Transporting Experiences: The Trip Tribe, RidePost and Fortify Ventures
Think back to when you were a little kid. It wasn’t about the money, was it? Was it? Was it? – Sports agent, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise), to Rod “Show me the money” Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
Somewhere between grad school at Harvard and several years on the White House National Security team and in the State Department, Dave Aidekman accidentally fell into the travel business. Along the way, he was evacuated from the White House complex on 9/11, served as Tom Ridge’s first $60+ billion budget director for U.S. homeland security programs, worked crazy hours on the original team to write the national strategy for homeland security and spent several years with the State Department as part of the Secretary’s office. The travel business stuck.
“During this time, I rarely took a vacation,” says Dave, who left the government in 2006, “but when I did I wanted to make sure it was big and fun and amazing.” Word of his awesome skiing, sailing and traveling vacations spread throughout his social circle, friends came along and before he knew it he got e-mails from friends of friends asking if they could get on his email list of equally fabulous people so they could come along on his next vacation. The appeal of the small consulting firm he joined to continue doing national security work was overshadowed by the call to adventure.
“It was fun, it was on the slow growth path and it wasn’t going to be a huge thing,” says Dave, “but then we realized this is a huge opportunity in a huge industry that needs to be transformed.” Wait…we? Behind the scenes, Meg Griles, a marketing/communications professional David knew through a charitable cause, was having a major impact on the direction of the company.
Social Web + Group Travel = Great Relationships
To really get to know someone you’ve got to travel with them, right? That can go either way, so if you’re planning to go on an awesome bucket list trip like a Cruise to Antarctica, a trek to Kilimanjaro’s summit or sailing off to the biggest New Year’s eve party in the Caribbean, you’re going to want to know who’s coming upfront. Better still to be part of a more-the-merrier group with returning members.
To solve the “who’s coming?” part of the equation in a scalable way, Dave set out on an early experiment that led to his startup, which marries the pervasive social web- with its profiles of people, their backgrounds, their preferences and their friends – with group travel.
Four years ago, adventuresome DC resident, Masha Tatianina, recalls seeing Dave’s first experiment in advertising a ski trip for 12 to Vail in a DC forum on the exclusive online network ASmallWorld. “I called a friend and asked if she was interested in going,” she says. “She thought I was nuts to travel to ski without knowing the people, so I contacted Dave and asked him to meet us for a drink to get to know each other better and find out more about the organization of the trip. He agreed. We met and he seemed very pleasant and, more importantly, legit. We gave him a deposit. He found the condos, organized the activities, bought the lift tickets and found us deals for the plane. We had a great time and my friend was able to make several more trips!”
Masha and her friend met other young professionals from Florida, New York and DC, including Meg Griles. “They didn’t appear to be dating before the trip, but somehow, Meg ended up with a stomach bug and David took care of her, bringing her rice and ginger ale,” says Masha. The trip was a turning point that fueled a relationship in which David and Meg became a couple, co-founders and soul mates (June 2013 wedding date). Masha kept in touch and created David’s first website, Adventurati from which he branched out and, as a certified sailing captain since the mid-2000s, ran larger, more ambitious trips in the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands as part of The Yacht Week. The company, owned by three Swedes, organized trips including Croatia and Greece that served about 1,000 people per summer.
Becoming The Trip Tribe
Among her many contributions over the years, Meg (who in a June 2013 wedding joins the Aidekman tribe) helped to rebrand the company as The Trip Tribe to better reflect the tightly knit community of returning travelers it has become. “We’re taking offline social networks and bringing them online; we’re taking online social networks and bringing them to real experiences,” says David, who says The Trip Tribe is aiming for premium experiences that can leverage group travel for high value at a good price.
To get the social component right, The Trip Tribe platform features social profiles with personal background information and travel preferences, from athletic or relaxing trips “craved” to compatible company, such as trips with singles, couples, mixed groups to night owls vs. early birds with a hint of life philosophy in their favorite travel quote and “About me in six words” section.
You never know where getting to know people who share your travel preferences and interests can lead. A passenger Dave bonded with on a sailing trip he led to Croatia three years ago, Kevin Kirk, from Baltimore, just came onboard with The Trip Tribe’s growing team to head up business development.
Sharing the Journey through Fortify Ventures
Since February 2013, The Trip Tribe has grown and joined the class of another tightly knit group, the Fortify Ventures accelerator, which first came together at Fortify’s Distilled Intelligence event in October 2012. “We’ve had really good camaraderie among the class,” says Dave. “Everyone’s been really helpful supporting and learning from each other.”
One relationship with a current Fortify member that’s blossomed has been with the crew at another cooperative travel company, RidePost, whose four co-founders met at an MBA program studying international business at the University of South Carolina. Co-founder and CEO, Marty Bauer, 28, says he and his colleagues were inspired to find ways to cut their weekend travel costs on the overseas component of their semester abroad. While studying in Europe and SE Asia, Marty became aware of an email list of travelers posting rides needed and offered to share that he says opened his eyes and ultimately led to his online company, RidePost.
“My first time ridesharing in France cost $15 Euros for a trip that would have cost $120 by train,” he said. “Not only was it a bargain, it was a great experience. The more I traveled, the more convinced I became that this needed to be taken online and expanded and customized.” Given the Washington, DC, metro area’s population of young, accomplished, mobile professionals, it was a first choice location from which to launch RidePost.
The Road Ahead
RidePost and The Trip Tribe are exploring ways in which the two companies can work together to transport The Trip Tribe members to long weekend overnight experiences, like music festivals or the Kentucky Derby.
Marty truly believes in the RidePost lifestyle. Being interviewed in his wife’s car (searched for at the iGrabberAuto booth at the Everywhereelse conference in Memphis) on the way to his sister’s wedding in Cincinnati, Marty laughs when asked if he’s sharing the ride. “Of course,” he laughs. “We posted a ride and our friends are joining us on the way back!”
Already onboard with one distribution model, ClemsonUniversity is the first of many to come with a RidePost url (Clemson.RidePost.com) to use as a booking engine for high-traffic weekend airport shuttle for students and staff with an @clemson.edu address.
Marty can’t say enough about the introductions and support he’s received from The Trip Tribe and Fortify teams, particularly Dave Aidekman who “is awesome”and founding partner, Jonathon Perrelli. “I met Jonathon through a mentor of mine, Dan Waldschmidt from South Carolina who knows Carla Valdes, a Fortify partner,” he says, adding they built a relationship over time as they continued to get out from behind their computer to build community. “Jonathon is the Jerry Maguire of investors. Once he selects a company he really goes to bat for them, making introductions, opening doors. He’s always got our backs.”
So, this journey really isn’t all about the money? Is it? Is it? Is it?
To cite Dave’s favorite travel quote on The Trip Tribe profile: The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. – St. Augustine