Spotted by Locals celebrates Local Heroes

Spotted by Locals is a website offering travel tips from local residents of 22 cities in Europe. It's run by Dutch husband and wife team Bart and Sanne van Poll who got the idea for the business when they started using local blogs as sources of travel information. The company uses a network of local "spotters", all of whom are vetted by Bart and Sanne in person. What makes Spotted by Locals special is the quality and "insider" feel of the information. Lonely Planet awarded the site best group authored blog in their 2009 blog awards.

I live in Amsterdam and the suggested spots there include several of my own local haunts (See Stientjes and De Nieuwe Anita) which are not listed in any travel guide. I even found a suggestion for a monthly flea market I had never heard of before. In fact, 30% of all Spotted by Locals users are locals themselves.

The business model is a combination of advertising, re-publication of the content and some revenue-sharing deals. Currently the company is self-funded. Competitors are mainly other local travel blogs and user-generated content like Trip Advisor. The sort of information offered by sites like Spotted by Locals is complementary rather than directly competing with the mainstream travel guides.

TheNextWomen talked to co-founder Sanne about launching the business.

What were you doing workwise before Spotted by Locals?

I have no background in the internet-industry at all. Before starting Spotted by Locals I ran a one-woman consultancy firm advising companies about the health and working conditions of their employees. I sold that company in 2008 and at the same time Bart quit his job as a consultant in the Internet industry. Since then, we’ve both been working full-time on Spotted by Locals.

What has the transition been like?

I was an entrepreneur before, but working in the Internet industry is so different! Now I spend a lot more time behind a computer screen. I was used to walking around and talking to people all day, so that was a big change. Another big change is that I get the opportunity to travel about half of my time. An important part of our concept is that we meet all our bloggers ("Spotters") in person. In the last one and a half years, we've met hundreds of really interesting and enthusiastic people in the 22 cities we've visited. We selected 120 of them to write for us.

The Internet industry is a fascinating world to work in. So much changes so fast! I have really learned a lot and I'm sure the future will keep surprising me.

What's the biggest problem you encountered in getting the company off the ground?

One of our biggest challenges was finding enough Spotters in all the cities we wanted to visit. In the beginning, this was quite hard. These days we get Spotter-applications every day, from people all around the world, but right now we're focusing on Europe.

What advice would you give other budding female entrepreneurs?

To all aspiring entrepreneurs in general, I'd say if you have a good plan, just do it! It's fun and you will learn a lot about yourself. Europe could use many more entrepreneurs.

What's your biggest ambition for the company?

Next year we want to grow to 50 cities in Europe. Also we plan to organize a big get-together for all our Spotters in Europe in 2010. I'm really looking forward to that!

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