Launch HN: Travelchime (YC W19) – Doc for travel planning with friends

108 points by phsource 9 days ago

We're Peter and Harry, and we're building Travelchime (https://travelchime.com).

Travelchime is like Google Docs for planning vacation travel with your friends' recommendations. It lets you add places and attractions you're looking to visit to a doc, export them to Google Maps, and collaborate with your friends who've been there or are going there with you.

We used to plan our trips using Google Docs and Sheets, but it was a pain. We'd write the documents, then had to add the same places to a map for when we're on the trip. We also often sent these out to friends who asked -- there's nobody whose recommendations you trust more than your friends -- but it's hard to find which friends have these docs.

We built Travelchime to solve this. With Travelchime, you can:

1. Add all the museums, restaurants, and places you're staying/want to visit to a doc on Travelchime, and see them on a map with their opening times, links to Yelp, and more

2. Share the doc with friends on the trip or ask others for recommendations: multiple people can edit/suggest at the same time, just like Google Docs [1]

3. Export the places to Google Maps for when you're on the go

4. (Optional) Read some itineraries from around the web to get inspired! We use basic machine learning [2] to parse itineraries for the places they mention to help get you started

5. Once you’ve gone on the trip, you can share the full itinerary with notes to inspire your friends

We haven’t monetized, but will eventually link out to hotels that work well with your itinerary and get affiliate commissions there.

We've gotten a ton of support from Hacker News in the past: when Yale shut down our courses website, Hacker News rallied and got the attention on it to save it (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7060261), and past HN launches (e.g., for WrapAPI: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11423070) got us our first paying customers. We love the direct feedback we get, so if you're planning a trip soon, give it a shot and let us know what you think either here or by email at peter@travelchime.com!

[1] To enable real-time editing, we use Quill (https://quilljs.com/) and ShareDB (https://github.com/share/sharedb), both amazing projects. We had also tried Draft.js, Slate, so if you want to chat text editing hit us up!

[2] A combination of Google's Entity Recognition API, Google Maps' APIs, and human checkers

[3] For those curious: we <3 React and have an all-Javascript stack with Node.js and MySQL on the back-end

xrd 9 days ago

It's great, I'm doing planning for a trip to Rio next week. I signed up and gave it a try.

My friend did exactly the same thing you used to do: created a shared Google doc.

At this point, I am not sure I would trade your implementation for doing it in Google Docs. Only because it is one more tool to use and manage and I know the warts of docs already. It's early, but your ideas suggested here don't compel me to jump in and abandon all alternatives.

I'm sure you have your priority list already, but what would make it an easy switch for me:

Add "day tabs" so I can plan things out by the day and easily see whatever day I want. For example, my friend has a daily itinerary which is hard to read and requires scrolling.

Filtering for things appropriate for kids, etc. This requires you knowing that data, but maybe you could focus on at least allowing me to annotate the data I've added with notes about that, with the long term goal of pulling in that data automatically for me.

Build a schedule for me given the things I'm interested in. This would be killer. We added a bunch of items to our Google Doc and figuring out the order in which we want to do things is going to be a lot of work and editing.

Could you suggest items that are similar when I add something? If I am putting in Copacabana (and have added kid friendly things) it would be awesome to suggest "Hey, try Ipanema! Copacabana is for tourists and more dangerous." Or, "If you are going to Sugar Loaf, consider walking around Urca. It is a safe neighborhood because it has a military base right there, and has historic art deco buildings." (I obviously know about Rio, but traveling there with kids for the first time has shifted my priorities and this kind of information would be supremely helpful).

Exciting first steps!

  • arciini 9 days ago

    Thanks for the suggestions! Smart suggestions is something that I can really see happening as well.

    For the idea of "day tabs" - we actually used to have a calendar view in the product, but stripped it out for this format of "lists". Currently, it's possible to get close to what you want by just naming the place lists: "Day 1" or "Day 2" - see https://travelchime.com/plan/grayuczaswflzvto

    Would this work for you? Or do you like to plan hour-by-hour?

    The place suggestions based on what you have make a lot of sense. There are 2 approaches we've considered for that: by doing Netflix-style "users who watch these movies go to these places", and using crawled data. Basing it off of user preferences does require a good amount of data and lots of care to ensure good privacy.

    Because of that, I think we'll most likely start by expanding the range of pre-curated lists. There's tons of content on the web that we'd love to link out to for specific types of travelers: "best for families" or "best for adventurous" travelers. We can make that information easy to find and easy to incorporate into your own plans

    • xrd 8 days ago

      So, I'm not clear if naming things "Day 1" means I have an easy way to switch between the days. I don't see a way to do that with the example you shared (would have been happy to see this information when I visited Kona two months ago!).

      Are you saying that this allows a calendar view somehow? Or, that I can just organize into a list this way? I don't need the ability to see hour-by-hour (but having your system schedule things into a day calendar would be amazing). But, this seems like it does not solve the problem I have with needing to scroll around and lose context.

  • neivin 9 days ago

    > Add "day tabs" so I can plan things out by the day and easily see whatever day I want. For example, my friend has a daily itinerary which is hard to read and requires scrolling.

    That's why you should use the itinerary template in Google sheets instead of a blank doc.

    • xrd 8 days ago

      Cool. I didn't know about that. I'll check it out. Thank you.

yingw787 9 days ago

Wow, this is really cool! I built something kind of similar after college as a proof-of-concept and to learn JavaScript/React: https://yingw787.github.io/traveltile_docs/

I worried about the monetization model, since my expected audience would be people like me (post-college people starting off). Do you have plans to find paying, high-margin customers? I would say that's really important.

I supposed that my competition would be sites like TripAdvisor that would sell pre-packaged travel plans to small groups. I would guess it would be because they skim a fee on top, they have liability insurance, or management got talking into them "knowing the terrain" or something, though I don't know for sure. If you could get that audience (older, wealthier couples, I'm guessing) and convince them to pay for this platform instead, you could earn a pretty penny. That probably falls under the "do things that don't scale" category of manually tailoring travel plans.

Another thing I considered was the ability to fork an existing travel plan, to tailor to changing environments yet retain the benefits of past experience. Since you never really go on the same trip once, but everybody pretty much goes on the same trip. So all the travel plans would go into a data lake, with certain groups pulling, forking, and contributing back. I did not have the technical expertise to do this at the time. Something to consider :)

I wish you the very best of luck, I kind of wish I did what you guys are doing today. I will live vicariously through you :)

  • arciini 9 days ago

    Traveltile looks really cool! The documentation is kinda amazing and I'll definitely clone it and play with it later today.

    Before Travelchime, Peter and I had some experience with monetizing via hotel and flight affiliate fees via our past sites, https://bookwithmatrix.com and https://alltheflightdeals.com . We did a bit of research, and about 2/3 of travelers who use docs start one before they book the hotels. We believe that if our recommendations are good enough (based on where you'd like to go in a trip plan), we could monetize using the same model there.

    Forking an existing trip plan and copying bits/pieces from friends' trip plans are both features we'd really like to build out really soon! So many of my trips end up having 50%+ overlap with some of my friends, so that'd save a ton of time

    • notoriousjpg 7 days ago

      Wow you guys have a lot of experience in this space! For a product like alltheflightdeals, i've never understood how entrepreneurs justify competing here. I assume you're not directly integrating with a GDS and that this works off Skyscanner API (or equiv)? Did you see much traction with ATFD? Is there a vision in the future to combine travelchime with ATFD? Seems like they would work well together :)

      Great job btw!

avitzurel 8 days ago

I spent a good chunk of the last 10 years in a travel startup that targeted consumers.

I am unsure of the business model here but I can only imagine it's a pay-per-click from the big OTAs, mainly for hotels.

The main problem with consumer travel is the fierce competition you are facing, Google is absolutely annihilating the search results in their favor, disgustingly so in the US and even worse in US on mobile.

This leaves a startup like this in a tough spot, how do you acquire users?

If you think about paying for them, you are in for a world of hurt, you can spend 1.8$ to get .8$ back for a hotel booking and it's absolutely an uphill battle to scale that up.

I searched the name on Google and I saw the HN page, you two seem to have built a travel business before, you likely know a lot of the difficulties, but in my experience, trip planning scaling is a lot harder than what it seems, especially if you want to monetize it.

If you don't mind sharing, what is the revenue model for TravelChime?

  • arciini 8 days ago

    We plan on making money via affiliate links to start with! It's a model we're familiar with in our past projects.

    Having worked in travel for a while now, we realize that paid marketing is incredibly competitive. Based on that understanding, we've actually never spent a single cent for paid marketing on our previous projects.

    For growth: We want to just provide a really good central tool for people to plan their trips, and an easy way for those people to share plans with their friends. We think travel is inherently social, and that's something we want to do well (while respecting privacy).

ivyirwin 9 days ago

Congrats on the launch! You have a great start to a tough problem. I've been running a collaborative travel planning and booking platform for over two years – it's an exciting space and there's still a lot of opportunity in the multi-person planning space.

Some feedback on the product:

1. Collaborative features seem a little buggy. I registered and then shared the trip with myself in an incognito window. It was easy to trip up the document sync – try to make an edit in incognito and then make an edit to the same element in the registered window and the document gets out sync.

2. Input validation needed for links. I entered an incomplete link (google.com) and it treated it like a relative link, which broke the trip.

3. Is it possible to scope searches? I searched for hotels in a city and the initial results seemed centered on my destination but the rest of the list was from other cities or states.

4. Default map zoom is inconsistent. I started adding locations but all of the pins were on top of each other at the initial zoom level. Managing zoom level as the itinerary fills out will help keep the trip in perspective.

5. I could see edits made in different windows, but was unable to see who was online? Is that part of the UI and I missed it?

Some business feedback (for what it's worth) – figure out a monetization strategy fast. There are a lot of planners in the travel space but not a lot of booking solutions for groups. Affiliate links are okay but still leave a lot of money on the table. I'd be happy to talk about what has worked for us if you're interested – email is in profile. For those interested, my company launched https://www.lunamoons.com as a B2C collaborative planner but we recently pivoted to a full service platform (think squarespace for travel agents) which is live at https://www.trips.app. We tout our trips as google docs for itineraries, but maybe less doc like (i.e. https://sample.trips.app/sample-itinerary/rapid-flower-8635/...)

  • phsource 8 days ago

    Thanks for trying it out in such detail!

    > 2. Input validation needed for links

    We just fixed this; thanks for the report!

    > 3. Is it possible to scope searches?

    I just added search scoping based on the current map viewport; thanks for the suggestion! I've been meaning to do this for a while.

    > 4. Default map zoom is inconsistent.

    I also just pushed a fix that zooms in if the newly-created marker is too close to another one. Take a look and see if it works!

    The other issues will take a bit longer, but they're all definitely real:

    1. We have issues with editors editing text at the same time, and this is an ongoing limitation of how we're using ShareDB on the back-end. We'll do our best to make it better

    5. We definitely should add bubbles to show who else is editing for sure! You're not missing anything -- we really need to do this

    On the overall business feedback part, it's definitely tough. We've had some success with affiliate ads for our other sites, but otherwise, B2B is a much easier market in many ways. We're going to build the best product we can, and keep costs low.

    On the travel agents side, one name you've probably heard of is Travefy! (They similarly pivoted from a B2C to B2B) Take a look, and feel free to give me an email if you'd like to be introduced to a Travefy early-user travel agent to learn what she likes about it (peter@travelchime.com)

    • expliced 6 days ago

      What kinds of limitations do you have with sharedb? How do you use it? I've recently started using it in a project and would like to know the limitations.

  • notahacker 9 days ago

    The travel agent market looks like an interesting one, and probably a much less saturated one than the B2C stuff.

    For better and for worse I can't ever imagine a trip with friends where we plan itineraries in that much detail in advance, but on the other hand travel agencies are expected to generate something that looks exactly like the trip planner, and probably wish they could sometimes do it collaboratively over a period of time (my brother still tells the cringeworthy story about the travel agent trying to make itinerary suggestions in real time by quoting TripAdvisor reviews...)

keerthiko 8 days ago

Nice. This is a space that has long needed some players. I travel a decent bit because of my remote job (and friends all over the planet), and except for a few long-time travel buddies, I find traveling with others frustrating because they are either over-planners or flaky and hard to coordinate with.

The conflicts of interest across all the traditional providers (airbnb, hoteliers, flight providers, credit card companies) left this space packed with dark patterns by default too, so we're all stuck with Google Spreadsheets with stuff scattered all over the place.

Some things I love so far with Travelchime:

- not assuming too many things about how i want to organize (not forcing a calendar, or map pins, etc)

- the entity recognition is fabulously implemented and feels great, excellent usage

- the space dedicated to the map, suggestions, empty fields is perfect

- the dynamic map focusing on what i've entered so far is great

Some suggestions:

- add a checklist per traveler, which anyone can add stuff to (like assigning tasks): so each traveler can see everyone else's progress on things like

[ ] apply for visa

[ ] buy tickets

[ ] pack luggage

[ ] reservation at fancy restaurant

- while the flexibility of not depending on a calendar is nice, having a calendar to annotate would be nice too, where we can drag in stuff from the other fields. It's important to do this right so that the whole thing doesn't have to be shoehorned into a calendar

- ownership of events by an individual or subgroup that doesn't have to involve the entire group (a couple from a larger friend group wants to go for a private date) that they can mark off on said calendar

Feel free to PM if you want to discuss the product more, I love this space and have many thoughts :)

  • arciini 8 days ago

    Thanks for the comprehensive list! A lot of planning tools assume you want a minute-by-minute plan, but we talked to a lot of friends and strangers and quickly realized that the range of planning people do is huge, and our current "place list" format is made to be compatible for a good range of people.

    You're definitely not the only one who's requested a checklist, so we're looking into prioritizing that.

    We've thought about a more calendar-focused view, where users can explicitly annotate: "this section represents a day" or "this event has a specific time" and would show up on the calendar. I can try to mock something up and see what you think.

    I've bookmarked your profile page and we'll definitely reach out within the next week!

Existenceblinks 8 days ago

Most comments are positive here. That's unexpected or it's just because it's from YC, not sure.

We had discussions here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8419658 and here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10923143 before.

This looks like a bit of planning and a bit of organizing plans (like Tripit).

I like that it's more like an organizing tools. I also had sort of this idea ..

  • arciini 8 days ago

    I've personally read both of those articles before, and especially like the one by the founder of Desti. That inspired a lot of chats between me, my cofounder, my friends, and our users

    There are 3 main issues raised:

    - Getting users to learn a new tool is super-hard since users are used to being able to do anything and have custom workflows. That's why they use Google Docs or Word or Google Sheets

    - Monetization with affiliates is OK, but you are in some ways competing with your customers (the OTAs), and they're still making more money and can outspend you on marketing

    - Acquiring users is hard since users don't travel often, and the typical channels for infrequently-used product growth (SEO, SEM) are super-competitive

    We really try hard to solve the first problem by not being prescriptive about how you use Travelchime. We try very hard to let users do whatever they might want to do in a Google Doc or Google Maps. Unlike many travel planners we've tried, we don't assume you like to plan minute-to-minute or by referring to a single resource. We've had hours of face-to-face chats with tens of users and we're not trying to flip the way they plan travel, but rather complement the way they plan travel.

    For monetization, we have some ideas around it but aren't sure enough of them to share right now.

    We also believe the user acquisition door isn't as closed as it seems. First, we're hooking onto a growing trend of travel being social. Most people we talked to have asked friends or family for travel tips, and we want to make planning based on that easy. Second, we've done this before, and while we know SEO is tough, Peter and I have built a profitable (albeit fairly niche) business in the field on top of SEO before.

    I might be a bit deluded about this, but I'm OK with it!

    • Existenceblinks 8 days ago

      > That's why they use Google Docs or Word or Google Sheets

      True, planning content itself is already annoying. I had an idea on UX, it needs to be as easy as using Spreadsheet cells but better visualization (a simple cute linked list like metro train chart maybe). Pick those common columns and visualize it nicely. Try not to complicate it more.

      > Monetization with affiliates is OK

      I personally do not like any form of ads, so it's bad for me. I was thinking about selling this data organizing to travel agencies, they already have all content. Let them create nicer packages (easier to understand itinerary). Maybe they can sell that for people who want to go by themselves. $3 per itinerary (can export to pdf, make it pretty when printed, so no needs phone battery all the time)

      - Acquiring users is hard since users don't travel often, and the typical channels for infrequently-used product growth

      This is uncertain, I'm not really sure it's problem. Actually I don't think it will be a problem but fear it would

      I think you already did an intensive analysis so good luck!

daveambrose 9 days ago

I always thought the best travel planning app was an email that contained links of places to travel to. The email would go into a Word doc or Google Doc and then get printed to share amongst friends. This is a neat evolution of the same behavior (which is something I’ve always struggled w. evaluating companies in this space, esp. as each person travels very differently). Everyone uses the same plain text editor to plan.

Looking forward to trying this out and playing around w. the export feature for Maps.

johnnyg 8 days ago

Your email to group admin@myrtlelime.com was rejected due to spam classification. The owner of the group can choose to enable message moderation instead of bouncing these emails. More information can be found here: https://support.google.com/a/answer/168383

so I'll post my feedback to HN:

Likes

1. Good idea. My wife and I are going to <place X> soon. Scratched an itch.

2. The "share" link was easy but you should have asked me for her email to build the network.

3. The adding of categories of things was intuitive and easy.

Dislikes

1. When searching for the place the search term I typed in didn't change into the data that populated with my search. I did it again to make sure I did it right. Update the text box with the full format name airline style.

2. The itinerary inspirations provided lists of things to see and do (good) but no reviews and no way to click for more outside your site. I popped another google tab to copy and paste.

  • arciini 8 days ago

    Thanks for the feedback! Feel free to email us at harry@travelchime.com or peter@travelchime.com if you have trouble in the future.

    We've also noticed the text being inconsistent. It's especially bad for foreign places. We've added it to our bug-list!

    The itinerary inspiration lists honestly are kinda similar to the place list you create. For the place list you create, you can click on a place to see more info and links out. We'd like to merge the behaviour for those so it isn't confusing, but that's also in the pipeline. Sorry about that!

gaara87 2 days ago

This comes in perfect time for my Europe trip planning with 3 friends from around the world!

underyx 9 days ago

Wow, this looks awesome! I work at Kiwi.com and I hope you don't mind that I passed your site to our business development guys, as I feel like you might consider a partnership to be a good way to monetize (:

notoriousjpg 7 days ago

Very cool. I'm just using My Maps from Google at the moment so this is better.

One question: Did you manually populate your pre seeded itineraries or did you parse it automatically? I think they add a lot of credibility to the iti's compared to something which feels completely automated and lacking a human touch (eg inspirock, routeperfect).

Any plans to license this out for other travel startups to integrate into their own products?

  • arciini 7 days ago

    The set of pre-seeded itineraries were manually reviewed by us and a team of contractors for quality! We have automated a good part of the pipeline, but not all of it.

    We'd definitely be open to licensing this out to other travel companies/startups, so do contact me at harry@travelchime.com if you know anyone who's interested

awestroke 9 days ago

This is something I have been searching for many times. Will definitely try it out for my coming trips and recommend it to friends.

cl3m 8 days ago

It is nice but I still find My Maps better. It was always a better tool than Google Sheets but I guess many people do not know about it. You should try at https://www.google.com/mymaps

z0han 8 days ago

Congratulations to you and team on this launch!

I'm writing in to report an issue, please have it looked into - the Facebook signup is not working. It returned an "unknown error" to me. And you guys have placed it right up top. I then signed up with Google, and that worked fine. :)

Good luck

  • arciini 8 days ago

    Earlier today, we saw a lot of errors with the Facebook outage. We think it's fixed, but we'll take a look!

shay_ker 8 days ago

I've used Basecamp's Trix Editor for a lot of out-of-the-box functionality:

https://trix-editor.org/

It's very easy to re-style it and extend it. I use it in a React app and it's been a delight.

  • arciini 8 days ago

    Cool! What do you like about it?

    QuillJS has been working well enough for us as an editor! It supports the collaborative editing we need, as well as mobile.

    I could write a whole essay on our whole decision-making on contenteditable controls. The short answer is SlateJS could be great, but didn't work well on mobile yet. DraftJS is kinda abandoned by Facebook, and Quill isn't native to React but still works well, so we used it.

    Here's an older post I made on this subject https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18998042#19000425

    • shay_ker 8 days ago

      Yeah I found similar things. I think at some point I'd want to move to something like Quill when I want to build out a more complicated editor, but for now Trix just worked with little configuration. It was pretty easy to extend, works well on mobile, and the creators are fairly responsive.

      Good to know that you've had a good experience with Quill!

ajroot 8 days ago

Great idea. I love it!

Would it make sense to integrate the financial aspects of a trip? Maybe something like splitwise for splitting the expenses post trip.

nsx147 9 days ago

There is definitely something here. It would be nice to have a service aggregate and split costs for the whole trip. And help planning it

  • arciini 9 days ago

    We're interested in building this out, especially with the launch of a standalone mobile app (unlike the web-app that we have here).

    How do you currently aggregate/split costs for the trip? Do you just use a spreadsheet?

MarkMyWordsMan 9 days ago

Probably wanna hide LogRocket from console.log()