Check out the AMA with Sam Cool Cousin’s COO and CTO
I spent the month of November in Tel Aviv, and upon arrival, a friend introduced from Brazil that I met while living in Berlin introduced me to a VC at OurCrowd, one of Israel’s biggest firms. I mention how we were introduced, because I love nothing more than traveling and having recommendations and introductions shared with me. That personal touch completely enhances the experience of being in a place, and it’s one of the reasons that I live in a suitcase full time.
The VC and I had the chance to chat about Israel tech, and while I’d heard about plenty of the amazing projects to come out of the startup nation, he made a few things very clear: Israelis invent incredible tech often out of necessity. One anecdote he shared was about how during the space race, Israel wanted to start sending satellites into space. Every nation sends rockets into orbit to the east, using the rotation of the earth to help burst things into orbit…but Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan lie to the east of Israel and sending projectiles over those countries could cause some minor problems. So they built the world’s smallest satellites and figured out how to send them to the west. Now, Israel is the leader in microsatellite development.
Towards the end of our chat, our conversation geared towards crypto and ICOs, and he mentioned his cousin was working on an interesting project and that we should chat.
Enter Danielle, the Head of Content for Cool Cousin. We swapped notes on ICO marketing and she was somewhat secretive about what they had been planning but the work and effort they’d put in over the last six months was clearly evident.
A Meeting a NABTC Miami
A few months later, Sam and I are at the BitCoin conference in Miami, and I see a guy pulling out a card that reads “COOL COUSIN”. I quickly learn that they’ve just launched their private presale, and they’re on a roadshow promoting the upcoming public sale of the CUZ token. Itamar, the COO of Cool Cousin, and Gil their CTO took us out for coffee at an awesome spot Sam and I would not have found on our own, and we had the chance to dive into their offering in depth.
I took such a long time to introduce this meeting because it highlights the importance of connection and networking while traveling. Having a trusted person to introduce you to a place greatly heightens your experience. Meanwhile, I’m an avid Yelp and TripAdvisor user, but oftentimes, the reviews just don’t source the types of places I really want to find. The crowd might be great at sourcing predictions, but taste is unique to the individual and connecting with someone who has a similar style or set of interests usually presents me with a better set of experiences. That’s the entire premise behind cool cousin – get rid of the crowdsourced review model, allow anyone to find a trusted “cousin” wherever they are in the world, and empower people to have unique and tailored travel experiences.
Product Launch: 2016
They launched their consumer product in 2016 and have since raised $2M in venture funding from the Elevator Fund based in Tel Aviv. As it stands today, the product allows a traveler to download a native iOS app and see the profile of a “cousin” replete with photos and fun facts, and if the traveler feels a connection with that cousin, they can see their list of recommended places across a destination.
They currently have 1000 active “cousins” on the platform, and over 500,000 travelers have traveled with them on the platform since launch. Beyond the growth of the existing product. and they have experienced 250% growth (80% organic) in the last 6 months and have yet to try and monetize the platform.
The reason for their ICO is two fold – they want to monetize the platform without having to ruin the user experience for both travelers and cousins, and they want to create a self-supporting, decentralized, self-governing community that is funded by the platform and allows the concept of highly curated “cousins” and their content to scale much more quickly than the manual process they have been using to onboard cousins to date.
Tourism is 10% of the global GDP
If they can pull it off, it represents a huge opportunity with travel and tourism accounting for 10% of the world’s GDP and 1 in every 10 jobs. Today, there are 1.24B international travelers, generating $2.3T in direct revenue. They cite in their white paper that millennial Travelers looking for more authentic experiences. Their current user base is comprised of 56% millennials, aged 18-35. More than half are from the US and UK.
“Cousins” will go from just creating maps with their favorite places to becoming incentivized, independent travel agents. Imagine everything from being able to pay a top bartender in London to create a custom bar crawl for you, to something more akin to an AirBnB experience where you could connect directly with someone who owns a vineyard and pay them in CUZ token to stay and tour the winery.
A Company and the Community
They are also creating one ecosystem with two entities: the company and the community. The company is responsible for technological and business development that can sustain and grow the community. The community creates and oversees content, services, quality assurance, dispute settlements etc. The fees received from transactions will be divided between the two, where community funds will be distributed through a rewards engine, so as to incentivize contributors that improve the ecosystem. The end goal is to have a completely decentralized and self-governing community.
Because they are a consumer app with an existing user base, they will create an in-app wallet and use some of the token supply to incentivize user signups. Those tokens will not be able to be withdrawn to exchanges while the purchased token supply during the crowdsale or tokens earned later in the ecosystem will. What’s exciting about this in-app wallet is that it will be the first time many people touch a cryptocurrency, and it’s not far away – their roadmap has them slated to start conducting in-app transactions in Q3 of this year.
In terms of monetizing the ecosystem for the benefit of the community and the company, they have plenty of interesting ideas, some of which they’ve already started testing:
- Contributions – micropayments for great recommendations
- Affiliate fees – The more users who turn to cool cousin as a go to app when traveling, the more opportunities become available to insert monetizing actions to the platform.
- Municipality partners program – where cities around the world can promote their city on the platform with branded map layers containing special events, tourist services and media promotions. They’ve already done this.
- Events/popup communities – conferences create map layers, etc to show nearby spots, etc.
- Promotional/sponsored products: a bike-rental service could create a map layer of all their docks in the city. They’ve already done this with Donkey bikes.
From Defense to Consumer Apps
In Israel, everyone has to serve in the military. As a result, many young programmers are trained at a young age in military tech, operating in high-stress situations to solve insanely complex problems of national security, and the team is no exception. Similarly, there is a risk-taking attitude that I saw in almost everyone I met there, and they have the ability to act with extreme speed under intense pressure. These qualities make for an incredible startup team, and my meetings with the Cool Cousin team showed me that this is an insanely multifaceted bunch. I happened to have a notebook on me that I bought in Tel Aviv – sure enough their head of product designed the typeface that was printed on it.
The team has already been developing product for two years, and many on the leadership team have been working together for much longer than that on other projects. That type of cohesion is something Ether can’t buy.
Consumers will “Get it”
My 23 and 25-year-old sisters both have long lists they send people that visit the cities they live in. When I told them about the product, they immediately signed up to be cousins, and they’ve gone through the vetting process and are now pending approval. I’ve worked in consumer tech for most of my career, and when you create a much better experience for people than what they are already doing, and you get them excited about doing work on your platform for free, you’re onto something. That’s what the Cool Cousins team is doing and that’s why I’m investing.