Like many of the best startups, Vayable began out of what cofounder Jamie Wong had already doing for free for years. Wong--who had visited over 35 countries and developed a taste for off-the-beaten-path experiences--made a hobby of connecting her fellow wanderlusting friends to unofficial guides she’d found or heard about in remote locales. “I set up a blog because I’d kind of gotten sick of just emailing all these different intros and trying to connect these people,” Wong says. “There was that ‘aha’ moment where I thought, ‘there really should be a platform for this.’”
Enter Vayable, a service that combines the person-to-person business model of Airbnb, the recommendation element of Wanderfly, and the security and safety of old-school travel agencies. Users start by browsing through Vayable’s ever-increasing number of tours, or “experiences,” which could include anything from exploring the jungle with a Fijian prince (pictured) to riding a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park with the Daily Show’s Jason Jones. Each experience is led by one of Vayable’s guides, passionate people who have been vetted through a series of background checks and interviews.
Tong Hat P. of Cambodia
Wong says the mission of Vayable is about more than providing unique experiences to adventure-hungry travelers. It’s also about creating an eco-system of micro-entrepreneurs around the world (like Cambodia’s Tong Hat P., pictured) to help ensure that more money spent on travel goes to local communities and citizens, not big travel agencies. “There are hundreds of billions of dollars spent every year on tourism and travel, and a lot of times they’re kind of sent down the same tunnel to the same tour operators,” Wong says. “That’s not giving the traveler the best experience, and it’s not great for the community either.”
Cycling in Mexico
That spirit of entrepreneurship is also key to Vayable’s ability to scale. Workers will often recruit customers to become guides themselves, allowing Vayable’s network of supply and demand to build organically. “We’re finding that the ecosystem helps it scale itself,” Wong says. “It spreads mostly through word of mouth. We haven’t invested much in marketing or advertising. A lot of our guides will offer a tour and then end up booking another tour as a traveler. And travelers will go and have such an amazing time and realize they have something in their own city to offer.”
Queens, NY tasting tour
Currently, Vayable’s most popular experience is a Queens, NY tasting tour where adventurers sample fare from India, Colombia, the Philippines, and elsewhere with “Jeffrey Tastes,” a self-proclaimed urban explorer. Wong says it’s the individual guides that make their best tours so memorable. “They all have a very deep passion for what they’re doing and they’re extremely knowledgeable,” Wong says. “I think travelers can really tell when someone’s doing something out of passion or out of love versus doing something because they were just hired to fill a position for a summer job. All of our guides are just people looking for a way to make a living off what they love.” In many ways, guides are less like employees and more like small business owners aided and empowered by Vayable’s platform to connect to customers.
Going homeless in San Francisco
Many of Vayable’s tours emphasize stepping into someone else’s shoes for a day. For a $100 donation to a homeless shelter, travelers can spend 24 hours experiencing how San Francisco’s 6,500 homeless people survive on the streets.
Going homeless in San Francisco
Another one of Vayable’s most popular experiences is a scouting tour of San Francisco’s street art. The guide, Russell, says he uses the money he makes from Vayable to redirect tourism dollars toward arts awareness in his community.
Going homeless in San Francisco
Want to see Naples, Italy on a bike? For $55, Gennaro D’s got you covered.
Going homeless in San Francisco
Going homeless in San Francisco
While not all of Vayable’s trips are terribly off-track (Brooklyn Brewery?), its emphasis on social responsibility, its heavily-vetted guides, and its flexible pricing make it an exciting product to watch, serving both adventurous travelers and even long-time residents just looking for something new in their city.

Airbnb For Vacations: Vayable Turns Tourists Into Micro-Entrepreneurs

Vayable's mission is about more than providing unique experiences to adventure-hungry travelers. It’s also about creating an eco-system of micro-entrepreneurs around the world.

[Image: Rafting via Wikipedia]

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