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US student builds online travel dreams in Sweden

Malin Nyberg · 24 Jan 2011, 11:27

Published: 24 Jan 2011 11:27 GMT+01:00

In 2009, American Peter Sullivan left San Francisco with the goal of receiving a tuition-free masters degree from Stockholm University. Little did he know he would have to close his books to pursue what could be the next big thing in travel social media: Vacation Relation.

Sullivan, 25, and Swedish co-founder David Los, 24, are sitting at their brand new office in Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm.

The rain is falling outside but the young entrepreneurs are smiling, and no wonder; business has been good lately– so good in fact that the two students have decided to take a break from their text books.

“We have to focus a hundred percent on the site now. Things have happened very quickly,” says Sullivan, confirming that a new business wasn’t what he expected from life in Sweden.

“I only came here with the purpose to study and explore Europe.”

However, destiny had something else in store for Sullivan and upon meeting Los at university, he couldn’t help but share a business idea he had had for some time; to build a social network for people about to go on holiday.

“I knew right away that David was an entrepreneur, so I told him about my vision and since then we have been working on Vacation Relation non-stop.”

The thought of a social media travelling site sprung to mind when Sullivan was travelling back in the US.

“I had met some wonderful people on my vacation but it bothered me that I hadn’t met them straight away, right at the beginning of the trip. So, I got thinking,” Sullivan explains.

“And as I continued to travel with friends, my girlfriend and by myself, I realised what a big need there was for a social media travelling platform.”

Unlike other travel communities, Vacation Relation utilises Facebook and LinkedIn to find connections outside people’s normal social circles, but that are going to the same destination at the same time.

“Basically, what we do is introducing new and exciting people that will also be at your vacation. Through this you can find people with similar interests to yourself,” says Sullivan.

Once users have registered their details, they are invited to an event on Facebook that’s shared with fellow travellers and from there, they’re able to arrange meet ups.

While working on their site, Sullivan and Los have been awarded innovation grants and were invited to travel to Arizona in order to participate in PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit where a number of online heavyweights, including Google, were in attendance.

“We have had people show interest in our business from all over the world,” Sullivan reveals, but adds that the site was only able to launch thanks to investment from a Swedish professional poker player and financial support provided by a Swedish government organisation.

“It can be hard in Sweden to get an innovation loan, doing what we are doing, but we were lucky. They play it pretty safe over here, no one wants to be the first to invest, but once you’ve raised capital, people jump on the wagon,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan is also grateful for the support he and his partner have received from Stockholm University.

“We have had some great mentors that have believed in our idea and helped us to develop it. SU has a common workspace where startups can get advice, which is really cool,” he explains

Speaking with the technology news website TechCrunch in conjunction with the site's launch in December 2010, Sullivan jokingly said that he came to Sweden in part for "hot women on bicycles", he has since come to realise the business benefits of being an American entrepreneur in Sweden.

“Sweden is a very tech-savvy place. This is where Spotify and Skype started and look where they are now,” he says.

“At the same time it’s easier to stand out here than back in the Silicon Valley where everyone is fighting for the same things.”

Vacation Relation has had 3,000 trips uploaded since its launch and Sullivan and Los expect the number to keep growing, with more parties getting involved from all over the world. Currently they are doing a campaign with Swedish charter company Solresor.

“Solresor really like what we are doing and we believe that we will have reached 5,000 trips by the end of this month,” says Sullivan.

“Our plan is to influence the social travel market in a way from which the entire travel industry will benefit.”

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Malin Nyberg (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

13:03 January 24, 2011 by pjsullivan3
Thanks for the love! We are continually working on making out service better and will be releasing a bunch of cool new features shortly. We are also currently hiring developers. Check us out at www.vacationrelation.com
19:19 January 24, 2011 by Syftfel
What type of visa does this person have, and is he legally allowed to live permanently, and work, in Sweden? Or did he enter as a "tourist"("student"? and simply decided to stay?
19:33 January 24, 2011 by mojofat
Congrats on raising money.

Doesn't this already exist though? Couchsurfing.org. Another thing is, if it's only matching me up with people I'm already connected to via other social networking sites (e.g., facebook) then wouldn't I already know they're going to be there? Not to mention what are the odds that someone in my network is going to the exact same place at the exact same time...or maybe I'm misunderstanding the service. Anyway, good luck with it.
19:39 January 24, 2011 by pjsullivan3
First off still here on student visa since I am still taking exams.

Couch surfing is nit finding out who else is going to be there. It's linking locals to visitors for home stays. And no it's not connecting you with the people you know. It's letting you find out who else will be there outside your friends but allowing you to communicate through facebook. The odds of having friends at the same place as you are like you said....slim. This let's you meet new people.
23:14 January 24, 2011 by Staffs
Why on earth would one want to go on holiday and then meet somebody from the same place where one has just come from?

Doesn't that defeat the purpose of the holiday, i.e. a break?

Otherwise just hook up in the local park, have a beer and save yourself a flight and hotel charge.

Another fad website that will eventually run out of somebody else's money and not be able to raise more.
23:21 January 24, 2011 by Staffs
A burglar's dream
07:31 January 25, 2011 by mkvgtired
Staffs, they are not just from where you are from. I did a sample search for NYC in February. It brings up people from all over that will be visiting NYC on the same dates. So you dont have to build a new profile, it uses your facebook profile. Being someone who likes to travel I will definitely check this site out before I travel. It also tells you how many of the users are staying in a certain place. By luck when I was in Beijing I stayed in a hostel where I met tons of awesome people (that I still keep in touch with). But as I said it was luck, the next city in China I met one cool person, and in Shanghai not really too many. It would have been cool to connect with travelers before hand and maybe change my hostel to a more fun one in the other cities besides Beijing. I think it is an awesome idea and have it bookmarked.
07:36 January 25, 2011 by jbat
Student visa can study and work here... employ or self employ...

so what happen to you staffs?

sick or what?
08:57 January 25, 2011 by pjsullivan3
Staffs you can meet people from around the world. Sorry your brain is not capable of undetstanding.
10:33 January 25, 2011 by Staffs
You are showing your youth and inexperience now PJ.

I have owned 3 businesses, and sold two of them, the 3rd is still running after 6 years. I would never talk like that to anybody, especially not on a public forum.

You need to take a deep breath and calm down before replying to those who do not quite understand your business.
11:31 January 25, 2011 by jbat
I agree with you staff.. but what you gain from here? Are you happy when someone else down because of you? if not because of your harsh jealous comment, he may not react like that... again. are you happy?

I really don´t understand why you give that such comment above...

Oh yeah.. you own 3 business and sold 2 of them (not profit because of you bad heart?) and another 1 still running.. then what? still running doesn´t mean you get a lot of profit and who care!..

Anyway PJ.. please ignore this jealous sick person and go on with your plan.. I am not American fan.. but i am happy to see other people success and hope you will success!

Your service is really usefull for traveller, for example people going to the same destination may discuss among them what best hotels or transportation they can get (not only to meet up there)... and also very very useful if you already know someone and know where to find them in case of emergency at stranger place...

p/s : maybe someone else using his name trying to help him...
11:39 January 25, 2011 by mojofat
I guess I don't get it. It seems like couchsurfing...except maybe not as good because I can't even stay with the people I meet on this site. I've stayed at loads of hostels and never had any trouble meeting fellow travelers...since, you know, that's where they stay as well. Good luck with it all the same though.
11:41 January 25, 2011 by delfinita
Staffs, He has a project, you have the right to like it or not, but you stated here clearly that its "Another fad website that will eventually run out of somebody else's money and not be able to raise more"

If you dont understand the project, why judge to begin with being all bitter?

I think its a fab idea, specially for all those youngsters that backpack and travel by themselves. I would have LOVED to have something like this in my travels during gap year in uni.
12:03 January 25, 2011 by Staffs
For goodness sake, this is a public forum.

If this young man is going to respond to any kind of criticism with insults then he isn't going to succeed in business.

This comment below from mojofat says it all:

"I've stayed at loads of hostels and never had any trouble meeting fellow travelers...since, you know, that's where they stay as well"
12:51 January 25, 2011 by thomjjames
I've traveled all my through my teens & 20s and although I've never found it hard to meet people, I think it's a nice idea & people will use it, if you can get it out there to the people who want it!

@pjsullivan3 - Good luck with the venture, definitely going to check the site out!!

Cheers

Tom

ps. I'd get out of Sweden before it makes you any cash, the tax won't be nice to you!!
13:58 January 25, 2011 by Kaethar
A lot of hate here I see... Well, it's not for everyone but I like the idea and will be sure to check the site out. Best of luck to the both of you! :)
17:36 January 25, 2011 by BobWas
I had the same thought as in post #6.

If you tell people that you're going to be on vacation at a certain time, then it's an invitation to have bad people break into your house while you're gone. Many people have been robbed while attending a funeral because thieves read the obituaries and target the families of the deceased.

Peter, I wish you well but I think you need to find a way around this or you could land in hot water. Good luck to you.
17:54 January 25, 2011 by JulieLou40
Yep, it sounds well dodgy. And after reading the owner's insulting remarks to somebody on here (post 9 I think it was), I would never use the site anyway.

A real professional would never have said that in a million years!
20:46 January 25, 2011 by mojofat
I just checked it out so I have a bit better sense of what it is about. I'm curious, what is the business model? I think the design is well done and maybe there is a group of people who will be into it...like frat boys going to cancun on spring break or older people. I don't really see people who travel a lot using it though (imho). Why would I set up a meeting through facebook to go have a beer with a stranger? Why wouldn't I either just meet someone at my hostel or meet someone who's actually at the bar. In any case, they're all strangers...but one of them requires all the hassle of trying to arrange a time and a place in an unknown city with unknown people who, like you because you're traveling, probably do not have phones. Maybe just focus on older people. In any case, score as much funding as possible and pay yourselves ridiculous salaries because I don't see this thing going very far.
20:52 January 25, 2011 by babychuma
PJ I'm going on holiday 2/8 and my friend who I was travelling with fell and broke her hand and will not be able to go (she has 8wks of theorpy), well I already had a place rented and air fare so I'm still going, I think this is perfect for me great idea.
20:53 January 25, 2011 by melayu
nothing beats Malaysia Truly Asia...
21:09 January 25, 2011 by pjsullivan3
Mojofat it's about meeting up due to common interest. I surf, snowboard, and like golf. My girlfriend likes non of these. We don't stay in hostels when I travel. I think our solution can tap into many verticals.

@staffs I was just stating the fact that you could not comprehend what we were attempting to do. You clearly missed the objective and wrote a quick comment based on an incorrect judgement.
22:39 January 25, 2011 by solanai
in asmallworld.com you had one of the applications that did exactly the same thing.

It is a side widget called "Members now traveling to ... " and below a list of travelers you could contact.

Few things are really invented nowadays. There are no new systems, just perfecting older ones.
23:09 January 25, 2011 by Just_Kidding
As common with The Local, the title is misleading; the story is not about a virtual or online simulation of a trip in Sweden, but he is going to build a network that helps travelers find friends, specially in countries where the locals are not much interested in interacting and friendship with travelers and tourists.
18:08 January 26, 2011 by calebian22
"The thought of a social media travelling site sprung to mind when Sullivan was travelling back in the US. " Or he saw the website WAYN?
06:27 January 27, 2011 by Marc the Texan
Interesting idea and I think it differs enough from couch surfing and other concepts to have plenty of people interested, but I'm interested in the business model. No mention of it. There is no advertising on the site so far as I can see. I'm guessing the site would sell vacation packages or affiliate market hotel rooms, etc. How about some exposition on that front?
08:02 January 27, 2011 by Dom har glömt
I think it is also an enteresting idea. Professional or not. Who cares. It is the

idea that counts.
08:43 January 27, 2011 by Uggla
The internet is so stupid! What I mean is that there are so many negative people out there that grow balls behind their computers.

So what if the guys that have made this website do live up to your standards, it's their business not yours. If you don't like it don't pay attention to it and move on.

Life is short and the world is full of things you will like and dislike. To come online here just to complain on something someone got off their bums to create themselves is LAME! And a true sign you have nothing more meaningful in your life. What a bunch of jealous turds!

And what kind of visa a person has is NONE of anyones darn business.

Good luck website dudes! Hope life is good to you.
11:43 January 27, 2011 by pjsullivan3
Thanks for the positive responses. In terms of business model we have started to implement affiliate booking system with a social layer on top. We utilize user demographics (but anonymously) and interest on top of a booking system. So you can find the best hotels for couples from Sweden in Palma. We have currently teamed upmwith Booking.com to provide the booking. Another cool feature we have implemented is smart searches. Just type in a destination without dates and we will show you popular dates for that destination. You can do the same with dates and we will show you popular destinations. You can used the filters on the right to find where the most people based on your social preferences are.

For privacy we offer users a limited view of who is going before they actually join the vacation. This means users can see pictures and first names but cannot access communications, last names or facebook profiles without adding themselves.

We have a bunch of things up ou sleeves and this of course is just the basic basic beta we released to work out bugs. Stay tuned to tech crunch and the local for more announcements soon!
21:00 January 27, 2011 by Crocs
Congrats! It's great to see an idea lifting off the ground! Best of luck!!!
20:42 January 28, 2011 by ionut
So this way you can have some random sexual encounter.
22:23 January 29, 2011 by thesinger
Best of luck
13:27 January 30, 2011 by benew123
I am not quite sure about this idea. As the family vacation is most of time is very private and only within the family members, you don't want to socialize with bunch of strangers. Therefore this idea is more likely to appeal to the students or the singles who might want to look for one night stand during the trip.... But anyway, there still might be some market for that, good luck!
18:48 January 30, 2011 by Arturio
Also facebook was a successful copy of myspace.
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