This is another in an ongoing series of interviews LASB is doing with entrepreneurs and investors in Latin America. Today, we’re talking with Aidan Mehmed, co-founder of Citibuddies, an Argentina-based startup that is trying to put people in touch with local knowledge. Aidan, who is originally from Bulgaria, calls it “Pandora for exploring cities.” They are five weeks from launch and currently in closed beta. Aidan tells me that they have 900 early adopters and their base is growing by 176% per month. They are currently funded by two private investors in addition to him and his co-founder, Darja, who is originally from Russia. Aidan told me recently that Citibuddies is currently in the process of applying to Startup Chile.
LASB: How did a Russian and a Bulgarian end up as founders of a tech startup in Argentina?
Aidan Mehmed: We met in Groningen, the Netherlands during my Graduate studies there and the Doctoral studies of Darja thanks to fortunate chain of events. I was at the stage when I was seeking the next big thing to work on and once I heard about the project I was totally up for it. At that time Darja had already started working on the idea and I just joined. We decided to locate in Latin America due to several factors: a) it is a developing market and there is a need for such products; b) the competition is still relatively less than in Europe; c) we had already made some contacts from here prior coming to Buenos Aires and that’s why we decided to take it as a stepping stone.
LASB: Tell us where the idea for citibuddies came from.
AM: The idea came from the fact that we both (me and Darja) are very international and have lived in different cities and travelled quite a lot. While moving back and forward between countries and continents we both came to the conclusion that each time we received the most useful information not from Google, but from people we know or we have met. We also realized that in each place we have been and visited there are things to do and places to go to which few people know about. So at the end we decided to create citibuddies in order to give solutions to problems which we encountered in the past, and to allow everyone to enrich himself/herself with memorable and shared experiences wherever he/she is.
AM: We don’t focus on the travel aspect only. Citibuddies is an online connection platform (with a mobile friendly website) which opens up the ‘doors’ of cities for us, an online social gateway for each city. With this online network we connect people enabling them to re-explore and re-discover their own cities online and offline using a different perspective – the local one. Citibuddies makes an offer for locals (events and activities in a city, people that visit the city and have relevant and interesting info for oneself), as well as for visitors (local activities, access to locals and their expertise in specific areas). Thus you not only save time and money by getting the most relevant info from your buddies, but you also don’t feel awkward or strange anymore wherever you go. Citibuddies is about knowing people from all over the world without any limitations in interacting with them. Thus, we’re not a building a sole booking platform but a community instead.
Each activity, each event offered to you is in line with your tastes and likes. You can easily use the platform to promote you initiatives and gain visibility among communities that are of your interest. Moreover, focusing on Latin America, a market which just started to get discovered by investors and entrepreneurs, we tap into a market where the demand for online and mobile solutions to organize your leisure activities and getting access to subcultures in a city, is still so much higher than the offer.
LASB: How do you plan to make money with Citibuddies?
AM: The business model includes online Ads based on your geo-location, space for promotional content for business partners and margin-based revenue from our marketplace feature local activities. Once we launch our Mobile Apps for smartphones and tablets, we also plan on penetrating the Mobile Ads market. We strive to deliver not only a unique experience via the online network as a service, but additionally help the user to save money and time while doing it and we help our business partners to reach audiences that they cannot reach via facebook or other social networks yet.
LASB: What has been the hardest part of launching Citibuddies? What things do you wish you had known before you started?
AM: We face challenges every day, like any other start-up, and we love them, because we believe they help us grow and become more mature in our journey of creating a sustainable company. One of the hardest parts (next to working virtually together, when I was still in EU and Darja already in Buenos Aires) was the switch to another tech provider in the middle of development. We couldn’t find a common language with the old provider and couldn’t agree on developing the product using the lean start-up methodology (which we think is the only way to get a real MVP), so we had to switch providers, which cost us time, but now is for the better. Every time things were going different than expected we stayed flexible and persistent to make sure that the task gets done and never lost hope.
…And a small commercial announcement from Aidan:
If you want to support citibuddies, please check out our recent crowdfunding initiatives that are supposed to cover launch costs and last development costs (server space and other maintenance) http://www.indiegogo.com/citibuddies and www.idea.me .
We prepared up some great perks for our contributors — like getting the official limited edition citibuddies t-shirts that are being designed in a contest in cooperation with the Buenos Aires based start-up www.t-artdesigns.com or a trip to Buenos Aires during which we cover part of your travel cost and spend few days with us and many more!