Georama, a company that provides a new medium for destination marketing via live interactive video, won the Shark Tank by 1871 competition held at the 2015 Illinois Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism which took place from February 2-4 at the Hilton Palmer House.
Each year the Illinois Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism brings together the tourism industry's brightest and best to share insights, research, viewpoints and trends. Leading Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs), attractions, activity providers, and more from across the state graced the conference along with national organizations like Brand USA and U.S. Travel Association. A new addition to the conference this year was a competition called Shark Tank by 1871. Named after the famous TV show, the competition brought five of the best travel startups from Chicago's entrepreneurial hub, 1871, to compete for a $5,000 cash reward as well as presentation coaching courtesy of J. Walter Thompson, the sponsor of the session.
The five startups were Trytn, Options Away, Georama, SIMple, and Breakwater, each of which had 5 minutes to pitch to the audience and a panel of three 'sharks', Erin Clark, Senior Partner & Group Management Director at J. Walter Thompson, Howard A. Tullman, CEO of 1871, and Daniel Thomas, CEO of TimeZoneOne. From great ideas such as a new floating recreational venue on Lake Michigan to a product that enables travelers to lock-in the price of a fight; travel innovation was at its best. Ultimately, Georama, a company that helps tourism organizations inspire prospective travelers by giving them an exciting real-time preview of what it is like to be at a destination, beat its competition to win the $5,000 prize that was handed out by Illinois State's new Director of Tourism, Cory Jobe.
Georama provides cutting-edge software-as-a-service solutions to tourism organizations, hotel groups, airlines, and more. Its Vicarious Experiences product, helps people experience the world vicariously in real-time. A guide equipped with a wearable camera and Georama's technology can live stream their point of view to viewers around the world in a very stable HD stream, while moving around freely even in poor network conditions. What makes it even more interesting is that viewers can interact with the guide in real-time to ask questions and make suggestions, thereby getting a personalized experience. "It's like being able to interact in real-time with a local Anthony Bourdain while they are giving you a tour," said Georama's Founder & CEO, Nihal Advani. Georama plans to partner with tourism organizations across Illinois and the U.S. to help inspire and engage prospective travelers around the world.
Georama wins $5,000 in tourism-focused pitch competition
Virtual travel company Georama took off with tourism professionals Wednesday. The Chicago-based startup, which licenses wearable camera and backpack technology that allows for real-time interaction in live streaming tours, took first place among five startups pitching to a state tourism-industry audience at the Palmer House Hilton.
"It provides the ability to give your prospective travelers a preview of the experience," Georama founder and CEO Nihal Advani told attendees of the Illinois Governor's Conference on Travel and Tourism.
Columbia College Chicago has started using the technology for campus tours, Advani told Blue Sky before the competition.
Georama won $5,000 and coaching from the J. Walter Thompson marketing firm.
Audience members voted, and Georama nabbed 35 percent of the vote.
Options Away, a service that lets users hold flights while they finalize travel plans, took second place with 28 percent of the vote.
Other contestants were:
Trytn, an online booking and reservation platform for small and mid-sized activities and excursion businesses.
SiMple, a service that delivers smartphone SIM cards to be used abroad to avoid roaming charges.
Breakwater Chicago, which hopes to build a $23 million floating recreational venue on Lake Michigan to include restaurants, swimming pools, spas, a nightclub and a private club.
All are members of the 1871 tech incubator at the Merchandise Mart.
Georama, an interactive virtual travel company, is partnering with Lurie Children's Hospital, 225 E. Chicago Ave., to take patients who cannot leave the hospital on virtual adventures around the world.
Georama and Lurie Children's kicked off their partnership in December by bringing the Christkindlmarket to patients at the hospital. The footage of the market was live-streamed to patients, and the children were able to interact with Christkind, the marketplace's mascot, by calling a direct line while she gave a digital tour around the market, said Nihal Advani, Georama's CEO and founder.
"On one end, there is a guide who has a wearable camera to share their perspective with viewers anywhere in the world," Advani said.
Viewers can tune in live and interact with the guide in real time to control the experience, asking them "to basically show them something, or putting a question or suggestion."
Lurie Children's and Georama hope to host monthly events together in the future in order to bring more outside attractions to patients and their families. Advani said he would like to virtually take patients to Disney World.
Susan Ruohonen, director of Children's Services at Lurie Children's Hospital, said the hospital's Children Advisory Board is in the process of deciding what Chicago events Georama should film and live-stream to the children.
"So many of our families don't have the opportunity to explore all that Chicago has to offer [because] they have so much else going on in their lives," Ruohonen said.
Georama started as a travel agency combining planning, booking and sharing all in one place, Advani said. Georama transformed into what it is today when it realized it had little leverage in the travel planning industry because there was so much competition.
"We always talked about our technology being used for some kind of social good," Advani said. "And we had in mind children's hospitals and old age homes."
Advani said a partnership with Lurie Children's Hospital was a good fit because of how technically advanced the hospital was. Before Georama started working with them, Lurie Children's Hospital already had a state-of-the-art television broadcasting system, which made it easier for Georama to broadcast interactive footage.
"Initially, [Georama] was trying to find places to stream, but now [Lurie Children's is] helping us find where we should be going, using their partnerships and their resources," said Aaqib Usman, interactive producer of Georama and a 2013 Columbia College alumnus.
Working with Lurie Children's has opened a lot of doors for Georama because the hospital has a long list of sponsors and partners that it can now work with, Advani said.
In the past, Lurie Children's has worked with the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., and has had trainers bring animals to the hospital for the children to interact with. They have also had the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Looking Glass Theater perform for the children.
Ruohonen said she is excited about the partnership because it allows the hospital to expand on what it has already been doing. Lurie Children's works with various organizations to bring the outside world to its patients.
By teaming up with Georama, Lurie Children's hopes to not only bring Chicago to patients, but also to expose them to places all around the world, Ruohonen said.
One of Georama's long-term goals is to have people travel to places like Africa in real time without leaving the country. If students are learning about Egypt or Rome in class, Georama wants them to be able to go on a tour of those places and interact with locals without leaving their classroom. Georama also wants to partner with schools to bring virtual adventures to students and enhance educational experiences, Advani said.
Last year, Georama filmed the Chicago Pride Parade on Belmont, Broadway and Halsted streets, which allowed people to participate in the event even though they could not attend. Advani said this year Georama plans to film and live-stream the Chinese New Year Parade in Chicago.
What a welcome for Virgin Hotels Chicago. From tucking a special guest into bed (more on that later!) to meeting some of the city's most promising entrepreneurs, from celebrating with all of the staff to throwing the kind of party only we know how, we launched our very first hotel in true Virgin style.
Later on, I met with a great group of entrepreneurs for a roundtable discussion. They were bright sparks from 1871, Chicago's non-profit digital entrepreneur community: Howard Tullman, 1871's CEO; Kelly McCabe from Crowdtap, Nihal Advani, Georama, Matt Chapdelaine, HerbFront; Ed LaHood, MagicTags; Rod Rakic, OpenAirplane; Pere Rigo, Package Zen; Tricia Martinez, SHIFT; David Bakker, Weave the People; Jimmy Odom, WeDeliver; Betsy Fore, Wondermento; Connor Detjen, Selfie; and Pavan Bapu. Pavan's company Gramovox make the world's first Bluetooth gramophones, and we had a little dance to the apt Frank Sinatra classic, My Way (The Virgin Way!)
Georama partners with Lurie Children's Hospital to give kids virtual tours
Trips to Millennium Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry go hand-and-hand with being a kid in Chicago. But those outings are tough if you're a kid in a hospital.
Georama wants to change that. The 1871-based interactive travel discovery platform, launched in 2012 by CEO Nihal Advani, has partnered with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital to take patients on virtual trips, the company announced this week. About 40 kids took part in a virtual visit to Christkindlmarket in December, and the tours will continue monthly at other attractions, Advani said.
"Think about having a mini Anthony Bourdain that you can actually control and talk to and give real-time feedback to," Advani said.
Viewers looked on as a guide toured the market, streaming video through a GoPro and a backpack of equipment, Advani said. He said the children — who watched in a common area or from their rooms — could use a call-in line to ask questions or request the guide to go to certain areas.
"Lurie is really technologically advanced — they have TVs in every room, and a platform so they're able to stream everything across all rooms," he said.
It can be tough for some families of patients at Lurie to get out and explore the city, said the hospital's Director of Children's Services Susan Ruohonen. She said the kids enjoyed the tour, and Georama worked with the staff to ensure privacy concerns and regulations were considered.
"We want to bring the outside in to our families as much as possible," she said. "This has been a great way to do that."
Georama was originally billed as a travel planning startup, but Advani said he soon realized how tough it was to gain booking revenue with so many other big companies in the space. Last year, the company opted to refocus on virtual travel.
The company now sells Google Earth-style travel experiences, though video is live streamed through GoPros or Google Glass by guides who can take requests and field questions by viewers. Advani said they've partnered with educational institutions to give international or out-of-state students a chance to take campus tours, as well as tourism organizations and hotels. Georama is currently strictly B2B.
"We realized that this could be a very, very impactful thing for people who are physically or financially unable to go somewhere," Advani said.
Georama Is Bringing 'Virtual Adventures' to Lurie Children's Patients Who Can't Leave the Hospital
The hospital can be a scary place for kids, especially if they have to stay for an extended period of time. The constant in-and-out of doctors and regular tests, combined the the monotony of sitting day after day in the same hospital room can be a traumatic experience for a young child. So to ease their tensions and make the experience more exciting, a Chicago startup is bringing "virtual adventures" to Lurie Children's Hospital.
Georama, based out of 1871, offers vicarious experiences to tourism companies, hotels, colleges, and other organizations to create a more personalized virtual tour. The vicarious experiences are conducted in real-time with a guide that has a wearable camera. Viewers can interact with the guide and control what they see to provide a more interactive tour experience.
Georama's partnership with Lurie Children's Hospital will allow sick children the ability to go on virtual adventures that will be broadcast throughout the hospital.
"Our technology has the potential to make a big social impact by providing experiences for those who are physically or financially unable to be somewhere," Nihal Advani, Founder and CEO of Georama said in a statement. "Lurie Children's is known for being an innovative organization that already has a dedicated Children's Services team that creates programming for patients and their families, and this enhances those opportunities."
Lurie and Georama first started working together last month to create a live virtual tour of Christkindlmarket Chicago that walked children through the exhibit's toy shops, food stalls, sweets stores and souvenir shops. At Lurie Children's Hospital, Georama will provide a number of virtual adventures to patients and their families in 2015.
"Since many of our patients cannot leave their hospital rooms, we were able to broadcast the tour 'live' via our in-house TV station, Skylight TV, so everyone could participate," added Susan Ruohonen, Director of Children's Services. "We also see this as an educational tool for our patients and their families, and look forward to hosting several of these events throughout the year."
Georama was also part of last week's Going Global event in Canada, which was hosted by1871 and Toronto-based accelerator INcube and featured Chicago startups that are ready to expend into Canada.
1871 Member Georama Announces Partnership to Provide Virtual Adventures at Lurie Children's Hospital
Georama, a company that helps people virtually experience a destination in real time via a guide, joined Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital today in a partnership that will create virtual adventures to be broadcast throughout the hospital.
"Our technology has the potential to make a big social impact by providing experiences for those who are physically or financially unable to be somewhere," said Nihal Advani, Founder and CEO of Georama. "Lurie Children's is known for being an innovative organization that already has a dedicated Children's Services team that creates programming for patients and their families, and this enhances those opportunities."
Georama began working with Lurie Children's last month when they produced a live virtual tour of Christkindlmarket Chicago. Working with Christkindlmarket organizers and their market mascot, Christkind, Georama facilitated a full tour of the market that featured Christkind showing the children each area of the market and interacting with vendors from toy shops, food stalls, sweets stores and souvenir shops. Christkindlmarket Chicago donated crowns and "passport" activity books for the children to use during the event.
"Since many of our patients cannot leave their hospital rooms, we were able to broadcast the tour 'live' via our in-house TV station, Skylight TV, so everyone could participate," said Susan Ruohonen, Director of Children's Services. "We also see this as an educational tool for our patients and their families, and look forward to hosting several of these events throughout the year."
Georama is a member of 1871, an entrepreneurial incubator for digital startups. "Members throughout 1871 are committed not only to creating financially successful companies, but also to creating companies that make a difference in the community," said 1871 CEO Howard A. Tullman. "We look forward to seeing the ongoing opportunities for local children that Georama will create with their technology."
Georama's Vicarious Experiences technology allows people to virtually explore a destination in real-time via a guide. A guide using Georama's technology (which is packaged into a light backpack) can live stream their point of view from a wearable camera to viewers around the world in a highly stable HD stream, while moving around freely even in poor network conditions. Viewers can watch the stream live and interact with the guide in real-time to ask questions and make suggestions, thereby controlling the experience to create a personalized tour. Georama currently licenses its technology to tourism organizations, hotels, venues and educational institutions.
1871 is the home of more than 325 early-stage, high-growth startups. Located in The Merchandise Mart, this 75,000 square foot facility is also the headquarters of nationally recognized accelerators, Techstars Chicago and Impact Engine; half a dozen industry-specific incubators in key areas such as real estate, education technology and the Internet of Everything; several emerging tech talent schools (The Starter League and the Startup Institute), and the state's leading technology advocate, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition. It is the second home to Chicago-based VCs, Pritzker Group, MATH Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, OurCrowd and Chicago Ventures, as well as satellite offices for Northwestern University, University of Illinois, University of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, Loyola University Chicago and DeVry. 1871 has fast become recognized as the hub for the city's entrepreneurial/technology ecosystem and has been featured in TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago Business among other top media.
Six Chicago Startups That Are Ready to Expand into the Canadian Market
Though many U.S. startups interpret "Expanding North" as simply launching into the Midwest, Chicago entrepreneurs look towards Canada when it's time to literally move up.
Last week, INcubes - a Toronto-based accelerator - teamed up with 1871 for Going Global, a showcase for Chicago and Canadian startups that are ready to expand internationally into each other's respective markets. Held in Toronto, the event featured 10 early-stage companies operating in a variety of categories, including FinTech, CyberSecurity, and the Internet of Things.
Explained 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, "It is critical for companies to be globally enabled from the earliest stages of their development in order to be successful in today's economy. With access to capital, customers and talent, Chicago is the best place for international companies to launch into the US market."
Added Ben Zlotnick, Founder of INcubes, "Toronto is ranked in the top 10 for global startup ecosystems, but our companies cannot focus only on the domestic market. For our companies, global expansion is a necessity, not an option."
Six Chicago startups were signaled out as "Canada-ready" and presented to a roomful of attendees that included US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Managing Director of Google Canada Sam Sebastian. The 6 Windy City businesses were:
TraknProtect: Based out 1871, TraknProtect combines GPS and bluetooth technologies to protect, monitor, and track personal valuables, like laptops.
Georama: An an interactive travel discovery platform, Georama helps its users "experience the world anywhere, anytime." The startups generates revenue by providing SaaS solutions to airlines, hotel groups, tourism organizations, and more.
Omicron Financial: Omicron helps millennials expand their access to financial markets through a variety of mobile and online tools.
Buy Side Design: Another 1871 member, Buy Side Design is a media and design company for the financial industry, providing firms and traders with creative content and imagery.
Dough: Founded in 2013, Dough is an easy-to-use DIY trading platform for options investors. Dough's partner company, tastytrade, is a financial network that provides 8 hours of live programming daily.
Xaptum: Operating in the Internet of Things space, Xaptum is a cloud service startup providing the infrastructure behind real-time, smart-thing communication. (They're "telecom for the internet of things").
Twitter's your ticket to invite-only 1871 event in Toronto
If you're itching for a last-minute high-tech trip across the border, scratch no more.
Tech innovation center 1871 and Toronto-based INcubes, a startup hub, are hosting Thursday an invite-only company event at Toronto's Telus House.
Luckily for non-invitees and those of us who couldn't get out of the office for a quick jaunt to Canada, 1871 CEO Howard Tullman's giving us an inside look on Twitter. Follow along for pitches by nine companies from Chicago and Toronto – including appearances by local names such as TraknProtect, Dough, Georama, Xaptum, Buy Side Design and Omicron Financial.
The event features Tullman, Toronto Mayor John Tory, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and Google Canada's head, Sam Sebastian.
An Unexpected Source of Innovation: Chicago Tech Center 1871 Expands
Chicago is well known for being the heartland of manufacturing … but a center for technological innovation? Not so much so, many people would assume. However, as with many assumptions, nothing could be farther from the truth! In fact, according to a study conducted by the Illinois Innovation Council, Illinois ranks second in the nation (after California) in the number of high-techstartups.
One of the catalysts for innovation in the city is Chicago's leading tech startup center, named 1871 after the famous Chicago fire. 1871 is positioned to cater to the growing tech and entrepreneurial community in the Chicagoland area where members will be able to take advantage of mentorship programs, educational sessions and meeting rooms.
A Glance at Some of the Innovative Businesses Here
Fun New Travel Apps Tout Their Horns at Web Summit
At the fourth annual Web Summit event in Dublin from November 4-6, 2014, 22,000 people from around the world came to see new gadgets, get cool demos and hear the latest scoop on where technology is heading. Since we love travel, we decided to spend a little time learning about what some of the new travel start-ups were up to on the show floor.
While we mostly cover news and destinations for the luxury traveler, we threw in several apps into the mix that would be useful for hotels, airlines, property and guest house owners and even boat owners.
What I found fascinating was just how diverse the nationalities were across the board -- there are some creative apps coming out of Portugal, Israel, Germany, Finland, Greece, the states, France, England, Ireland, Italy, Finland, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Australia and even Monaco and Malta, among countless others. I put together a curation of some of the apps I came across during my scouting exercise across three days at this massive technology event.
Georama is a real-time vicarious travel platform. They help people experience the world anytime, anywhere. Georama's technology allows viewers to explore a destination in real-time by interacting with a guide who is live streaming their perspective.
They're targeting tourism organizations, hotels, airlines and more to help them inspire and engage with prospective travelers around the world.
1871 Expansion video with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, and Georama Founder & CEO Nihal Advani
CHICAGO - Governor Pat Quinn today was joined by 1871 CEO Howard A. Tullman to officially open a major expansion of the innovative digital startup hub. The $2.5 million expansion, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), will increase 1871's current size by 50 percent and create space for alumni companies, venture capital firms and several incubators, accelerators and programs. In total, the new space will allow 1871 to house approximately 400 companies within The Merchandise Mart. The announcement is part of Governor Quinn's agenda to create jobs and drive Illinois' economy forward.
The growth of our technology and innovation sectors are helping to drive Illinois' comeback," Governor Quinn said. "Since its inception, 1871 and its alumni companies have created more than 1,000 jobs, and this new space will allow the hub to expand and create more high-tech companies and good jobs right here in Illinois."
The expansion project allows 1871 to provide offices to alumni companies that have outgrown their current space but wish to continue to grow within the 1871 environment and utilize 1871's programming and resources. In addition, the new space will house several venture capital firms seeking to engage the Chicago market. It also allows 1871 to develop a number of industry-specific incubators, accelerators and programs in the critical areas of food technology, real estate technology, education technology, financial technology, the Internet of Things, startup engineering, veteran-owned technology businesses and women-owned technology businesses.
"1871 is committed to continually raising the bar in terms of its opportunities for members and service to Chicago's entrepreneurial and technology communities," 1871 CEO Howard A. Tullman said. "The primary goal of 1871 is to foster the innovative new technology businesses that are crucial drivers of Illinois' job and economic growth, and we sincerely appreciate the Governor's consistent support for this mission. This expansion is an important component of our ongoing efforts to provide an extensive set of resources and facilities to our member companies."
Virtual tours now real-time with Georama's unique live tours
Travel startup Georama has created a new product, a live video setup contained within a backpack that allows tour guides to offer live tours of destinations worldwide to an online audience.
The startup has gone through a couple of pivots, starting as a trip planning service and moving into a SaaS vacation rental recommendation engine. This latest iteration allows tourism organizations, educational institutions and travel brands to offer interactive tours of destinations and travel products. This is a new way to market a place – basically, it's live marketing for travel.
The technology is a live-streaming backpack attached to a small GoPro camera up-front. The tour guide simply walks the city, sharing the sights and sounds with the live audience.
While this technology is not exactly new – Justin.tv was a pioneer of live-streaming years ago – the application in travel is certainly unique. The ability for tour guides to share their knowledge live around the world has not been easily available previously without a home-grown technophile setup.
Of course, there are financial reasons why a tour guide wouldn't want to give up the secret sauce for free to a live audience. This is a knowledge-based occupation, and some tour guides will not take kindly to others giving it away for free.
However, this is not quite a straight "live tour" approach. Georama has created an interactive interface that provides new touchpoints for destination marketers and brands seeking to engage potential visitors with the destination. Live comments can be pulled in from Facebook and Twitter, creating a whole new form of live entertainment in travel marketing.
Just as brochures and videos have been used for years to instill a sense of wanderlust in potential visitors, a live engagement with a destination will likely encourage a deeper connection with the place – and most people will not be satisfied simply by experiencing it virtually. Nothing (yet) is a replacement for the real thing.
The business model behind this patent-pending technology is simply called Virtual Experiences, and the company is marketing it as a means of deeper engagement for marketers at DMOs, hotels and educational institutions. These organizations can leverage Georama's network of guides to create an experience that really showcases a destination or product.
Potential use cases could be a city preview for a large event RFP, a live tour of a hotel in advance of an event by a planner, or even a "welcome to your new home" event for students embarking on a study abroad adventure (and their nervous parents). The technology is a clever means of familiarizing a viewer with a place, and is compelling as long as the product is focused on increasing excitement for the destination at hand – rather than replacing an actual visit.
The live feature of the experience can also offer a new means of learning about a destination for potential travelers – and even younger students who aren't able to travel but want to be exposed to the world afar. See a video of a sample tour here.
Tnooz had some questions for Nihal Advani, the co-founder of Georama, about his startup's latest product, and its implications for the emerging company's business model.
Describe the thinking behind this product, and how it came to be.
I've been playing with the concept of virtual travel in my mind since the early days of Georama. However, at the time my ideas weren't all that different from Google Earth or Google Street View so I didn't pursue it.
About a year ago, I realized that virtual travel would be so much better if it was live (instead of a snapshot in time), and not just through a static webcam but via an actual person with a wearable camera who can be mobile and can interact with viewers to personalize the experience. So we decided to build out the technology to enable this and have worked tirelessly since then to make it a reality.
What does this mean for the future of travel? Is there a risk that people will feel less pull to travel when virtual options exist?
I believe that our Virtual Experiences technology can be useful in two key ways:
It can be leveraged as a preview for an actual trip – whether it be for travel inspiration or travel planning purposes.
For those who are physically disabled or financially/logistically unable to make an actual trip at the time, it can be a great alternative.
Our technology can never replace physically being at a destination and experiencing the sights, sounds, and smell first hand, but our Virtual Experiences technology provides a way to travel vicariously in real-time, which is surely better than viewing pictures or videos that are static snapshots in time and aren't necessarily personalized.
What’s the business model behind this? How will you make money?
Currently we do this as a B2B service and typically work with tourism organizations, hotels/venues, and educational institutions. Our pricing has two components – a one-time set up fee, and a monthly recurring fee based on the number of hours of broadcasting required per month.
Do you have any initial launch partners? If so, what was the pitch to them? If not, how are you positioning this product?
We have worked with multiple street festivals in Chicago such as Randolph Street Market, 57th Street Art Fair, and the Chicago Pride Parade. For these street festivals it was a way to expand their audience to include viewers from all over the world, and provide them a highly engaging and personalized experience of the event.
We are soon launching with a couple hotels and venues in the Midwest – and they will be using our technology to facilitate personalized virtual site visits for prospective clients who want a preview before making a physical trip, or to accommodate those stakeholders who could not accompany their colleagues for a physical site visit.
At ESTO, we will be officially announcing this technology for tourism organizations who can leverage our service as a new medium to inspire and excite prospective travelers to take a trip to their destinations.
Is this a pivot for your business, or more of a product add-on?
Georama launched in 2012 as a B2C travel planning site where travelers could find where to go on vacation based on their interests & preferences, and plan, book, and share their trips.
Mid-last year we pivoted to become a B2B business and converted our recommendation engine technology to a Vacation Recommendations SaaS that enables airlines and hotel chains better serve users who are not sure where to go or where to stay.
This year we are launching our new Virtual Experiences service which also involves travel discovery and personalization but introduces a brand new medium that we believe has a ton of potential – so it will be a big focus moving forward.
Anything else interesting happen during the development of this product?
We knew our technology would serve as a great travel inspiration tool and a powerful sales/marketing tool, but over time we realized that it can have so many more applications.
What stood out most was the social impact this could make. Imagine if you could take kids in a children hospital (who are physically unable to leave the hospital at that time) on a virtual field trip.
Similarly, imagine people in old age homes being able to cross something off their bucket list or being able to revisit a special place that is dear to them. Or physically disabled people who could visit a place they normally couldn't. Or financially disadvantaged children & adults who can experience parts of the world they have only dreamed of.
We are extremely passionate about pursing these applications and truly believe that our technology can make an impact.
Read more from Georama on Virtual Experiences here.
Nihal is the Founder and CEO of Georama. They built an app for the Windows Store that helps you discover vacation ideas based on who is going, when you want to travel, your interests and more. Listen to his dev story and learn how with the help of the Microsoft BizSpark program, he was able to make his idea a reality.
It's a familiar story: businesses want to hire talented foreigners but are hindered by U.S. immigration laws. Former immigrant turned CEO, Nihal Advani, talks with Bill Moller about what needs to change.
American businesses losing out in antiquated immigration lottery
By: Nihal Advani and Zach Haller
Earlier this month, we learned that the winner of California's biggest-ever Powerball lottery jackpot has claimed his $242 million prize. Meanwhile, a different lottery did not get nearly the attention it deserved, even though its payout has far-reaching consequences for businesses and workers across the nation.
On April 1, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting H-1B visa petitions for fiscal 2015's annual allotment of professional work visas. On April 10, the USCIS announced that 172,500 petitions — more than double the available visas — were received. This is up by more than 48,500 from last year. The subsequent lottery allowed applications for only 85,000 petitioners to be processed.
This process may seem innocuous. The reality, however, is that the H-1B cap and lottery is one of the clearest examples of how badly the U.S. immigration system is broken and how the U.S. economy ultimately loses out.
Established by the Immigration Act of 1990, the H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to hire up to 85,000 workers each year to fill professional-level positions in their respective fields. The H-1B often is a U.S. company's only option to hire a particular foreign national. For growing companies, especially those in the tech industry like ours, the H-1B cap and other limitations to our antiquated immigration system stymie business growth and development by limiting a company's ability to hire, innovate and grow competitively in the recovering economy.
Startups are by no means the only companies that lose out: Across the country, employers big and small whose visa petitions are rejected are being denied the ability to lawfully employ highly qualified, albeit foreign, employees. This imbalance in supply and demand leaves U.S. employers without specialized employees and results in companies using creative tactics — some in good faith, others less so — to staff their organizations in the most competitive way possible.
Due to the massive growth in the tech industry, this problem needs urgent action. Since 2004, the bottom of the dot-com bust, domestic employment growth in the technology sector has grown at a pace three times faster than the private sector as a whole. Highly skilled workers, in demand mostly for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, jobs, are being denied the opportunity to put their skills to good use in growing, emerging American businesses because of the limitations in visa availability.
The United States is handicapped in other ways. Once an immigrant student earns a U.S. degree, our nation's outdated immigration system leaves few options and little time to find work in the United States. Promising graduates often are forced to work in an emerging foreign economy with more competitive immigration laws. In effect, we are educating highly capable young professionals for the benefit of our international rivals.
With the stakes so high and with so much to gain, one would think economic urgency and common sense would prevail. Dismally, immigration reform remains bottled up in the U.S. House of Representatives, with no debate or vote scheduled in the near term. Despite the excuses and explanations, partisan politics has created a grievous deadlock around an issue that has earned overwhelming public and politically bipartisan support.
By and large, immigrants are coming to our country to dedicate their lives and careers to the benefit of the United States economy over the economy of their home country but are being denied the opportunity to contribute. Our tech sector and greater economy will only fully flourish once this antiquated system is modernized to optimize growth in dynamic and emerging markets. All Americans, regardless of party affiliation, should be united in insisting that immigration reform pass in 2014 to keep the U.S. at the forefront of economic development.
Built In Chicago Launch alumni: where are they now?
Built In Chicago Launch is back! Like always, we are giving recently launched companies the chance to present in front of the Built In Chicago community. In the spirit of next week's event, we are checking in with a few Built In Chicago launch alumni from the past couple years to see where they are now.
Georama is a platform to plan, book and share trips armed with a powerful recommendation engine. Their maps also serve as plug-and-play SaaS solutions for airlines and hotels chains.
Presented at Built In Chicago Launch in: August 2012
Most recently: The team set off to Barcelona as one of 15 companies selected to be a part of the Illinois delegation at the Mobile World Congress.
Since you last saw them at BIC launch: They have hired five employees, bringing their total team to 17 people between their US and India offices. They raised $325,000 in late 2013, bringing their total funding to about $800,000. The have secured "a couple large clients for our SaaS solution," clients whose names can’t be disclosed but that "are among the largest names in the travel industry," founder and CEO Nihal Advani said.
What to look out for from them: "We are working on a reinventing the Georama platform and will have some really exciting announcements over the next few months," Advani said. “This year we have big plans to take the next step in travel discovery and revolutionize the way we experience travel.”
DCEO Announces Illinois Businesses Participating in International Digital Business Trade Show
15 Illinois Companies to Showcase New Digital Products and Services to a Worldwide Audience
CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced that 15 Illinois companies will showcase their new digital products and services to a worldwide audience at the Mobile World Congress. This week's gathering in Barcelona, Spain is expected to draw more than 72,000 people and will provide an unparalleled opportunity for Illinois companies to find international business leads. This is the first-ever participation by Illinois companies in the international event, and is part of Governor Pat Quinn's agenda laid out in his State of the State address to advance the high-tech industry in Illinois, creating jobs and driving the state's economy forward.
"We have a terrific lineup of companies attending this event, and we look forward to helping them find new customers so they can play an ongoing role in our state's incredibly active digital scene," DCEO Director Adam Pollet said. "As Governor Quinn made clear in his State of the State address, we are aggressively pursuing every opportunity for high-tech business development in Illinois."
The trade mission, led by DCEO and supported by corporate sponsors, is part of Governor Quinn's commitments to nurture the state's technology and innovation economies, increase export sales for Illinois employers and help small businesses gain exposure.
"The Mobile World Congress is a chance for our homegrown companies to shine," Pollet said. "The state and its startup companies have an innovative partnership. The benefits of attending this event will come right back to Illinois in jobs and increased business spending."
The Illinois companies attending the Mobile World Congress include:
004 Technologies Inc. of Champaign, a mobile application developer.
Authentify of Chicago, a pioneer in security applications.
BenchPrep of Chicago, which provides platforms for mobile learning.
Codal Inc. of Chicago, provider of e-commerce solutions.
EpiWorks Inc. of Champaign, a developer and manufacturer of semiconductor wafers.
Food Genius Inc. of Chicago, which tracks data for the food industry.
Georama of Chicago, which serves the travel and tourism industry.
Optulink Inc. of Naperville, which improves capacity of mobile networks.
Pangea Payments of Chicago, a money transfer system.
SceneTap of Chicago, which provides data about bars and restaurants.
Sennco Solutions Inc. of Plainfield, which serves retailers.
SiNode Systems Inc. of Chicago, developer of materials for lithium-ion batteries.
Solstice Mobile of Chicago, which advises large companies on mobile engagement.
Sprout Social of Chicago, which provides tools for social media engagement.
Velocent Systems Inc. of Naperville, which monitors and improves data networks.
The companies in the Illinois delegation were selected after an application process. Financial assistance comes from private sponsors CBRE Inc., Motorola Mobility, GeneXus USA, the Application Developers Alliance, and the State Trade and Export Promotion Program.
Mobile World Congress runs through Feb. 27 and is expected to draw about 1,700 exhibitors and more than 4,300 chief executive officers.
Last year, one digital startup was launched in the Chicago area every 41 hours and venture capital funding increased 169 percent from 2012 to more than $1 billion, according to Built In Chicago. The sector's success is typified by the business incubator 1871 in the Merchandise Mart, where the current or former companies have created more than 1,000 jobs in less than two years. Governor Quinn directed that the state provide early funding for 1871.
Best Windows 8 App This Week: Georama, the Travel Guide
Another week has started and Windows 8 readers all over the world have at their disposal the Windows Store for various tasks or needs. For this week's best Windows 8 app selection we have Georama, a really useful Windows 8 travel app.
A while ago we have written about 10 of the best Windows 8 travel apps that you can found in the Windows Store. Now, for the title of the best Windows 8 app this week we have hand-picked Georama, another really awesome Windows 8 travel app. If you have been using the service before on other platforms, then you are acquainted with this service. So, if you own a Windows 8 device, go ahead and download Georama (download link at the end of the article) and start exploring the world!
One of the best Windows 8 travel apps
Georama helps you discover vacation ideas based on who is going, when you want to go, your interests, and more! Get personalized suggestions on where to travel and explore holiday destinations, places to stay, and things to do – all in one place.
The Windows 8 travel app Georama lets you discover vacation ideas inside a beautifully crafted design. When you will open the app, there will be some featured cities that you will be able to select. Then, you will be able to get a summary of the city, a weather forecast, hotels and hostels, attractions, restaurants, nightlife and shopping tips, as well.
In the "discover vacation ideas" section, you will be able to find your perfect travel location judging by what are you looking for to do – arts, adventure, culture, sport, romantic, nightlife; when you plan on making the trip and with whom are you going to go. If you are not sure, you can even get destination recommendations, as well.
Working out of 1871 has been very beneficial to Georama. Of course the space is amazing, but 1871 is much more than that. My favorite aspect of 1871 so far has been the office hours. Every week having the opportunity to meet with some of Chicago’s most accomplished individuals and experts across various fields has been invaluable. As a result of these office hours, Georama has raised money, brought on incredible advisors, and received volumes of strategic advice.
Recently, 1871 has stepped it up even further. They have been helping connect startups with relevant established corporations to foster collaboration and partnerships. Also, they have been providing startups with exposure to top executives nationwide. A recent example of this was last week, when Chris Kelly, former Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook (who was also a Democratic Candidate for California Attorney General) visited 1871. Apart from giving Chris a tour of the space, J.B. Pritzker invited a few startups to spend some time with Chris and his colleagues. Georama was fortunate enough to be one of these startups, along with WeDeliver and SocialCrunch. We had a really engaging conversation about all 3 businesses and there were even some interesting parallels that emerged. We came out of the meeting feeling great having received validation, feedback, and ideas from such a distinguished group.
1871 continues to increase its investment in helping startups like Georama be successful. To the startups that are already here – let’s make the most of it; and to the new startups out there – I highly recommend considering 1871.
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.
Our mission is to provide savvy travelers with the most powerful tools before, during, and after their trips, making the entire travel process convenient and fun. @georamatravel
Community Decides Top 10 Finalists for First Annual Coolest Startup Award
The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) announced today the Top 10 finalists in the first annual Coolest Startup award in conjunction with the 6th Annual Momentum Awards to be held on October 2nd at Millennium Park.
The Top 10 Finalists are:
Peter Field Custom
“The CEC is thrilled with the community’s response to this exciting new award. With over 5,000 votes for Chicago’s Coolest Startup, it is apparent that there are many incredible companies in our city with loyal users and supporters cheering them on,” said Jim O’Connor Jr., Co-Chairman of the CEC Board of Directors and interim CEO. “We look forward to the next pitching round and who will officially be crowned the winner on October 2nd at the Momentum Awards Gala,” he added.
All ten startup finalists have been invited to pitch on September 12th at 1871 in front of their fans and a panel of judges. Each startup will pitch for 3-minutes, with a 2-minute Q&A to follow. Six finalists will be chosen that night, based on traction/growth, revenue/profitability, team/story, business segment/opportunity, and their presentation. All six finalists will showcase their startup during the Momentum Awards, while the top three will pitch once again to more than 1,000 attendees (who will be live-voting to ultimately crown the Coolest Startup in Chicago).
The 6th annual Momentum Awards will be held on October 2, 2013 at Millennium Park. For more information or to register, visit www.CECMomentumAwards.org.
About the Coolest Startup Award
The Coolest Startup Award is a citywide effort to identify Chicago’s coolest startup and bring greater recognition to the city’s dynamic entrepreneurial community. Nominated companies must be based in Chicago, be less than 3 years old, and have fewer than 15 employees.
About the CEC
The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) is a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurs on their path to building high-growth, sustainable businesses that serve as platforms for economic development and civic leadership. Its flagship project, 1871, fulfills CEC’s vision of a central address for entrepreneurs in Chicago. CEC runs and operates the workspace, develops programming, organizes events and ensures that the culture of 1871 allows entrepreneurs the greatest opportunity for success.
About the Momentum Awards Dinner
The Momentum Awards Dinner is the most important night of the year for entrepreneurship in Chicago, and the biggest celebration of the thriving community of Chicago entrepreneurs. By bringing together Fortune 500 CEOs, leading Private Equity and Venture Capital investors, successful entrepreneurs, educational leaders, and entrepreneurs starting out, the Momentum Awards is a meeting place for the entire community to share success stories and set the tone for the future, all while benefiting the ever-important entrepreneurs that make Chicago great. All proceeds benefit CEC programming and economic development efforts.
How to create unique user experiences and be a rock star startup
I have been working with Chicago-based entrepreneur Nihal Advani for a while now. He is one of the most energetic and positive people I know. Nihal is the founder and chief executive officer of startup Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish and I wanted to give you his insider perspective on the process of launching a digital platform as a young entrepreneur. In exploring the product itself, you can see how Georama strives to create a unique user experience and shines through!
Allowing travelers to plan, book and share their trips, Georama conveniently allows you to explore destinations, create itineraries and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. After inputting your needs, interests and must-haves, Georama sorts through your preferences to find destinations that are a fit. From there, you can plan your itinerary, make bookings and share your trip all in one place.
A year since its public debut, Georama, based in Chicago’s co-working hub, 1871, unveiled a Windows 8 application earlier this month.
Creating unique user experiences
Having seen hundreds of startup apps over the past few months and shipped enterprise products such as Windows 8, Bing and Office 2007, I have a soft spot for high-quality user experiences. Here’s what’s unique:
1. Content-based design
The Windows 8 Georama app has an organic and easy-to-digest flow, which depends on the user’s interactions. The user is greeted with a rich visual landscape of views from all over the world. Content takes center stage! There is an opportunity to explore and also dive into specifics as needed.
2. Do more with less
After I click on the tile that says "Chicago" on the image above, a rich display of neatly organized information presents itself.
Hotels include the hotel star rating on the tile, hostels show user review ratings and attractions are beautifully lined up. As I swipe through, the edges of images peek out revealing there’s more to view and explore.
3. Fast and Fluid
Planning a trip is easy and seamless. The user interface adapts to my inputs and transforms to display relevant information as needed.
The Georama website takes you through a similar flow and also lets you view cities on a map.
Creating unique experiences is a craft and comes from a great support system as well as expertise. Nihal began his professional career as a search media strategist for Microsoft in 2007. Climbing the ranks of the world’s largest maker of software, he was named display program manager in 2010. In this role, he managed the Microsoft Media Network business in the East and Central U.S. regions and served as a liaison between the product and field teams. He built and managed tools for analysis, benchmarking and optimization of search and display advertising campaigns. His wealth of experience and passion for travel served as a fitting impetus to launch his first venture, Georama, in 2012. Here are the five things that Nihal shares to consider when launching a startup and what makes his company work well:
Don’t underestimate how hard it is to fundraise: Fundraising is not an easy job; it takes time and persistence (apart from great traction, team and product). Bootstrap your company for as long as you can and do not expect institutional funds unless you have revenue, especially if you are in the Midwest.
It’s much harder to scale B2C than you might plan for: Try to have a B2B angle in at least a component of your business (Georama has a licensing arm; some implementations of its technology will be featured on other sites later this fall). Having a B2B side might help bring in revenue that could take longer going the B2C route.
Make SEO a priority: Be sure to focus on SEO from the beginning to leverage organic growth and reduce dependence on paid marketing campaigns.
Don’t be afraid of remote teams: The digital age allows for you to utilize the best resources for your project, no matter what the location. Don’t be afraid of this! In addition to a small team in Chicago, Georama has a team of ten in India.
Build partnerships from the get go: Identify companies you can partner with for content, product and more and start building those relationships early. Georama has built partnerships with more than 20 companies, which helps separate itself from the competition.
Discover the best vacation destination for your needs with Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish. Get personalized recommendations based on your travel dates, interests and more in order to plan, book and share your trip—all through one convenient site. Explore destinations, create itineraries and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. Georama received the Best Presenter Award in the technology category of the New York Venture Summit in June 2013 and Nihal Advani was selected as one of the “Top 35 under 35” in the travel industry at the PhoCusWright conference in November 2012. For more information, visit www.georama.com.
Andrew Mason talks immigration reform at Zuckerberg forum in Chicago
Nihal Advani came to the U.S. from India to play college tennis and got a job at Microsoft after graduation, but couldn't get a work visa and had to move to Canada. Craig Ulliot is worried that he'll lose a promising young employee if she can't get an H-1B visa to stay in the U.S. and keep working at his startup.
Such were the stories shared Friday by local entrepreneurs at a panel discussion on immigration reform held by FWD.us, a political advocacy group launched by Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg in April. Its supporters include Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Andrew Mason, the co-founder and former CEO of Chicago-based Groupon, is also a financial contributor to FWD.us.
The immigration reform bill passed the Senate last month and has moved onto the House of Representatives. The legislation seeks to raise the number of annual H-1B visas from 85,000 to 180,000. This visa program was created in 1990 to allow foreign professionals with specialized skills in areas such as science and technology to work in the U.S. for up to three years, with the ability to tack on another three years.
FWD.us is pushing for an expansion in the H-1B program, which its members see as necessary for hiring and retaining high-tech talent.
"We would've loved to have hired engineers a lot faster, but we just couldn't find enough high-quality engineers, and actually that was in many ways our bottleneck to innovate faster, to deliver more functionality for our customers," said Mason, who relocated to San Francisco earlier this summer.
Mason was joined at the panel discussion, held at the 1871 startup hub at the Merchandise Mart, by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.; Match.com CEO Sam Yagan; and several other Chicago-based startup founders and executives. Advani now lives in Chicago and runs a travel startup called Georama, while Ulliot is the chief technology officer at digital loyalty startup Belly.
The proposed expansion of the H-1B program is a contentious issue in the U.S. technology sector. Many Silicon Valley companies say they need foreign engineers to fill a gap of homegrown talent, while labor unions and other critics say the H-1B visa holders are taking jobs from skilled American IT workers and keeping wages low.
The panelists on Friday were united in their support of passing the immigration bill. When an audience member, who identified himself as a University of Chicago-educated network engineer who's looking for work and frustrated because "Silicon Valley millionaires" are biased toward young workers, none of the speakers volunteered a response.
On the sidelines of the event, however, Foster addressed the issue of competition between foreign and domestic workers, saying the creation of high-tech jobs for skilled immigrants tends to beget more such positions. He also urged tech startups to examine ageism, which he described as "a continual worry."
Mark Harris, the president of the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition and the moderator of Friday's event, said that in 2011, 2,700 high-level specialists were unable to get work visas after graduating from Illinois institutions. More than 40 percent of Illinois students with masters and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering or math disciplines are temporary immigrant residents, he added.
Georama founder Nihal Advani is used to working 11½ hours apart from his team.
From working in bed to conferencing behind the stroller, work-life balance can be a struggle. We’re asking Chicago business leaders how they balance their careers with, well, everything else. Welcome to “Day in the Work/Life.”
Since incorporating travel recommendations site Georama in 2010, Nihal Advani has spent his days getting the company off the ground. That’s also how he’s spent his nights.
Because most of Advani’s team works out of India, his workday ends (yes, ends) around 4 a.m. The overseas team is separated by an 11½ time difference, so he’ll nab a few hours of shuteye before getting up around 9:30 a.m. to head into tech incubator 1871, where Georama’s domestic operations are based. The company officially launched last summer.
The 28-year-old credits college tennis with preparing him for a sleep schedule that would violate the Geneva Convention. The entrepreneur played at University of Arkansas before transferring to State University of New York Stony Brook. “My coach would make us practice at 5 a.m.,” he says. “[I’ve been] used to 4 hours of sleep for a long time now.”
After he rolls into 1871, Advani touches base with the team in India if they’re up late working, then gets rolling with his staff of two full-time and three part-time employees (one of whom is his fiancée, who handles the company’s social media presence). Lately, he’s been splitting his day up between raising capital and licensing the technology to airlines, hotels and other sites. “In the morning, usually I’ll take a look at some fundraising stuff, do some investor research [and] follow up with people.”
For lunch, Advani and co. hit up the Merchandise Mart food court, where work talk is (sort of) prohibited. “You need to switch off for a little while,” he says. He’s currently sweet on Protein Bar-ritos.
By afternoon, Advani’s productive juices are churning. “Because of my cycle, I tend to be most productive in the afternoon just because mornings I’m still waking up,” he says. In the post-lunch hours, he hits up meetings and 1871 office hours, cranks out emails and knocks the important items off his perpetually hefty to-do list.
“The day here ends relatively early because I’ve got that night shift — I can’t afford to make that day shift so long,” he says. “I’ll stop at 6, 6:30 max. That’s when I use my few hours to relax, unwind. Those are my only few hours of life apart from work.”
Evenings are for quality time with fiancée Mischaela, whom he began dating three and a half years ago. “When I first met her, I hadn’t started Georama. I was just at Microsoft and wasn’t doing anything at nights. I had a lot of time.” Six months later, there was a lot less time to be had, but Advani says she cuts him some slack. “She’s a keeper.”
The two hang with their English bulldog, Wimbledon and enjoy Mischaela’s cooking — a little too much. “She’s a real good cook,” he says. “Ever since Georama I’ve put on a decent amount of weight.”
At 11 p.m. his day begins again. “My productivity at night is insane. It’s in the evening where I finally have this laser-sharp focus. Because of that cycle, I’m just better at night. It’s a good and bad thing because I am doing a lot of work at night—bad because I wish I could have more time in the morning.”
It’s nobody’s idea of a perfect schedule, but Advani what he was getting himself into. “If you’re in the startup world, you need to know very well that this is how it’s going to be,” he says. “It’s not ideal, but be sure to know that you love what you’re doing. If you don’t, you can’t really have this kind of lifestyle. Having the passion for the business is what will allow you to keep sane.”
New in Chicago is just that: a listing of ventures getting off the ground in and around Chicago.
Crain's contributor Robert Loerzel brings you news of fresh local startups every Tuesday.
Georama: Based in Chicago, Georama.com launched last year, helping travelers come up with ideas for vacations and to plan, book and share those trips. Last week, it introduced a Windows 8 mobile app. “The Georama application will focus on helping Windows 8 users find the perfect vacation for them,” founder and CEO Nihal Advani says in a news release. The app suggests vacation destinations based on how users answer questions about themselves and the sort of experience they want. The company says it plans to introduce versions of the app compatible with other mobile devices in December.
Georama Wins “Best Presenter” Award At New York Venture Summit
Chicago, Il. – Georama (http://www.georama.com), a travel planning website that helps travelers find vacations and plan, book, and share them, announces that its founder and chief executive officer, Nihal Advani, received the award for “best presenter” in the technology category of the New York Venture Summit on June 18, 2013. Georama, selected as one of the top 50 top innovators, attended and presented at the 13th annual New York Venture Summit last month. This premier industry gathering, created by youngStartup Ventures, connects the nation’s top startups with an exclusive audience of venture capitalists, investors, and strategic partners.
"I'm excited to be part of such a prestigious event and even more thrilled to receive the award for best technology presentation,” Advani said. “As Georama continues to gain momentum, this marks an incredible milestone for the company.”
Prior to the New York Venture Summit, Advani has traveled coast to coast to appear at various notable conferences this year; his first stop was the Venture Summit West in Mountain View, Calif., in February 2013, in which Georama was also one of the 50 top innovators. Launched as youngStartup Ventures’ inaugural annual summit on the West Coast, the engagement attracted more than 40 top tier venture capitalists, corporate venture capitalists, and angel investors to speak on key issues facing investors and startup CEOs alike.
Additionally, Georama earned a spot on the top innovator list for the InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum that took place in Kansas City, Miss. in April 2013. InvestMidwest, a venture capital conference, showcases 40 to 45 Midwest-based companies that focus on three key industry tracks: life sciences, technology, and food/agriculture/bioenergy; more than 300 attendees gathered at this forum, including investors from top venture capital firms.
Following the New York Venture Summit, the award-winning Advani, who was also selected as one of the “Top 35 under 35” in the travel industry at the PhoCusWright conference in November 2012 also won the "Pitch Your Business" Venture Capital Competition at the Asian American Business Expo on June 29, 2013 in Chicago. Advani can be seen next at the upcoming Succeed Faster conference on July 20, 2013 in Chicago.
Advani began his professional career as a search media strategist for Microsoft in 2007. Climbing the ranks of the world’s largest maker of software, he was named display program manager in 2010. In this role, he managed the Microsoft Media Network business in the East and Central U.S. regions and served as a liaison between the product and field teams. Advani built and managed tools for analysis, benchmarking, and optimization of search and display advertising campaigns. His wealth of experience and passion for travel served as a fitting impetus to launch his first venture, Georama, in 2012.
Discover the best vacation destination for your needs with Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish. Get personalized recommendations based on your travel dates, interests, and more in order to plan, book, and share your trip – all through one convenient site. Explore destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. For more information, visit www.georama.com.
The CEO of Georama, Nihal Advani, says that he's most excited that his company is set to disrupt the travel industry and that in doing so, he has the support of Microsoft. The company recently launched a Windows 8 app.
According to Nihal, who spent five years at Microsoft in several roles, "Georama’s mission is to provide savvy travelers with the most powerful tools before, during, and after their trips, making the entire travel process convenient and fun."
BizSpark: Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
Nihal Advani: I’m Nihal Advani – Founder & CEO of Georama.
BizSpark: What did you do before creating your company?
Nihal Advani: Prior to Georama I was at Microsoft for 5 years. My first 3.5 years I worked in multiple roles across Search (Bing/adCenter) like Strategist, Account Manager, Business Analyst, and Sales Specialist. In my last role at Microsoft I was on the Display advertising side as Program Manager for the Microsoft Media Network.
BizSpark: In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:
Nihal Advani: Georama is a one-stop solution that lets travelers plan, book & share their trips on a unique interactive map. It’s visual, immersive & fun!
BizSpark: How did you get the idea for your company?
Nihal Advani: While traveling for tennis tournaments (I used to play competitive tennis) and for leisure with family (we are big travelers) I felt the pain of having to go to several different sites to plan trips. I saw an opportunity to streamline this process as well as make it more visual – and that’s how the Georama journey began.
BizSpark: Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
Nihal Advani: I put in about $200K into the business and we raised an additional $300K last year. We are currently raising an angel round of up to $500K.
BizSpark: How many employees do you have? How many developers?
Nihal Advani: We have 20 people working on Georama – 15 full-time and 5 part-time. We have 10 developers.
BizSpark: Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
Nihal Advani: Yes, we are looking to hire an additional Design/UX person in the near future. The position will be based in Chicago, in our headquarters at 1871 – an awesome co-working space for startups.
BizSpark: Which platform are you building on? Why?
Nihal Advani: Georama is built on the web. We also recently launched a Windows 8 app. We are now working on an updated website as well as mobile apps.
BizSpark: Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Nihal Advani: There are tons of opportunities. Personalization based on big data is one I’m particularly interested in.
BizSpark: What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
Nihal Advani: I think BizSpark is an awesome program. Getting tons of free stuff and additional help & support is great for startups. We have had incredible support from our startup evangelist partner at Microsoft (Sonal Mane) and are very grateful.
BizSpark: Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
Nihal Advani: Identify a problem in an industry that you are very passionate about, go after it with everything you have got, and be persistent.
BizSpark: Who’s your role model?
Nihal Advani: Bill Gates is someone I have looked up to for a long time. While at Microsoft I had the honor of hearing him speak in person at company meetings and he is truly inspiring. Not only is he a great product visionary, he built one of the world’s largest technology companies from scratch, and is now doing an amazing job at giving back.
BizSpark: What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
Nihal Advani: Georama is on its way to disrupt the travel industry and is excited about its alignment with Microsoft.
Microsoft's CEO: Chicago needs startup growth anchor
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.
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!
How to Market on Facebook, From the Best in Chicago
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.
Best Use of Facebook: Georama
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.
High hopes: meet a start-up that aims to be the 'Apple of travel'
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.
Georama Experimented with 30 Student Employees--and Came out on Top
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 Cleversafe has 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."
Georama Launches World's First Map-Based Online Travel Platform
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.
Georama's Map-Based Travel Search Service Goes Live
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.
Travel on a Map -- Georama Takes an Interactive Approach to Re-Imagining Travel
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.
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."
Above: Georama founder and CEO Nihal Advani
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.