Polarsteps co-founder explains how to create a truly integrated travel app
Travel is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. However, it is also one of the hardest things to plan and execute. Even if you successfully reach your destination and execute your travel plan, you face another challenge – that of carefully documenting the trip. Now, what if there was a one-size-fits-all solution to all these pain points, and it was designed by a group of enthusiastic travelers. well it is Polarsteps.
Based in Amsterdam, this Dutch startup is one of those rare startups whose origin stems from a deeply personal experience. Polarsteps was not launched because of an idea or a business model. Instead, it was launched because the founders of the startup encountered a travel-related problem themselves and quickly decided to solve it for everyone. This mission-driven approach is what makes Polarsteps a favorite among three million explorers.
A great passion for travel
The origin story of Polarsteps is not that of a garage or a basement but that which was created when Niek Bokkers, one of the co-founders of Polarsteps, crossed the Atlantic. It was the pre-smartphone era and Niek wanted to keep his family and friends informed of his whereabouts. A man of action at heart, Bokkers took with him a GPS device and a satellite phone.
He also decided to set up a server in the Netherlands that would plot his movement on a map. This creative way of keeping family and friends informed of your whereabouts when smartphones weren’t the norm has gone viral. At that moment, Bokkers knew he could turn this ingenuity of his creation into a product that could be used by travelers around the world.
When Job Harmsen, Koen Droste and Niek Bokkers started rethinking the idea, they met Maximiliano Neustadt, who came together to launch Polarsteps in 2015. Four of them sharing a great passion for travel, they started to work on the idea of a service that overcame all the challenges a traveler might face, during the planning, travel and documentation phase of their trip.
As a travel service, Polarsteps solves the problem faced by a typical traveler. This includes inspiration, planning, the actual journey, and then reliving it. “We believe that creating an end-to-end platform that makes this journey more enjoyable is something much needed in the industry. We also believe that there is plenty of ground ripe for individual disruptions on each of these funnel stages, especially when it comes to creating exceptional user experiences,” says Neustadt.
Objection to the agreement
For Job Harmsen, Koen Droste, Niek Bokkers and Maximiliano Neustadt, the biggest challenge was overcoming the coldness people feel when they take a big step. Neustadt says, “the first challenge was to take the plunge and make the bet.”
The bet is to turn a side project Bokkers envisioned in the Atlantic into a real business impacting the lives of millions of people. This gamble meant “radically changing the course of existing careers,” adds Neustadt. Their story is no different than that of Mark Zuckerberg who saw a lack of social communication tools on his college campus and ultimately decided to give up and create Facebook (now Meta).
Neustadt says their second challenge was securing seed investment. “Without a lot of activities to excite investors or monetization streams in place or ready to scale, it was difficult to get people on board,” he explains.
Their particular focus on creating a great experience for their target audience has helped them win over both investors and users. Neustadt claims that 100% of its users came to the organization either by learning about the service or through a recommendation from an existing user.
Before the pandemic, Neustadt says Polarsteps was able to triple all of its metrics year over year. He says the pandemic has impacted them as the travel industry has been significantly disrupted. Even during these tough times, Polarsteps has found a silver lining with its users reliving their activities. In other words, Polarsteps achieved what it set out to achieve in the first place.
“Because we were doing so well before the pandemic, we were able to weather the storm without having to take drastic measures,” confirms Neustadt.
Now that the travel industry is returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, Neustadt says she’s again seeing a surge in activity. The platform recently reached 4 million users and a large percentage of them are active on a monthly basis. “Compared to January of this year, we are seeing almost 3x more active users,” he adds.
An experiential business model
The Polarsteps business model is exceptionally brilliant. Neustadt says they generate their revenue through printed travel books that users can order with a click after completing their trip. One of the books that people like to place on their coffee table is a travel book or a travel-centric picture book.
With Polarsteps you can put your own travel diary on your coffee table. Since the service has access to your location, photos, and stories, it is able to turn that data into a beautiful book documenting the trip. “Even though it was just a feature we put in place because users were asking for it, it quickly became a core revenue stream for us,” Neustadt tells us.
Polarsteps recently added Destination Guides to help people find the best places to eat, sleep and drink around the world. When people book something they’ve seen on a destination guide, Polarsteps gets a share of the revenue. The co-founder says Polarsteps is on track to double revenue from last year or even 2019, which Neustadt calls pre-pandemic and best year for the company yet.
To develop its product and support growth, Polarsteps has so far raised a few seed rounds and closed its Series A round at the end of 2018. It closed a €3 million Series A round from INKEF and Silver Point Ventures, and according to Dealroom, Polarsteps raised a total of €4.8m.
Neustadt says they are in a “very luxurious position” of not having to increase in the near future. He says the current growth in users and the resulting revenue will allow the company to grow its business further. One of the areas Polarsteps wants to focus on is team building and ensuring that each team is allowed to achieve their goals.
“We’re still talking to investors who come knocking on our door to explore potential synergies, but in the short term we’re focused on product development,” Neustadt says.
Stand out with a solid product
Polarsteps is a 30-person team focused on improving the travel experience for people around the world, from planning to execution to documentation. The startup has resumed hiring in a number of areas and is particularly focused on filling positions within its product and technical team.
Neustadt says they are also looking to fill some engineering positions short-term, while the long-term goal is to fill positions in all disciplines within the company. With its largest user base in the Netherlands, Polarsteps has grown through strong organic support within its community. Today, the startup also plans to increase its presence in other markets.
“We intend to strengthen our brand and run marketing or user acquisition campaigns in a few key markets, but the core will come from our organic flywheel,” says Neustadt. expansion strategy.
Polarsteps is unique in its ability to offer an end-to-end travel platform covering all experiences. Thus, it lacks a direct competitor, but it counts Lonely Planet, Airbnb and Booking.com among its competitors, even if they cater to a specific segment. To stave off these established challengers, Neustadt says they will remain focused on their integrated approach and deliver a “top-notch UX for each of our product propositions.”
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