Engineering the Travel Experience

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LocalUsher foundersSabrina and Hui Lin are engineers by training but would like to make it big in the travel industry.

The Internet has spawned tonnes of travel sites. So when two engineers and best friends decided to start up a travel site, they were determined to make it not only different but truly unique.

What they came up with was LocalUsher, a travel site that recommends special experiences rather than your typical touristy hotspots.

Although LocalUsher is a proper business start-up, the original idea was simply for it to be a travel blog.

“We wanted to recommend the most unique places; from interesting angles to people,” says Sabrina Cheng, one of the co-founders. “But we also felt to keep it going we’d need to monetise it, so we had to come up with a business model that would generate at least enough income to fund future trips,” chips in Ng Hui Lin, the other co-founder.

Yes, both ladies – engineers by training – love to travel.

“I like to see vastly unique stuff, and this is what pushes me from one travel trip to another,” says Sabrina. “To me, travelling is about learning about new cultures, new people, new ideas, new food, new experiences, etc. I like to experience different kinds of lifestyles, whether it is like a city-dweller in Japan or like a nomad in Tibet,” says Hui Lin.

Eventually, their simple blog idea grew into a platform that facilitates unique experiences for city-dwellers. “We want people to think of LocalUsher when they want to skip the normal tourist hot spots and do something unusual instead.”

Currently, there is no other local travel site that stresses on experiences. “You could say, we are the Airbnb for Experiences and also a TimeOut with the extra dimension of allowing people to book directly an experience they discover on our site,” says Sabrina.

The two ladies’ background did not indicate any inclination for entrepreneurship.

Sabrina, an electrical engineer, worked as an IT consultant, initially for the telecommunications sector and later in the banking industry. Hui Lin, also an electrical engineer, worked in software engineering for a multinational IT firm. But their love for travel and their desire to try something out of the box is what made them make the leap from full-time employment to being budding entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship is something that is very different from what I usually do in my work,” says Sabrina. “As an IT consultant, the career path is quite rigid. But in LocalUsher, I am handling so many different roles like business development and marketing which I would not even have the chance to try in my original career path.”

Everything kind of just fell into place, according to Hui Lin, who is in charge of user interface and user experience at LocalUsher. “Good idea, good business partner, good timing,” she says. “If I don’t really give this a shot, I will definitely regret it in the future.”

Building up the site and getting seed funding from a venture capital company was actually relatively easy for the two ladies. What they found hard was trying to make sure they live up to the keyword “unique” for the experiences they recommend.

One way they have decided to tackle this problem is by utilising crowdsourcing – basically getting people to contribute unique experience opportunities that most people might not know about. There are a lot of best-kept secrets out there.

BC Thurs (10 Sept)LocalUsher (1)

The site beta-launched in March this year and there’s still plenty to do. “Product-wise, we plan to roll out more experiences for a broader demographic,” says Sabrina. “Right now, we only cater to five categories: Foodie, Slacker, Artsy, Adventurer, and Instagrammer. In the near future, we want to add more categories such as History-Lovers and maybe For Lovely Ladies – to better serve ourselves!”

So, how do they like entrepreneurship so far? “The ride has been a fun one with ups-and-downs of course,” says Hui Lin.

But to date there have been more ups than downs. She says what makes them happiest is discovering for themselves how many unique experiences Malaysia has to offer. “To be honest, before working on this idea, we would not have known there is so much amazing stuff going around us,” she adds.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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