unique interests and desires. Finally we garnish it with a heap of authentic local spice.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We only have so many resources, and therefore, narrowing our focus to specific travel groups and limited initial destinations was a crucial decision we made.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Being passionate travellers we wanted to solve everyone’s needs all in one go. What we soon realized is that the journey of a million steps has to start with only one, since physically we don’t have a million feet with which to step.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates would be awesome due to being a Seattleite and living in his amazing shadow. However, we’d have to say Bezos. Amazon has become the gold standard in the personalized and customized shopping. Our mission is to give every person the opportunity to discover the world for themselves based on their specific desires and interest and to make the best recommendations for that individual user.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “If you’re reading this, it’s already too late, the strategy is at stage two. Building and continuing to refine our system to answer the needs of the modern traveller is our way of ensuring people will love our product and after using it, be unable to imagine any other way to plan their trips.”

Rivals should fear us because: “They shouldn’t fear us. Instead, they should be excited of the opportunities to partner with us. One of our strengths is that we have successfully turned some of our biggest competitors into partners. We believe in a collaborative world.”

We are truly unique because: “We’re driven to help you plan your dream vacation, utilizing our first-hand knowledge of your ideal destinations and focusing on your unique desires and interests.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Competing for talent in a city with Google, Facebook, Expedia, Microsoft, and Amazon.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting
out: “Execute, Execute, Execute! It is great to have awesome ideas, but what’s far more important is to carry out executions.”

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send  photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

  • Guest

    I really like the idea in theory, but they’ve got to nail the details.

    I tried a trip to Barcelona with the foodie scale cranked up. They sent me to dinner between 6 and 8pm every night. Most of the good places in BCN aren’t even open that early. It’s like sending someone to dinner in Seattle at 3pm. They also missed recommending the red-hot destinations like Tickets and hidden gems like Quimet y Quimet that have tapas you won’t find anywhere else. One night they sent me to dinner at a place that serves only hot chocolate and pastries.

    Missing things like that in a city I know makes me lose faith in them being able to meet my needs in a city I don’t know. That’s where it really matters.

    • http://twitter.com/mikeytom Mikey Tom

      Totally agree that they have to nail the details. It’s a huge obstacle to tackle since customs are different in every part of the world so maybe they could take the angle of focusing on one part of the world first and totally killing it with features there? Love the site design though (just a sidenote :) )

    • Utrip team member

      This is great feedback; the dinner timing issue is something we are already addressing. We are working everyday to learn more from users like you. Thanks for the feedback and feel free to leave more through our site.

      Safe travels!

  • CraigJAT

    Awesome site, but completely agree that the details need to get nailed.
    Having been to 5 of these cities in the past 4 weeks, I noticed quite a difference in how Hotel users / hostel users work. Generally hostel sleepers want a more social experience, they go to hostels for both price and to meet new people and are usually more interested in using their time efficiently. I’d expect these type of things to be shown in the search, as well for students and first timers, from all that I met in cities like Amsterdam, London, Prague and Barcelona, they want the best nightlife has to offer. They should be informed and it should be prominent on the search page, not just simply checkboxs. Only other complaint I can think of is “must see” attractions I don’t think your nightlife has one, if anyone stays in Prague for more then 2 days you’re going to hear about Karlovy Lazne (largest club in Central Europe right next to the Charles bridge), yet I did a 7 day itinerary for Prague as a student and the closest it gave me was Roxy which is only 2 floors, having one closed off all days but Saturday and Friday.