Get to know a Toronto startup: Coo Boutique
Coo Boutique launched last year with the sole premise of providing luxurious travel options to prime destinations. While that idea certainly has been done before, Coo delivers on what every fiscally sensitive traveler actually wants: cold hard cash (although I do enjoy a mint on a pillow or a cleverly folded origami towel animal as much as the next person).
With a swish business model in place and guaranteed best rates, Coo gets a payback of around 10% from the hotels thru their site and, in turn, dishes 4-7% back to the traveler - and not in cash off your next booking, but actual cash cash. With UK based competitor Mr. & Mrs. Smith offering a similar model (except charging for membership) it's nice to see a Toronto based start-up sharing their profits. And with partnerships with prestigious hotels like Acqualina and Mandarin Oriental, there's exclusive perks just for joining.
I caught up with Tushar Roy, the president of the company, to chat about where Coo fits into the marketplace.
Why did you start Coo?
While on holiday with my wife in India, we stayed at a well-known chain hotel recommended on TripAdvisor. After pretty horrible service (including being sworn at on the phone by staff) I thought that there must be a better way to calculate a hotels worth, not by anonymous people on a website, but by people you actually know and trust.
How do you get the expert advice? You can't possibly check every single hotel yourself.
I do travel regularly and inspected many of the hotels myself. We also have a small army of travel consultants, contributors and editors from several publications that vet the hotels on our behalf. Our collection of hotels is at around 600, and we personally strive to never have it reach higher than 1000. Keeping tabs on quality is our highest priority. Hotels are carefully curated and moderated bringing you the best locations and amenities fact checked by travel consultants, editors and your friends on social media (Facebook). Opting in to share your 'passport' (Coo's term for past bookings) will allow your Facebook friends to see how that boutique hotel was in Cannes, or if the rooftop bar in NYC was worth the wait.
How do you collect points? What are they actually worth?
Membership is free and points are accumulated for booking hotels, at 10 points per dollar spent. Points are also earned for signing up with Facebook, posting a review or adding a recommendation to a city guide. We have a three tier membership, sort of similar to how Air Canada operates their Elite and Super Elite programs. All tiers are free, but the more points you earn, the better the rewards. Our super elite members get 7% cash back.
Who is Coo Boutique aimed at?
Coo is aimed at seasoned travelers who don't have time to sift through the reviews on TripAdvisor or don't trust the word of random strangers on Yelp. If your friends are the jet-setting type then exploit them for their adventures or live vicariously through some of your well-heeled connections.
What are some of your challenges?
Like any start-up, securing capital is a top priority. MaRS has been guiding us through some initial hurdles, but we are still seeking more investors to help get us through the next round of development.
After we get our app (for iPhone and Android) up and running, we plan on making our extensive city guides available to download directly to your device, saving you from expensive roaming charges. Integration with our social platforms like Foursquare is also on the horizon.
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