Celebrating cultural differences with Culture Trip
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find the process of booking a holiday or city break totally mind-boggling and confusing. While technology has doubtless made the practical process far easier than years gone by, we now have a myriad of choice which I find bamboozling.
A global startup taking a slightly different approach to the usual online travel companies is Culture Trip. The company creates stories that reveal what is unique and special about a certain place, its people and its culture.
In-house creative and editorial teams work with a global network of freelance creators to tell location-centred stories around the world, including articles, videos, photography, illustration and animation. Startups Magazine speaks to Roop Gill and Konkona Kundu, Product Manager and Senior Product Manager respectively, to find out more.
Having been born in India, raised in Canada and now based in London, there’s no doubt that travel and culture is definitely in Gill’s blood, and her professional journey (pun intended) has certainly been an adventure that has taken her from writing recaps of her weekends abroad to being the product manager for a startup bringing together travel, media, and entertainment.
“My current role at Culture Trip is my dream job because it brings together three of my main interests – technology, media and travel,” she commented.
It was a similar story for Kundu, who was born in Russia, grew up in India, lived for some time in the US and has lived in London for the last nine years.
The company was founded by Dr. Kris Naudts, who was inspired to create Culture Trip when standing in front of a bookshelf at a friend’s apartment and barely recognised any of the authors or titles in his friend’s collection. He couldn’t understand how such a large library of ideas and culture could have passed him by and wondered if the explanation was because they came from different backgrounds.
Out of this experience came the spark of an idea - what if there were a place people could go to before they travelled somewhere new to find books or films from local writers and directors? The collection would deliver diverse perspectives from across the globe and could help people feel more connected to the world around them.
Konkona continued: “Culture Trip is a creative and fun tool for travel planning and booking. Our product is powered by our community of creators who tell stories about the cities they call home. We use AI to inform the stories we need to tell, what we need to update and how we should distribute them in a way that makes sense for the users.
“On Culture Trip, you can read about people, places and culture, find recommendations for things to do, places to stay and where to eat, save these recommendations to a wish list and also make bookings.
Who is reading Culture Trip?
“Our audience tends to be mature Millennials with half of them coming from the US or UK. Seventy-two percent of them have a disposable income they are looking to spend on experiences. They appreciate getting under the skin of a location when traveling and are looking for more than just tourist hotspots. This is how Culture Trip stands out.”
Since Culture Trip’s founding in 2011, the company has received $2m seed funding which was secured in 2015, and then $20m series A funding the following year. In 2018, it secured $80m in Series B funding.
This has all contributed to the Culture Trip website receiving 18 million monthly unique visitors and eight million friends across social media. Its videos have had two billion views in the last two years and there has been over two million downloads of the company app, which has also received 4.8 stars on Apple’s App store.
The company’s product team is ten strong. More than half are based in London and the rest in Tel Aviv. The team work in squads – which are made up of developers, designers, data scientists and content strategists. This model helps them to work across disciplines, focusing on solving specific customer problems without duplicating work.
Gill said: “Most of our users discover us when they are researching where to go and what to do, during their upcoming trip. Besides word of mouth a lot of our traffic comes from organic search. Once users discover our website and read our amazing inspirational stories, we keep them engaged by showing relevant content and promote tools they can use to plan, as well as bookings for hotels and experiences for their trip.
“We started booking through affiliates and this summer we soft launched our OTA proposition for hotel bookings.”
In a highly competitive market Culture Trip stands out by offering creative, localised content, connecting the inspiration with the ‘how to’, at a global scale.
Roop continued: “The digital market has opened up potential for startups like us to deliver truly inspiring and useful content and the ability for people to make a booking right then and there - and we’re uniquely positioned at the beginning of the user journey - capturing audiences in the entertainment, inspiration and education stage.
“In terms of competition, we’re interested in the innovation happening outside of the travel space. Netflix and Amazon are doing great things - developing content, original fiction, the way they distribute their content and champion creativity.
“We sit naturally in the travel inspiration space, but we also have this amazing creative diversification - we’re not just producing editorial but also video, animation, illustration and photography - formats that lend themselves well to original, creative content. We believe we can build on this, and hopefully, one day, be in a category of our own.”
Like many startups, one of the biggest challenges for Culture Trip has been finding a balance between moving fast by building quick, versus building at a steady pace to ensure a scalable infrastructure is in place. “This isn’t a challenge specific to us, of course,” added Kundu, “every startup faces issues like this as they grow. We want to create a technical architecture which is broken down in a way which allows teams to move fast without creating a lot of dependencies. We are currently solving our problem by breaking down the old monolith into micro-services which allows teams to truly own parts of the product.”
Gill added: You don’t need to be a developer to be ‘in the tech industry’. You can be a designer, a researcher, product manager, analyst. The attributes one needs for thriving and succeeding in the tech sector are creativity, inquisitiveness and problem-solving.
Gender bias in the sector
When asked her advice on being a woman in the tech industry, Gill continued: “Gender issues in the workplace aren’t an industry-specific or individual problem. All women face this problem - having to work harder to be taken seriously, and taking on more organisational tasks.
“But I don’t accept advice that places responsibility on individual actors or that encourages women to speak up or ‘lean in’. This positions the plight of female empowerment as an individualistic issue, not a collective issue.
“Here are a few things we can all do whether we are man, woman or non-binary: speak up when you see discrimination, unequal treatment or prejudice; hire diverse leadership; develop female talent and make being a woman in the industry everybody’s problem.”
Kundu added: “I have always worked in a very male-dominated industry. Most of the time, I find myself to be the only woman in the room. Surprisingly, computer science was actually started as a profession more suited to women as it was not deemed ‘high-status’ work. Once the gender ratio is skewed too much it makes it harder for the minority to stick around and if they do not feel welcome in that profession, they leave, creating a vicious circle.”
“I have come across men who think women are not capable of understanding anything technical or anything too complex! One example of this was at a previous workplace, and by no means a reflection of the startup journey. “I asked an engineer about the options available to us for solving a particular problem, and the dependencies we have on other teams. He said: “It’s too technical, you won't understand”, turning his back to me to talk to another male product manager, who had a less technical background than me and who wasn’t even involved in the project.
“These are the moments which remind me that there is gender bias. It takes women longer to build trust in certain environments and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. If so, it’s better to find a better fitting workplace. I have had a good experience working at Culture Trip - my managers have been accommodating and I have the flexibility to work from home when needed. As a full-time working single mum, it is important to have trust and flexibility, something the industry lacks when it comes to working mothers.”