Ah, the blockchain. The travel startup ecosystem around this emerging technology continues to expand. This time, it’s Cool Cousin with a new cryptocurrency named ‘CUZ’ to facilitate transactions between its ecosystem partners. The 16-person startup has created a community of locals that personalize itineraries, with the content being created and curated by the community. These are de-facto local travel agents, who use their local knowledge to help travelers have better trips. The best content brings better trips to travelers, and those ‘cool cousins’ are rewarded.
The ICO, which is set to begin in the coming weeks with a goal of $15 million, is not going to replace fiat currencies on the platform. But it will offer order to its platform, in the sense of providing incentives to its community for verifying content, among other activities. Here’s an edited chat with co-founder Itay Nagler.
Blockchain has become synonymous with buzz. Why did you opt to use blockchain technology here?
We started looking at blockchain as a solution to one of our biggest challenges. Right now we have cousins all over the world.
Right now, each Cousin is verified by our content department. But our department is only 3 people, so we can accommodate 50-150 Cousins a week. This is not easy to deal with, given the number of applications we get.We have a pipeline and one of the issues we are facing is how to remain at the same level of high-quality content and authenticity while scaling up fast.
We have experience with community platforms, so we need a smart way to delegate responsibilities and authorities to the community in order to scale up real fast. Our current Cousins are the biggest lead gen that we have.
We started using blockchain as a way to deliver structure so the community can manage itself. It solves the issue of building a content department internally. And if we delegate to the community they will manage at the same level of authenticity.
Were there not other ways that you could have done this?
Of course, there are other technologies we could use. Or we could say that these are the rules and we won’t break them. But reality doesn’t always meet those rules. If you are caught up with what one client wants, you might manipulate search results. This is a very common thing. We want to avoid this, and make sure that we place all the cards on the table. Everyone is exposed to the rules of the smart contracts and knows how it operates.
But that’s not the only thing about shifting Cool Cousin into the blockchain. The possibility for all community members to pitch in and basically to operate the content, it’s exciting. Let’s say you go into a restaurant and find that the photos aren’t doing a good job at reflecting the vibe. If you upload a better photo, you can get tokens and rewards for the better content.
Yes, you can do it in other ways but this mechanism fits right in. You capture both the incentive part and the visibility part. Everything is transparent and you have no reason to be suspicious about the content you consume.
Building on the blockchain also enables us to separate the company, the professional side responsible for sales, management, marketing, and then the community is a separate part of the platform. It’s only responsible for itself.
It’s exciting and meaningful because the company’s commercial agenda and interests cannot affect the community that is responsible for the content and curation. That’s how we believe we can scale up and design and unbiased platform at the same time.
Trust is one of the biggest issues of large platforms, because as they scale they lose authenticity. Commercial agenda impacts and manipulates the community. The platforms become less reliable and biased. We are designing it to solve these issues and be more confident that we can provide the same level of experience that we provide now, even as we scale.
Tokens are used to incentivize communities across many platforms in the crypto space. How do tokens play into your vision?
The community gets tokens in return for their efforts. The tokens are utility tokens and allow you to participate in the Cool Cousin platform. You are able to acquire services from Cousins all over the world, from making a concierge or having them build you a daily itinerary. Token brings you access to all those different services.
You can also earn tokens by helping the community upgrade the platform, such as translations or improving the content. The mechanism works as follows: for each transaction, there’s a small fee taken from each service paid to a Cousin. Half goes to the company and half goes to the community pool. So when you spread the word and improve the content, you get tokens and rewards and then can use them in the system again. It’s a 100% utility token.
So does this mean that travelers cannot pay in fiat currencies once the ICO is finished and the token is in use?
Eventually, we are going to only use tokens. But we know that most of our current users don’t necessarily know about crypto, we designed the mechanism to make it easy to use and accessible to everyone. People can use fiat but we will make the entire conversion to conversion in the background. So they can use fiat and not just tokens. but the entire process will happen behind the scenes, such as creating the smart contracts.
Will the most popular cousins simply be rewarded more often, leading to a lopsided marketplace on the producer side of the platform?
Our initial philosophy, before I even know how to pronounce the words cryptocurrency, is that there is no one source of truth. We don’t believe that there are the “Ten Best Things to Do in Texas” but the ten best things to do for each different person. According to us, that’s the key to an enhanced experience.
Finding the right person, the right like-minded local, for that local knowledge. Because you have similar interest, there’s the key to a better experience. Ranking and popularity are important as a level of validation to the user but it’s not the actual thing.