Have you ever been to a city for the first time and wish you had a guide to show what where the locals hang out, where the best brewery pubs or the most obscure but quaint shops are? I know I do. Enter Shiroube (www.shiroube.com), a site that connects intrepid travelers to local residents anywhere in the world.
The idea is simple. Locals sign up to provide guide services for free – or pay a fee to put up more ads or remove certain limitations such as the number of email notifications they get – and travelers use the site for free to search the database for the type of guide services required. Just launched into open beta, Shiroube covers more than 1,000 cities worldwide is that number is growing daily.
The service was founded by 34-year old Japanese national Tatsuo Sato, and the service was born out of his personal experiences. Sato, a regular traveler, found the inspiration for Shiroube – which means “being a guide for others” – when he was traveling to an Eastern European country and contacted a local student in the city he was visiting. The student, who was learning Japanese, was glad to show Sato around and learn Japanese from a native speaker at the same time.
“Although the city has some touristy places and and places of historical interest, the walk around he gave me was far different from ordinary and the one that I expected,” Sato recalls. “We went his elementary school, canteens, local restaurants, clubs and the neighborhood actual people lived.”
“If I were just with a guide book and followed it, that kind of experience wouldn’t have happened. In addition to it, the arrangement worked for both sides – I got a tour for free and he got a rare chance of lessons for free!”
Sato, an engineer by profession but moved to business development in an equity firm, met his co-founder Takuya Matoba there and decided to start Shiroube with their own personal funds. Interestingly, Sato runs the company from London and Paris, but development work takes place in Japan. The reason for this, Sato says, is very simple. “(There’s a) huge individual tourism market in Europe; (on the other hand) Japan has cheap costs and technology in engineering,” he explains.
Sato says the company plans to build a B2C marketplace on the current C2C model that helps local businesses, such as transport, hospitality, translation or food services. “We are working at upgrading the service so that it can be used for business as well,” he adds.