Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer praised Chicago's tech startup companies Wednesday, but he said Chicago still needs a viable "anchor tenant" to really get on the map.
He described Groupon as still emerging and said Motorola Mobility is in flux, suggesting perhaps someone in the audience could be that "anchor tenant."
He said Chicago has the necessary ingredients of first-class universities, venture-capital companies and an attractive quality of life, but needs one or two large companies that have "made it" in the tech field.
"There is an unprecedented opportunity for startups and developers around the world and particularly in Chicago with new Windows devices," Ballmer said after he toured the tech hub 1871 at the Merchandise Mart.
Ballmer spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of 250 at the 1871 tech hub. The audience ranged from hoodie-wearing young entrepreneurs to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, billionaire tech venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, venture capitalist Kevin Willer, Viewpoints Network CEO and entrepreneur Matt Moog and Chicago's Chief Technology Officer John Tolva.
Ballmer said Microsoft's hometown of Seattle — Microsoft is headquartered 13 miles away in Redmond, Wash. — relied on Boeing Co. as its "anchor tenant" to boost its startup community into a viable business presence.
Ballmer envisioned bursts of innovation in cloud computing, data visualization and refashioned user interfaces, and cited Microsoft's latest successes: The new Windows 8 has sold 60 million licenses; Windows' app system has four times the number of apps in the Windows Store today than when the system launched, with 120 million apps downloaded since Windows 8 launched in October; and sales of Windows Phone 8 have quadrupled, with the Windows Phone Store offering 130,000 apps.
He also described Microsoft founder Bill Gates' early panic that the company would go bankrupt in its startup days. Gates tracked every penny spent on yellow legal-sized note paper, Ballmer said.
Ballmer took no questions from the media or the audience, and said nothing about the European Union on Wednesday fining Microsoft $732 million for breaking its promise to provide Windows users in Europe a choice of rival web browsers.
Nihal Advani, founder and CEO of travel recommendations site Georama, said he signed up for Microsoft's BizSpark program for startups to take advantage of the free and discounted tools, including cloud hosting and Windows 8 platforms and app-design assistance. BizSpark provides the software licenses and design and development tools to privately held, early-stage companies less than five years old with no more than $1 million in yearly revenues.
Advani, who launched the site in July and who works out of the 1871 co-working center, said he has long been a fan of Microsoft's products, and uses Bing Maps, Bing news and Bing search application programming interfaces.
He said he will rely on Microsoft's cloud platform to ensure that his company, which helps travelers plan, book and share their trips, grows quickly without encountering glitches. Georama is developing its own app, raising money for extra search advertising on Bing and Google, and working to get its recommendation service on major airline and hotel websites.
"We see that Microsoft can help us in so many different aspects," Advani said. Georama employs three full-time and five part-time workers at 1871.
George Burciaga, CEO of Elevate Digital, is counting on Microsoft's touch-screen technology, which debuted last year with the Surface tablet computer, to ramp up how people interact with the company's kiosks, or what Burciaga calls "interactive displays."
The kiosks are set up at 64 sites throughout Chicago, including Navy Pier, Soldier Field, Water Tower Place mall and 900 N. Michigan shops, to let people take and share photos, and find local deals, transportation, restaurants and events.
Elevate Digital is working with Microsoft to deploy Windows 8 in the kiosks in the next few months. The operating system will let people email their photos, travel maps and other kiosk-app information to their smartphones and mobile devices.
"No one else has deployed the Windows 8 platform in an outdoor setting or in a high-trafficked area," Burciaga said. "We're pioneering bringing it to people at street level."
Elevate Digital employs 21 at its offices at 200 S. Michigan Ave.
Major Chicago corporations and the city of Chicago are Microsoft clients, too.
United Airlines Chief Information Officer Bob Edwards said the airline uses Microsoft's development tools and operating systems to run its website and mobile applications.
United Airlines' travel app, which customers download for free, lets fliers book flights for United and Continental Airlines, check in for flights, see which seats are taken and get updates on flight status, among other things.
"Instead of having to (write computer) code in different formats for the web, for airport agents and for agents in our reservations system, Microsoft's tools let us build one app and use it in many places," Edwards said. "That's critical to keeping costs low and being quick to market."
The city of Chicago has adopted Microsoft's Office 365 Government Cloud to consolidate email systems for its 30,000 employees.
Microsoft employs 250 at its local offices at the Aon Center at 200 E. Randolph, which houses one of 12 Microsoft Technology Centers nationwide. The company employs another 200 in total in Downers Grove and Bloomington. It also operates stores at the Nordstrom-anchored Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Ave., and at Oakbrook Center mall in Oak Brook.
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Tom and Tony talk with Nihal Advani of Georama. Georama is a one-stop solution that lets travelers plan, book, and share their trips on a one-of-a-kind interactive map.
We help travelers from start to finish -- partnering with several top sites to offer the best travel content and fares, therefore eliminating the need to go to many different sites. Georama provides travelers with an immersive experience and unmatched tools to find destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips.
It was a pleasure having Nihal on the show!
Last week, Crain's Chicago Business announced the top social media marketers in the city. Among the honorees was travel startup Georama, which placed third overall in the Reader's Choice category and first for the Best Use of Facebook.
We caught up with founder and CEO Nihal Advani for some insight into his company's exceptional use of one of the most important social media tools in the world.
So you're really good at using Facebook. How did you make that happen?
One of our goals at Georama is to create an active community of travel lovers. Facebook is the ideal platform for this and we prioritized it by assigning a dedicated person to focus on content, in addition to setting aside a small budget for ads. We then tested several courses of action before honing in on our strategy and sticking to it.
What specific practices did you employ to grow your Facebook following?
First, we focus on great content. Mischaela Elkins, our Social Media & Community Manager, does a phenomenal job of curating incredibly beautiful photos of attractions and destinations. It's our way of enabling travel lovers to explore the world right within Facebook. I then take this great content and amplify it with highly targeted Facebook ads.
How did you encourage fans to engage with your page?
By posting eye-catching photos and stimulating trivia. Asking questions like "Do you know where this amazing place is?" or "Can you tell us where to find this underwater restaurant?" tempts them to give their best guess or an accurate answer. People love to play this game, and this spurs not only all sorts of answers, but also conversations between fans. Our fans love our posts so much that many of them tell us it is the highlight of their day. We see anywhere from a couple hundred to sometimes over a thousand likes on individual posts, and from 20 to sometimes over 100 comments on each. [So far], we have had over 465,000 actions on our page.
How would you compare your paid efforts (ads) to unpaid?
Our great content is what enables our ads to be very effective but also highly efficient. Our existing fans (which are now almost 18,000 and steadily growing) engage with and share our content which brings in more fans, while our ads reach out to new audiences in a very targeted fashion, amplifying that growth.
Would you have approached the way you manage your page differently if you had a bigger budget?
Not really. With a larger budget we would surely be able to test out new markets and audiences, and further increase our growth – but we wouldn't change the way we manage our page. Our current strategy works really well – we have been able to do all of this with no more than $10-$15 a day.
What sorts of tests did you undertake in order to figure out what worked for your brand?
Our initial idea was to give our followers diverse content – one day we would give them a blog post to read, the next day we would post a link to a great article, or perhaps some stats. We also tried beautiful photos along with a tidbit of info – although a lot of people viewed these, they hardly engaged with it. So we then tried photos + trivia, and the results were off the charts. We have been sticking to it ever since.
Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics, says Facebook Ads, especially those placed on fan pages, are incredibly important. Do you agree?
Absolutely agree. Facebook Ads are a phenomenal way of attracting users and creating an audience. The ability to laser target by all sorts of criteria be it demographics, geography, interests, and more is fantastic. Furthermore the kind of volume and efficiency that can be driven by Facebook is amazing.
How do you feel about being recognized in this way?
We are honored to have been awarded the Best Use of Facebook by a reputable publication like Crain's. We have put a lot of thought and time into Facebook and it feels great to be recognized for our efforts.
Nowadays, every company must be a social company. But what does an effective social marketing campaign really look like? Crain's asked readers to nominate the Chicago companies they think are doing the best job of using social media to communicate with customers, promote products and services, and find new audiences. Among the scores of ideas that came our way, these social media campaigns emerged as among the very best.
15,000 likes; 156 timeline photos; had more than 230,000 actions on page in three-month period
The Campaign: Chicago-based startup Georama took to Facebook to carry out its goal of creating a community of travel lovers. Nihal Advani, founder and CEO, put a small budget toward strategic Facebook ads and tested different posts to understand what made Georama's followers react and respond.
Why it's a standout: Georama grew to more than 11,000 likes from 150 in three months through those ads and by sticking to posts that garner more engagement, like travel trivia. "We carefully curate each feature that's on our page," Mr. Advani says.
Expert Opinion: Neil Patel, co-founder of Cerritos, Calif.-based Web analytics company KISSmetrics, says Facebook ads, especially those placed directly on fan pages, are an extremely effective way of reaching potential followers. "If you don't use it, you're missing the boat," he says.
Start-ups in the travel industry continue to focus on simplifying the whole travel planning and booking process. Be it for inspiring travellers for their next holiday to luring them into planning an unplanned trip to finding the best deal, new business models continue to emerge.
Chicago-based Georama, a runner up in EyeforTravel’s innovation awards at the Travel Distribution Summit in North America, is one venture that emerged this year. It is being described as the only platform that allows travellers to plan, book, and share their trip in one place. It takes a unique approach by basing the entire site on a one-of-a-kind interactive map. “We hope to set a benchmark for product and design innovation in travel,” says Nihal Advani, Georama’s founder and chief- executive. EyeforTravel.com’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Advani about Georama’s plans and what differentiates. The company has high hopes to become the ‘Apple of travel’. In this very competitive market place, only time will tell.
EFT: What gaps and opportunities are you trying to address through your offering?
NA: The online travel landscape is highly fragmented and travellers have to visit several websites to figure out where to go, what to do there, and where to book. Over 30% of travellers leverage social networks for trip planning advice, yet they have a hard time getting organised and getting specific feedback via social networks. And travellers are unable to fully express their travel experiences since post-trip sharing is dispersed across multiple sites or networks for photos, videos, check-ins, reviews, places visited and so on. These are key issues faced by travellers that Georama addresses. Furthermore, most travel websites do not focus on providing an experience, plus research shows that interactive maps are the most popular feature in online travel – so we took these opportunities and based Georama entirely on a new kind of interactive map that makes travel planning visual and fun.
EFT: Why do you think your offering stands out?
NA: Georama is the only platform that offers a complete planning, booking, and sharing solution in one place. Competitors typically do just planning, just booking, or just sharing, and none match the breadth that Georama offers. Furthermore, through partnerships with several top providers, Georama provides the most robust planning content, some of the best fares for booking, and advanced social features that take travel planning and sharing to a whole new level. Lastly, Georama takes a differentiated approach by basing the entire travel platform on a one-of-a-kind interactive map, creating an experience that is truly unique and visual, unlike any other travel site.
EFT: How is your venture going to optimise the experience of travellers?
NA: Georama brings together the best content, fares, and social networks from across the web in one place - making it convenient for travellers to find everything they need and plan, book, and share their trips with ease. Georama helps travellers from start to finish and even when travellers do not know where they want to go it provides destination suggestions based on their interests, the time of year, and more. Georama also integrates advanced social features that allow travellers to get actionable recommendations from their friends pre-trip as well as share their entire travel experiences post trip (whether it be photos, videos, reviews, notes, places been, and more). All of this is done on a one-of-a-kind interactive map that provides for a unique experience that is visual and engaging.
EFT: What are your plans for growth? What targets have you set?
NA: Since launching in July we have had several thousand travellers come to the site and each month we are seeing tremendous growth. At this point we are focused on keeping up that growth rate and aim to help tens of thousands of travellers plan, book, and share their trips each month.
EFT: What are the potential pitfalls and risks?
NA: Over the past year several travel startups have sprung up and very few have done well. Everyone, big and small, is fighting for a piece of the pie and it is highly competitive. We trust Georama will be able to make a mark being the only complete solution, alleviating the pain travellers face with all the fragmentation in the marketplace, as well as offering a differentiated service that focuses on providing an experience that is visual and fun.
EFT: How do you think your offering is going to set new benchmark in the travel industry?
NA: We believe Georama is only service of its kind, being the first true one-stop solution and the only map-based travel platform. Our mission is to provide travellers robust tools before, during, and after their trips and make the entire travel process convenient and enjoyable. We hope to set a benchmark for product and design innovation in travel.
EFT: How is your offering going to be beneficial for travellers in their travel planning and buying cycle?
NA: Georama helps travellers from start to finish. For times when the traveller wants to get away but has no idea where they want to go, Georama will provide destination suggestions based on interests and other factors, such as time of year. If they have a few places in mind, Georama will help them decide by offering a deeper view into each destination. And for those who know exactly where they want to go, Georama lets them search and book fares. Whatever their needs, travellers can create and manage itineraries on Georama with the widest range of options from attractions, activities, restaurants, and nightlife to weather, news, deals, and more. Travellers may also explore hotels, hostels, flights, and car rentals and book them without having to leave the site. Georama integrates cutting-edge social features that allows travellers to view and communicate with friends who live in or have been to cities they plan to visit. Friends can provide recommendations that travellers can choose to accept into their itineraries.
What's more, when travellers return from their trips they can share their complete travel experiences by creating their own interactive travel map. Apart from showing where travellers have been and wish to go, the map also connects to their photos, videos, reviews, notes and more - truly bringing their trips to life. The travel map can be created automatically by connecting to multiple sources like Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, YouTube, or one can take a more curated approach.
EFT: What are the main challenges for your venture as this juncture?
NA: Our main goal at this time is to continue to grow our user base and raise a venture round in the coming months to scale further.
EFT: Which brand/ travel companies you admire and why?
NA: Apple is one of the brands we really admire, both from an experience/design perspective and an all-in-one approach. When it comes to travel companies, we admire Kayak for their efficiency and JetBlue for their marketing.
Former Microsoft employee Nihal Advani has been working on the idea for his start-up, a map-based travel site called Georama, since 2010. But things really started kicking into gear this summer when he invited some serious manpower on board: roughly 30 new employees.
These 30 employees were the students in DePaul University's summer Entrepreneurship Strategy class and they worked for Georama for five weeks as if they were part-time interns. Student John Deorian, a senior in marketing and finance, said his class worked closely with the Georama team on pre-launch tasks. "We would submit a report on Friday about A, B and C and we came in on Wednesday and it was done," Deorian said.
The site, which was at the time in a private beta limited to 1,000 users, went public July 25. It has already caught the attention of major tech sites because in the fragmented travel world cluttered by ticket-booking sites and entirely separate sightseeing sites, Georama is providing some room to breathe. The site's home page asks one simple question: "Know where you want to go?"
Most booking sites assume you already know your destination, so it can take over 11 separate sites to put together a trip. Georama has entered this jumbled realm as a site where travelers can plan, book and share their trips all on one interactive map. That's exactly the kind of thing that puts leisure travelers at ease.
(Photo courtesy of Nihal Advani)
But even before Georama was a site at all, DePaul University was in the picture. While still a Microsoft employee, Advani presented at one of Dr. Harold Welsch's entrepreneurship classes. There, he met Neil Feuling, a graduate assistant at DePaul. The two kept in touch, until Feuling came on board in January 2012 to assist with strategy and finance. Soon after, they brought on Corey Anand, a DePaul graduate from one of Feuling's classes, to work on business development. A few months after that, Georama was further fueled by receiving $250,000 from angel investors in New York.
Apart from the 30 students who temporarily worked with Georama, the company has 17 employees (five in the U.S. and 12 in India) in addition to Feuling and Advani. Although Georama is a relatively large startup, Feuling said teaming with the DePaul students was "an exercise of leadership of a large team, and of determining where the company is going next."
Working with the students propelled Georama to address essential business points like its target market and how it compares with competitors. After these considerations, Georama's main focus will be marketing and gaining traction from users for the next several months. Advani said he would urge other startups to consider working with college classes because companies will quickly find that it is a win-win.
Data storage company Cleversafehas worked with hundreds of Illinois Institute of Technology students since 2005, one year after President and CEO Chris Gladwin founded the company. For three years, Cleversafe's office was located on IIT's campus, at one point directly next to a classroom.
Gladwin said he would recommend that companies work with universities during their first few formative years, for research purposes and for an insightful workforce.
But it's not only companies that gaim momentum by working with colleges; through such partnerships, students like Deorain are welcomed into the wonderful world of startups. "The general impression in my class was 'Oh, wow. I never realized you can do this,'" Deorian said. "It made it real that this was something you can do. You can go out and venture out on your own."
Come see Georama pitch at the Built In Chicago August Launch!
A one-stop solution for travelers: Georama lets you plan, book, and share your travel on aninteractive map.
Chicago-based Georama announced the public beta launch of the world's only map-based online travel platform which lets travelers bypass the hassle of juggling multiple websites to plan, book, and share their trips.
The typical online travel planner visits 11 to 28 different websites to research and book their trips. Instead, Georama offers travelers a one-stop solution which brings together some of the best content, fares, and social networks in one place. Georama is based entirely on an innovative interactive map providing a unique visual experience unlike any other travel site. The Georama map is a new and easy way for travelers to explore destinations and visualize their trips.
Georama offers an immersive experience that helps travelers from start to finish. For times when the traveler wants to get away but has no idea where they want to go, Georama will provide destination suggestions based on interests and other factors, such as time of year. If they have a few places in mind, Georama will help them decide by offering a deeper view into each destination. And for those who know exactly where they want to go, Georama lets them search and book fares. Whatever their needs, travelers can create and manage itineraries on Georama with the widest range of options from attractions, activities, restaurants, and nightlife to weather, news, deals, and more. Travelers may also explore hotels, hostels, flights, and car rentals and book them without having to leave the site.
Georama integrates cutting-edge social features that allow travelers to view and communicate with friends who live in or have been to cities they plan to visit. Friends can provide recommendations that travelers can choose to accept into their itineraries. What's more, when travelers return from their trips they can share their complete travel experiences by creating their own interactive travel map. Apart from showing where travelers have been and wish to go, the map also connects to their photos, videos, reviews, notes, and more - truly bringing their trips to life. The travel map can be created automatically by connecting to multiple sources like Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, YouTube, or one can take a more curated approach.
"We are really excited that Georama is now out of private beta – the team has spent over a year building a robust platform and crafting an experience that is visual and fun", said Nihal Advani, Founder & CEO of Georama. Georama is the only complete platform for travelers, combining the best content for planning, the convenience of booking great fares from top providers, and advanced social tools all in one place. All of this is brought together on top of a one-of-a-kind interactive map. Check it out at http://www.georama.com.
Georama is a Chicago-based startup that offers the world's first map-based travel platform. It helps travelers plan, book, and share their trips on a one-of-a-kind interactive map – offering an unmatched experience that is visual, immersive, and fun. Georama is the only one-stop solution for travelers, bringing together the best content, fares, and social networks under one roof. Georama's mission is to provide savvy travelers the widest range of tools before, during, and after their trips, and it strives to make the entire travel process convenient and enjoyable.
Chicago-based Georama is now launching what it calls a "map-based travel platform." In layman's terms, that's a travel search service that's entirely based on top of a map. It can either suggest places for you to go based on your interests or other factors (e.g. time of year), or, if you already have a few places in mind, you can use Georama to explore things like local attractions and activities, restaurants, nightlife, weather, news, deals and more.
The company has bootstrapped itself to $250,000 and raised another $250,000 from undisclosed New York angels a couple of months ago.
Georama was founded by Nihal Advani, an ex-Microsoftie who previously worked in Search (Bing) and Display (Microsoft Media Network). He also interned at Google while in college. Serving as CEO, Advani leads Georama's team of 17, who are based in both Chicago and India.
So, what's the big idea with a "map-based" platform, I wanted to know."We believe in providing an experience for travelers, something that hasn't been done that well in the online travel industry so far," Advani tells me. "We built a one-of-a-kind interactive map from scratch - it's patent pending – to craft a visual experience that is unique, immersive, and fun," he says. "Georama is also the only true one-stop solution…we have partnered with 20+ providers (and this is just the initial list) bringing together the best content, fares, and social networks from across the web in one place." The partners provide the content related to fares, destinations, news, deals, etc. on the site.
To be completely frank, color me skeptical about the benefits of a "map-based" travel platform. That's something that sounds like what people want, but in practice, navigating and exploring through numerous destinations via a map feels unwieldy and cumbersome. I remember talking to JetPac CEO Julian Green earlier this month following his company's raise of $2.4 million for its iPad travel search platform. He told me that the company had specifically not focused on a map interface, because "even though people like looking at the map – it's sort of cool – they get stuck, they don't know where to start."
To be fair, Georama is trying to help people figure out where to start – its interface lets you click on icons like "beach," "family," "golf," "ski," "eco-friendly," etc. to narrow down ideas. But I found that, when pulling up items on the map, pushpins would be dropped on top of other pushpins from the zoomed out worldview, meaning you had to zoom in to click accurately. There is a lot of information available once you have a destination pulled up, however, and the Facebook Connect option lets you see if you have local friends, which is handy. But overall, the UI here needs work – its pop-up destination windows, cluttered interface, and black-and-white icons felt a little old-school for my tastes. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
However, it is nice to have the destination discovery, social features (it also connects with Foursquare, Instagram and YouTube), and the ticket booking process under one umbrella. That's something that not all competitors in the "social travel" search space currently offer, often focusing more on the "inspirational" rather than the "transactional" part of the equation. One-stop shopping is one of the many reasons why newly-IPO'ed Kayak is so popular, for example. You can browse interests and deals before booking. But Kayak still feels like it's more for the final step in travel process – buying tickets – and is not as focused on "where do I want to go?"
Georama has some interesting advisors on board, it should be noted. Currently an ex-Orbitz COO, an ex-President of United.com, an ex-VP of Sabre, the Country Head of Microsoft India, and the Head of BMGI India are all helping Georama, Advani tells me
The platform launched into private beta at the DEMO conference this year, but is opening to all, with the "official" launch arriving on Wednesday.
SANTA CLARA, CA--(Marketwire -04/19/12)- Today, Chicago-based startup Georama, unveiled the world's first end-to-end leisure travel platform at the prestigious DEMO Spring 2012 conference, a launchpad for emerging technology. Connecting the best content, fares, and social networks from across the web, Georama is the only platform that allows travelers to plan, book, and share their trip in one place. It takes a unique approach by basing the entire site on a one-of-a-kind interactive map, thereby offering a truly engaging experience.
"Georama was built to take on some key frustrations faced by travelers today. Seeing that the online travel process is inefficient and could use some innovation, we envisioned an all-in-one platform that would bring the best of the best together to serve the needs of travelers," said Founder & CEO of Georama, Nihal Advani, when asked about how the concept came about.
"Research shows that travelers have to visit an average of 11 sites (sometimes more than 28 sites) to plan, book, and share their trips," Advani explained. When asked about the map-based interface, Advani pointed out that interactive maps are the most popular feature in online travel and that, combined with the desire to make the experience visual, touch-based, and fun -- interactivity was a no-brainer.
Georama helps travelers from start to finish. Depending on whether or not users know where they want to go, it personalizes the experience to either provide recommendations, help decide between cities, or create an itinerary. While exploring cities users can browse through a robust selection of information ranging from city info, weather, attractions, and restaurants to nightlife, events, deals, and more. Users can also book flights, hotels, hostels, car rentals, and activities without having to leave the site. Finally, users can see friends who are in or have visited a city and reach out to them or to their entire social networks for recommendations on a trip.
Georama also has something for those who are not actively planning a trip. GeoPlaces is a component of Georama that focuses on sharing travel experiences. Until now, travelers have been unable to fully express their experiences as travel sharing gets dispersed across multiple websites/networks -- some used for photos, others for videos, few for check-ins, and a couple for marking cities visited. GeoPlaces solves this problem by pulling all of these together on a highly visual interactive map, allowing users to bring their past travels to life. Users can connect to Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, Instagram, and more to import data in an automated manner as well as curate their travel map by plotting places they've visited, wish to visit, and favorite.
Georama is now in private beta -- request an invite at www.georama.com.
ABOUT DEMO Produced by the IDG Enterprise events group, the worldwide DEMO conferences focus on emerging technologies and new products innovations, which are hand selected from across the spectrum of the technology marketplace. The DEMO conferences have earned their reputation for consistently identifying cutting-edge technologies and helping entrepreneurs secure venture funding and establish critical business. For more information on the DEMO conferences, visit http://www.demo.com/.
All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their registered owners.
Contact: Nihal Advani
Lots of travel sites are vying for your attention. Georama hopes to grab you by simplifying the process of planning, booking, and sharing your travel plans.
The site uses a map of the world as its user interface, and users click on pushpin icons to drill down on a planned trip or a location that they want to visit. The company says that anybody who has ever had to book a complex trip with multiple legs will care about this application because it simplifies the process.
As you click, Georama pulls up a selection of your friends who live at that location or have traveled there recently. You can browse through their recommendations on what to do as you explore that city. Then you can click through to book your hotel or airfare. Once you've traveled, you can share your videos, photos, and other memoirs on the site.
The Chicago-based startup unveiled its platform for travel fans at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, California. Advani said the site is in private beta and will be rolling out over the next week, but those who want access now can use the code "DEMO12."
"We are addressing the frustrations that travelers have today," said Nihal Advani, founder and chief executive of the company in an interview with VentureBeat. "We let you plan, book, and share a trip in one place."
Research shows that travelers have to visit an average of 11 sites to do all those things when they are exploring and planning trips, particularly complicated international journeys. Georama helps a traveler from start to finish and creates a full itinerary that is easy to access by clicking on the map interface.
You will be able to book flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities without having to leave the site, Advani said.
You can access your whole list of friends to get advice, but Georama can sort through a lot of data to determine which people will have the best information for you. Users can connect to friends on Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, and Instagram. Travelers can import data in an automated manner from those applications. The site is in closed beta testing now.
Rivals include myriad travel sites that include advisory apps from TripAdvisor, Gogobot, and Wanderfly. Advani says no single competitor does all of the things that Georama can.
The company was founded in late 2010 and has 20 employees. It raised $250,000 in funding from the founders Advani and Neil Feuling. The inspiration came back in 2007 when Advani noticed how fragmented and inefficient it was to book online travel. He felt that visualization with a map could be the right way to create a user interface for travel planning. He waited a few years until he was ready to execute that vision. Advani previously worked for Microsoft in digital marketing for five years.
"Travel is all about the experience, but today's online travel process does little to complement that," Advani said. "Georama was built to be an experience: one that will connect the before, during, and after for a traveler."
Georama is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.