Drawing on Skills and Life Experience
Santos is a journalist and doesn’t have a hospitality background, but she considers that an advantage in founding Citycatt. “I don't think the idea for Citycatt would have come about if I was in hospitality,” she says. “Part of why I had an idea so outside of the box was because of who I am and my different roles in life. I'm a mom, I'm a journalist, and I'm an expert. And these three things came together and made me think about the idea.”
Santos also credits her passion for travel. Santos recalls that as a young adult, “I loved traveling to places where I had friends more than going places where I didn't know anybody … because then it just went to another level where I found out that experiencing destinations through that insider view, it was just so much better than trying to find information online.”
In addition, her Brazilian upbringing (she moved to the US 15 years ago) helped make her a gracious host. “My family is spread around the globe. My cousins, my aunts, everybody lives abroad,” she says. “Ever since I was little, we always either hosted family or went to visit family and friends. That's how Brazilians are … I became a passionate host for that reason.”
Finally, Santos’ natural curiosity as a reporter and journalism skills made her a great fit for a startup dedicated to helping people enjoy unique travel experiences that aren’t necessarily in the guidebooks. “I'm always the curious one,” she says. “I'm always trying to explore new places, find out about new cafes, new little museums that nobody hears about, these kinds of things. And I'm always taking people with me to these places when they come to visit.”
Catts With the Inside Scoop
Santos points out the frustrations of conducting your own travel research online. In particular, most websites just steer people to the usual places. “You type things to do in any given destination, and you just find a bunch of prepackaged things,” she says.
It’s possible to find something new, of course, but people who really want help experiencing the local culture and seeing a place from a new perspective often have to dig deep into search results or simply get lucky. “So it just takes a lot of time, and it's supposed to be a fun experience, but it's not. When you're planning trips, you don't want it to resemble work.” Plus, Santos says authentic experiences often target millennials with lots of time on their hands because they require a lot of planning. Time-crunched families are often left out.
Santos set out to fill this hole in the travel market. “What if we could create a community of reliable sources and destinations that travelers could use as resources for planning trips?” She used this question to create a solution. As she recalls, “I applied that very basic journalistic principle to a problem in hospitality, and that's [how] Citycatt came to be.”
In a nutshell, Citycatt’s clients use the service to gather all of their trip ideas in one place. They can even invite their friends to add suggestions and then hire a “catt” (a screened, trained travel advisor who lives in the area where the client is going) to take their trip itinerary to the next level. This means focusing on enriching, safe cultural experiences and activities that are hard to find – let alone plan – by yourself. Catts not only have to be reliable, passionate travelers but also “micro-influencers” in the travel space on social media. When it comes to unique travel experiences where they live, they have to know their stuff.
What’s Next for Citycatt
For Santos and her team, success is “all about the catts,” including the number of times catts reach out to clients every day and the number of new catts brought onto the company’s platform. Of course, service quality is paramount. “We're selling a reliable community of influencers, so if we want to keep being reliable, our onboarding process cannot compromise that reliability,” she says.
Eventually, Santos wants to hire catts from all over the world. That kind of scaling requires careful planning and a critical look at the company’s value proposition. “Anybody can go out there and plan a trip for free, and not everybody has to hire a cat,” she says. “So, that conversion is important to us. How can we attract people to [hire] a catt versus just trying to plan a trip themselves? My ultimate goal is having a catt in every single destination.”