The most advanced DIY travel itinerary planner

Many of you know we have been quietly working on our first full-function Pebblar mobile apps. Well, I am excited to announce that we have finished them! Both iOS and Android versions are now available for download.

This marks a major milestone for us as it is the only itinerary planning app available where you can build, edit, and track itineraries for any type of trip with as much detail as you’d like.

For our fellow DIY travelers, it means you can now plan and update a full itinerary on the go!

So this is how Pebblar mobile app works:

  1. Add your cities and city dates
  2. Add your wishlist of places under each city (restaurants, hotels, sights, activities, events etc)

  3. Date each saved place to your itinerary

  4. Preview your itinerary (in either list or map view) and you are done!

We are very excited to finally unveiling this as we truly hope this will completely change the way we plan our customized travel itineraries. We would to get your feedback! 

Until next time,

Nan 

How do I plan a travel itinerary?

I have seen many people on Google and Quora asking How do I plan a travel itinerary?

For example (source: Google search):

Based on what I have read, everyone I have talked to and my own experiences, I think most DIY travellers’ trip planning process looks somewhat like this:

  1. Pick a general direction (e.g. a country or specific region)
  2. Do your pre-trip research – which cities/towns to hit, what is there to do, where to eat and stay etc
  3. Put together a wishlist and pin them on a map
  4. Work out how long it takes to travel from A to B and how long you need for each place and sort these details into a day-by-day itinerary
  5. Once you can confirm your travel dates, book everything or at least the key items (e.g. flights, hotels, the must-go sights and restaurants).
  6. Save down booking details and documents and keep fine-tuning your wishlist and trip itinerary

*Sometimes some people book their flights and hotels first then work out the details which is perfectly fine too.

So how does Pebblar make your planning process easier?

Disclaimer: we don’t do offer content or booking. There are already many well-established platforms for recommendations, reviews and booking e.g. Instagram, Youtube, Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, Expedia, Kayak, Skyscanner, the list goes on, plus the good old fashioned family and friends! We really don’t think people need another platform.

Step 3, 4 & 6 is where we come in. So basically, Pebblar is your one master tool to store and share all your trip research, booking details and itinerary!

With all the technological advancements we have today, most DIY travelers are still switching between Google Maps and Microsoft Word. It is messy and inefficient. It is even worse with group trips when you have to collate everyone’s inputs and keep everyone updated, especially if it involves people from different parts of the world.

Pebblar has combined the core functions of Word and Google Maps into one collaborative map-based workspace, so you and your friends can now map out all your trip ideas and create a detailed itinerary in one place and in real-time. Then, when people are on the trip, all their trip information would be in one place (Pebblar mobile apps) accessible anywhere even without internet.

Coordinate anywhere, with anyone, at anytime

Hi Everyone!

Sorry we have been so quiet over the last few months, we have been busy working on some very exciting new functions.

As you all know, Pebblar’s goal has always been to become the tool for anyone who likes to plan their own trip itineraries – no matter the trip type or how complicated they are. Over the last couple of months, many of our users have emailed us and told us that they have been looking for a tool just like Pebblar. There is simply nothing more rewarding than that.

While we continue to make Pebblar faster and more stable, we also want to take it one step further – real-time collaboration no matter how many people are travelling together or where they are in the world.

I still remember the old days when I used to get together with friends to map out our trip on a big paper map (like the picture below). It was always a lot of fun.
 

Nowadays, with friends and family all over the world, it is hard to get everyone in the same room. We want to recreate that same “in-person” planning experience, even if people are not in the same place or even time-zone.

That is exactly what we have been quietly working on in the background – group trip planning in real-time. With the help of cloud infrastructure, you and your friends can now collaborate on Pebblar no matter where they are in the world.

As part of our real-time collaboration capability, we have planned a suite of real-time collaboration functions, including:

  1. Trip Buddies’ online status (already available);
  2. Multi-user real-time editing (already available);
  3. Real-time notification (to be released in late June/early July); and
  4. Real-time commenting under each city place (to be released in early July)

We firmly believe that planning a trip isn’t the painful part, the painful part is having to use Excel. While most existing “trip planning” tools chose to focus on automation and suggested itineraries, we want to focus the DIY travelers and give them a place to coordinate any place, with anyone, at anytime.

Happy New Year 2019

A belated happy new year everyone!

We hope everyone had a good break over Christmas. We had an awesome Christmas having reached our first major milestone – we made our first revenue! A huge thanks to our first set of paying users. Your endorsement really means the world to us.

Now, our second exciting announcement – we have just released a significantly upgraded iOS app with these following new functions:

a. Itinerary Map View (can be found under “Tools”)

         

b. Local language addresses for the most popular Asian regions including Tokyo, Korea, China, Taiwan and Thailand, so you don’t need to look them up separately when you are on the trip!

c. An “Enlarge�� address button so you can show the address to drivers   

d. A download button to download your itinerary including all photos and documents for offline access

Many of these functions were suggested by you (our users) and we have been quietly working on them behind the scenes. Now they are finally here, we are dying to hear what everyone thinks.

Lastly, with our near-term planned upgrades completed for our iOS app, we are going full-steam ahead on our Android app which hopefully won’t be too long now. For all our Android users, thank you for your patience.

Until next time,

Nan

Check out our recent interview with Phocuswire

Full interview can be found here: https://www.phocuswire.com/startup-stage-pebblar

Pebblar offers travelers a visual workspace to map and create itineraries. Think the functions of Microsoft Word and Excel, plus Google Maps, all in one collaborative, cloud-based software for leisure or business travelers.

Pebblar CEO and co-founder Nan Zhou is quick to note Pebblar is not your standard trip planning service. For one, it steers clear of offering recommendations; rather, it focuses on amassing map and logistics data.

Q: Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.

Pebblar is a collaborative software for DIY itinerary planning. Our mission is to have everyone in one visual workspace to map and create their next itinerary.

In creating our software, we used a number of different technologies:

1. The planning interface has a live map as the base canvas so you can visualize your whole trip as you plan and not have to Google Map everything separately.

2. The entire software is cloud‐based to enable real‐time content creation, auto-save and group collaboration.

3. On top of the standard “direction” function, our iOS app is also augmented reality‐enabled, which means we can literally “show” you the way to your itinerary places.

Q: What inspired you to create this company?

Pebblar co‐founders are all big travelers, and to various degrees we all like to plan beforehand. Like most people, we had to use multiple applications (Excel or Word, plus Google Maps) just to plan one itinerary. It was frustrating going back and forth between Excel and Google, not to mention all the copying and pasting.

We thought: Why don’t we just combine the two, so we did! Pebblar is essentially a notepad and a live map combined into one.

Q: Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.

Our strength is definitely our super easy‐to‐use interface, which lets you map trip ideas and create a detailed itinerary all on one live map. It automatically syncs all necessary details (including addresses, phone, website and opening hours) and calculates multimodal travel times.

We have some very exciting opportunities. After acquiring over 10,000 registered users on our prototype without paid marketing, we now also have a number of business users trying out our software. Our first business user is a United States Fortune 500 fashion retailer that uses Pebblar to plan its periodic buying trips. We are also seeing other business use cases appearing on our platform, which is very exciting for us.

Our biggest challenge is definitely convincing people to switch from the current Word/Excel/Google Maps combo. Habits are hard to change, so it is our job to make sure that our tool is many, many times better than the existing option, so much so that people are not only switching over but also willing to pay for it.

Q: What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?

From the customer perspective, before Pebblar was created, if someone wanted to map and plan a detailed itinerary (for holiday or work), they did not have a proper tool to use.

From the travel industry perspective, given the group nature of travel, it is about time we have a cloud‐based collaborative software dedicated to itinerary planning.

The one thing we are certain of is that in the future, people will not be using Excel to plan itineraries. There needs to be a special‐purpose tool to fulfill this void. We have definitely taken a very firm first step in addressing that void.

Q: So you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?

The one advantage of being a itinerary planner is that most of the time, people don’t travel alone. This is true for both personal and business trips. So a significant portion of our users are actually “invited trip buddies.” In addition to that, a lot of our users also come from word‐of‐mouth referrals.

Q: Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.

Before our current commercial interface, we actually had a prototype that was created based on our own personal use case. We made it available for people to use for free because we wanted to see if there are others like us. Two years later, we had accumulated more than 10,000 registered users and 15,000 trips.

We have watched hundreds of hours of user sessions and exchanged countless emails with our users. What we have learned from these early adopters helped us answer these three very important questions:

1. What is the most intuitive and natural itinerary planning process so we can make onboarding easy?

2. Where are their biggest pain‐points?

3. What kind of trips are being planned using Pebblar?

In understanding the addressable market, the third question was particularly interesting to us. Pebblar was initially intended for personal trips, then we noticed people started using Pebblar for work.

This is when we realized this pain point is actually an even bigger issue for business itinerary planning because not only do business travelers need their itineraries planned out beforehand in detail, but they also travel a lot more frequently. This gave us the confidence to launch our commercial interface.

Q: How and when will you make money?

We graduated from the free prototype a couple of months ago and launched our fee‐charging commercial interface. We generated our first revenue earlier this month.

We offer everyone a one‐month free trial, and after that, if they want to keep using Pebblar, they have two simple payment options: $10 per itinerary or $9.95 per month for an unlimited number of itineraries.

The former is designed for those who use Pebblar to plan their two to three big trips a year, while the latter is tailored towards business users.

Q: What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?

Between John (our technical co-founder) and I, we each have over 10 to 15 years of professional experience in either technology or business, so we are very used to high-pressured business operating environments and understand how hard it is to build a real product and business.

We are also big travelers ourselves, so we have first-hand understanding of this pain point.

Q: What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?

The most difficult part is definitely building the team. We want to gather a group of people who are not just smart and technically capable but also passionate about solving this particular problem and work well together. One by one, we are growing our Pebblar family.

Q: Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact ‐ so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?

I think this statement is probably even more true for our space ‐ “trip planning.” There have been many dead or dormant “trip planning” startups before us. We are definitely not the first to realize planning itineraries in Excel is inefficient.

So, what makes us the “lucky one”? I think it comes down to two key things.

Firstly, we don’t offer recommendations. While most of of the other trip planning startups went down the path of suggested itineraries or recommendations, we made a point of completely staying away from that. We wanted to stay disciplined and focus on the core pain point – the lack of a proper “tool.” Being “content‐free” also meant no content bias, so Pebblar’s use case goes beyond just casual travelers.

Secondly, timing. As for all things, timing is important. To create an effective collaborative itinerary tool, we need access to affordable cloud infrastructure as well as comprehensive map and logistics data. Over the last couple of years, we saw significant improvements in both areas, which enabled us to create Pebblar without compromise.

Q:What is another major tech trend you are also echoing?

As people get used to the idea of working together in real time, we are seeing a wave of collaborative tools being introduced from accounting, design, project management and communications. So far, most of the collaborative tools have focussed on team communication and project management.

I believe we will see more collaborative tools being created, for all kinds of purposes. Given the group nature of travel, there has to be a better way to collaborate than sending around a Word doc or spreadsheet. Pebblar is the first‐of‐its‐kind collaborative software to focus on itinerary planning. More specifically, it is one of the first collaborative maps where people can mark and plan a detailed itinerary together.

We are back

We are back – with a major development update!

Okay, so we’ve been really quiet on the blog front for the last half year. This is because we’ve been super busy delivering our commercial platform!

In late August we “graduated” from our prototype and launched our commercial platform – super exciting(!!!) but also super stressful and busy for the team.

Our new user interface is the result of two years of accumulated learnings including feedbacks and suggestions from many of you. So, I want to take this moment to thank all of our early adopters (you know who you are!).

We have rebuilt our entire platform from the grounds-up with new advanced functions including color-categorising and pro-quality PDF.

Now, we had to find a way to eventually make pebblar financially self-sustaining. There are two general approaches to this being either to (1) provide the platform for free to users but charge third parties to access our users and advertise on our platform; or (2) charge our users a small fee directly with no third parties involved. Given our belief that data security is really important in today’s world and that our users should feel that their data is safe when creating their itineraries, we naturally defaulted to option (2).

After many conversations with our power users, we decided on a super simple pricing structure to address different use-cases:

US$10 per itinerary (suitable for casual travelers who like to plan ahead in detail)

US$9.95 per month for unlimited number of itineraries (suitable for frequent travelers or business purpose users)

The launch of our commercial platform marks the beginning of our journey. We still have much to learn from our users and many new features to deliver. So, bear with us and stay tuned! 😊

A great start to 2018

Happy new year everyone!

Hope you’ve all had a great break over the holiday period – we’ve had a busy yet surprisingly productive December!

Firstly, we would like to welcome Ming into the pebblar family. Ming is a highly experienced full stack engineer and just one of many who will be coming on-board over the next couple of months.

We’ve also made significant progress towards taking pebblar beyond leisure travel planning and into the big scary world of business!

Whilst up until now pebblar as a tool has focused on leisure travel, the end game is to become the “go-to” software for the planning and creation of itineraries for every type of travel and events.

So, imagine our excitement when we were asked by a corporate trip coordinator to develop a set of advanced features to help solve their real world business requirements!

We delivered a prototype of these enhanced features before Christmas and we’re really excited with this new direction. Hopefully, you’ll be able to try out these features really soon!

We’ve also seen a substantial step-up in new sign-ups on our platform in recent weeks and received an increasing amount of user feedback and engagement. This really means the world to us. We’re encouraged by the fact that many of the user requests we receive are already part of our product road map – it means we’re not too far off the right track *fingers crossed*.

It really has been an exciting start to 2018 and we can’t wait for you all to try out all the cool interface upgrades we’ve been working on!

Until next time,
Nan

Challenges and opportunities

November was the second month of our pebblar journey and things are moving ahead faster than we had expected! So many moving pieces!

Firstly, getting the boring stuff out of the way. After a painful 10 week long approval process, we finally got our HSBC business banking account!. We could not believe what an arduous process this seemingly simple task was – but I guess we weren’t the only ones.

The really exciting development last month was the realisation that pebblar may be able to solve some real life pain points for businesses too. As some of you may know, I personally email each and every new pebblar user. It turns out one of our users (from a very well known fashion house) was trying to use pebblar to organise work trips.

After some very insightful conversations, we realised there was an opportunity to bring pebblar into businesses. So, working in collaboration with her and her team, we have started to develop an enterprise version of pebblar – stay tuned for some exciting announcement in the coming weeks!

We’re really excited to work directly with a business end-user to create a product that potentially fulfils a real business need. While this is super exciting, it also brings with it quite a few new challenges, with the main one being having sufficient technical resources to keep up with so many product development streams. To address this, we have ramped up our recruiting initiatives and we hope to welcome new members into the pebblar family soon (and please contact us if you know of any good developers passionate in travel).

Bring it on and until next time,

Nan

Our first month

As we put the finishing touches on our very first monthly investor update, it reminded me: we just survived our first month.

Something that every startup team can relate to: the to-do list never gets shorter, a lot of them are things you would have never done before, and the only way to work through it all is by being organised and pace ourselves. So for our first month, our focus has been on the following three key buckets (not in any particular order):

  • The boring (but unfortunately important) things like finalising our legal documents, applying for a business bank account (which we have discovered is now a very long and painful process in Hong Kong), and setting up an accounting system;
  • The more fun stuff like working with our new UX/UI designer to design a brand new website landing page that better reflects the spirit of pebblar going forward – simplicity and utility; and
  • The super exciting work of finalising the design for our very first full app (pebblar 1.0) and getting the development process started! We definitely got our work cut out for us as we work towards a pre-Christmas release deadline.

Unmistakably, our daily lives are increasingly centred around the mobile and it is only logical that we plan our trips on our mobile while sitting on a bus or sitting on the couch watching TV.

Whilst there are plenty of “trip planning tools” out there, almost all of them focus on suggested contents and inspirations (as opposed to simplifying the trip planning process). In addition, almost all of the mobile trip planning apps out there are direct 1-1 conversions of their respective web platform.

Pebblar 1.0 will seeks to streamline and simplify the DIY trip planning process rather than providing inspirations and recommendations.

Pebblar 1.0 will not be a simple conversion of our desktop tool but rather a mobile app designed from the grounds-up for mobile trip planning.

In designing pebblar 1.0, we are following two guiding principles with the uttermost discipline:

SLC not MVP.

There have been many articles and discussions on MVP (Minimum Viable Product) vs SLC (Simple Loveable Complete). As a team, we didn’t wanted pebblar 1.0 to be a MVP with lots of half-baked, incomplete features, we wanted to deliver a SLC – a purposefully simple, genuinely useful and function-wise complete product that delivers true utility.

To put it simply, we rather give people the best skateboard there is rather than a crappy car that falls apart.

Source: Hackernoon (https://hackernoon.com/mindset-change-mvp-vs-slc-d087a7f87be3)

Utility. Utility. Utility. (pebblar translation: Simple, Practical, Useful.)

Our core focus is on delivering real utility to our users. So, with every function we include or not include, we always ask ourselves (and each other): is this something useful to a DIY trip planner on the go? How is that need being fulfilled right now?

We want pebblar 1.0 to be a truly practical and useful trip planning app but still simple to use.

So, for all the DIY travellers out there, who don’t want automated “inspirations” and actually enjoy the process of working out what to do, where to eat and what to see, we have designed pebblar 1.0 specifically for you. We hope to enable you to create your own unique trips with your own notes anywhere you are, with ease.

The pebblar story starts today

As most of you may know, up until now, pebblar has been somewhat a hobby project for Andrew and I. The journey started a couple of years ago out of pure frustration with having to use excel/docs/email to plan trips.

Over the last several months, we have reached a crossroads – without any paid marketing, pebblar now has almost 3500 subscribers and that means Andrew and I had a decision to make – keep pebblar as a side project or go out there and really have a go at making this tool which we both love and now rely on for our travels into a real business. After months of brainstorming on the possible paths forward, we chose the latter.

Deciding to have a real go at this wasn’t a decision we made alone – we have tested the water with friends who are users and/or potential investors with a business proposal we have spent almost half year to put together. The amount of support and positive feedback we received was both overwhelmingly encouraging and humbling.

We wanted and needed outside validation so we decided to do an angel round capital raise. We reached out to close friends who we knew, aside from their financial support, would also be great mentors and partners on this long and difficult journey we are about to embark upon. The most amazing part of this was, ALL OF THEM said “YES” (one even introduced a new strategic investor to us).

So, I quit my job and ended a 10 year career in finance. In the same week, we found our CTO – a position Andrew and I have kept vacant because we did not want to just hire any one and we knew when the time comes, the right candidate would appear, and he did. Introducing to you all our third founding member: John. Now the founding team is complete.

As most people would tell you, investing in startups, especially early stage startups, it is largely investing in the founders and their abilities to execute and adapt. So, I want to take a moment and thank all of our investors for taking that giant leap of faith to go on this journey with us.

Our official start date is 1 October 2017 and it has been a super busy 10 days – from trying to open a business bank account and being told it is a very difficult and painful process in Hong Kong, working up legal documents while trying to minimize our legal expense, to working on delivering our development goal of releasing our first fully editable app by year end. Things are definitely getting real and moving fast.

While Andrew, John and I are all super pumped, I am not going to lie, it is also a tad scary. It is our first startup and we are trying to create a tool that really has not been done before in a segment of the travel industry where, for better or worse, no one has managed to gain real scale.

So we decided to keep a journal and record every step of our journey – the pebblar story. Different to most development blogs you may have read before, we are not going to write about “lessons learned” or“advice to startups”, we just want to keep a diary of our progresses, keeping it real and genuine. You are all invited to go on this journey with us to read about our challenges and growth first hand and in realtime and if you are willing, share with us your advice and experiences.

Wish us luck!

Nan