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Tripl’s Play: The Five Guys Behind A Travel Startup Hit The Road, Live The Dream

What happens when a group of young Swedes rent a New York loft for one month to launch their business?

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So far, nine days into their month-long stay here, the Tripl guys’ main frustration has been getting into New York bars.

They’re here to officially launch their startup, which aims to “make travel more social,” and to solidify a next round of investment. But before they can do that, the team, which consists of four Swedes and one American who has lived in Sweden the last two years, are encountering what all travelers face: culture shock.

For Tomas Eriksson, 20, the front-end developer and “baby of the group,” it was the shock of not being treated like an adult. “Two days prior to our flight, we realized, ‘Oh shit, he’s 20, not 21!’” says Peter Sullivan, Tripl’s Brooklyn-born, 26-year-old cofounder (you can drink in Sweden at 18). For Erik Lydecker, 28, a house music enthusiast, the real problem has come from bouncers who keep telling him he can only get into the club if he “has girls” with him. “I said, ‘I come from Stockholm,’” he says, irate at the memory. “’Should I bring girls from Stockholm?’ Then I said, ‘I’m married,’ and he said, ‘I don’t care.’” Even Sullivan, a New York native, hasn’t been able to parlay the group into a lot of bars: “You need to know someone who knows someone,” he says.

The irony here is that Tripl, had it already been live, might have solved some of these problems. “Knowing someone who knows someone” is what the service, which goes live today, is all about. Tripl leverages your group of Facebook friends to help connect people who are traveling. Headed to Dubai for a week? Post your trip on Tripl, and learn whether you have friends-of-friends out there who have been labeled “must meets,” in the site’s parlance. Or maybe one of your friends has identified you as a “must meet” in your hometown of Austin. A Parisian friend-of-friend coming in for South by Southwest might ping you to meet up for a drink, to ask for a place to crash, or simply to solicit advice about where to get the best barbeque. “Couchsurfing I love and have used,” says Sullivan, drawing an obvious comparison, “but the problem is it implies hosting somebody.” Tripl allows you to keep as much or as little distance as you want from a visitor–and it adds a level of familiarity by making explicit exactly how you’re connected to that person.

Sullivan, a bulky guy with a buzz cut wearing jeans and camouflage-patterned Chucks, is standing by a beer-stuffed fridge in a 2,500-square-foot SoHo loft he and the guys have rented through September for eight grand. The place, a sublet from the editor of an art magazine, is decked out with avant-garde works–a collage made from black-and-white Mona Lisa reproductions, a sculptural mountain of bundled books–that are unlikely to have been the sort of thing Sullivan, a recovering frat boy, ever adorned his own room with. Still, he says, “it’s dope,” and “has that ‘New York artist’ feel while we’re here for these guys.” He looks up and down the halls. “This place is saying ‘Throw a party, throw a party…’” he says.

The team wouldn’t have always splurged on something like this. “At some points we couldn’t even afford to buy a pizza,” recalls David Los, Tripl’s Swedish cofounder (pictured below, standing, with Sullivan), adding that the team still draws modest salaries, even after a recent $300,000 funding round. It has been a long journey for Los and Sullivan, who met on the first day of class in 2009 in a Stockholm University master’s program. (“We clicked right away, boom,” recalls Los, snapping his fingers.) Sullivan had learned that you could get a master’s degree for free in Sweden; that plus the prospect of being surrounded by “gorgeous blondes” made the trip a no-brainer, he says. After going on a cruise in 2009 and only making friends on the boat on the trip’s final days, Sullivan got to wondering about a service that connected people while traveling. Sullivan and Los rushed out a product, Vacation Relation, in late 2010, but it floundered.

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“We started getting lots of press,” particularly in Sweden, says Sullivan, “and a bunch of users, but we saw that the main problem for travel startups is that most people don’t travel often–once a year. They go to the site and don’t have a trip, so it’s no use for them. After their trip, it’s also no use for them….We wanted to build something that kept users engaged 365 days a year.” They rethought the site, turning Vacation Relation into Tripl, and adding incentives for non-travelers, those must-meet locals, to stay engaged with the site even in between trips. An inevitable gamification element–earning points for completing various actions on the site–might lead to discounts: 25% off your next hotel stay, or train trip, or the like.

When you register a planned voyage on Tripl, the site asks, “What would you like out of this trip?” So I ask the question of Los, about the team’s sojourn in New York.

“For me I would love to build up our connections with VCs as much as possible, and with travel partners”–hotels, travel agencies, and flight metasearch companies, among others, all of whom might someday be sources of revenue–“and to be able to finalize an investment as soon as possible.” He also wants to “explore the whole city,” he says, and feel out “how would it be to live here.” Though first incorporated in Sweden, Tripl has plans to be based largely out of New York, ultimately treating Stockholm as a pool for talented developers. “It’ll be much easier to recruit them if you sell them the American Dream,” says Los with a smile. “New York is New York.” Why not San Francisco? The East Coast is closer to Sweden, for one thing; for another, says Los, “You don’t find the headquarters of Hilton in San Francisco. You find it in New York.”

The guys are mostly working hard in the run-up to the launch, alternating shifts in the apartments’ three beds when exhausted, occasionally popping in a DVD of Entourage. When they’re officially launched, and have a more solid investment, they’ll party.

But not too hard.

“I have my beautiful girl in Sweden,” says Los.

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“Oh look at him, playing it safe!” ribs Sullivan, who also dates a young woman back in Sweden. “In Sweden all the girls are beautiful, but they’re all the same. Walking around New York, it’s, ‘Oh, there’s brunettes who are cute!’ For me, I’ve rediscovered brunettes.”

All the team members are married or otherwise spoken for, except Eriksson, the 20-year-old “baby of the group.” Does he have plans to “discover brunettes”?

He pauses. “I’m about to,” he says quietly, with a smile that animates the thin red scruff on his chin.

“If we can get him into a bar!” says Sullivan.

[Ed. Note: Wanna try Tripl? Don’t mind connecting with Facebook? Then click here. The first 1,000 or so folks to do so get an early try-out.]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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