• Abhiram Bhalerao

Hapybara



Maximising your adventures by safely connecting compatible travelers


As nations worldwide started envisioning a post- Covid 19 reality, global travel restrictions eased, and countries opened their borders gradually. What followed was a remarkable rebounce of the travel & tourism industry, driven by revenge travel, isolation fatigue & mental health, among other reasons. One of the largest trends driving the travel & tourism industry in 2022 has been solo travel. Testing one’s comfort zone, meeting new people & doing it all on one’s own terms; there have been countless reasons prompting travelers to go solo. Solo traveling has been trending up massively, with 94M recorded solo travelers in 2019-20 in the United States alone, as the travel sector is expected to generate nearly $2T in revenues.

Today, thousands of solo travelers, out of safety and social reasons, look for travel partners online forums & platforms, despite rampant frauds & inefficiencies which accompany these platforms. There is no single solution which serves their needs exclusively and the current alternatives are not good enough. This is what Tram Doman, a former product manager, but more importantly, a travel enthusiast, realized during her solo travels in the summer of 2021.



The Hapybara Story


In the three months on the road, traveling on her own gave Tram the freedom to explore and reflect on new experiences. However, it dawned on her that solo travel is less safe for some than others. Being a solo woman traveler kept her from engaging in certain activities she wished she could have done. Tram remembers seeing missing hiker posters and skipping a couple of adventurous hikes in Hawaii. Tales of violence and death experienced by female solo travelers certainly didn’t help. Carla Stefaniak was killed by an Airbnb security guard, while Vasilisa Komarov was dragged out of her tent to be physically assaulted; both were traveling solo. Although Tram traveled with caution with a few people she met through online forums, hostels, and tour groups, she quickly realized that these solutions are unpredictable (hostels), inefficient (online forums and social networks), or inflexible (tour groups), and don’t eliminate the possibility of fraud. The need for a safe community where like-minded travelers can connect for support and companionship was not felt by her alone. When Tram started business school at Chicago Booth, she met Avery Cai, a former financial services consultant, and a fellow solo travel enthusiast. While reflecting on their travel experiences one night, they shared their inhibitions and safety concerns and realized something needed to be done. Many of their friends had expressed their wish to travel more, if solo travel were made safer. They wished there was a better way to meet new people with the assurance that they would be safe. Carina Lofgren and Stephen Akers, Tram’s undergrad friends and fellow solo travelers with backgrounds in technology, branding and user experience, strongly resonated with the idea and joined the duo. This led to the birth of Hapybara.


Team Hapybara (from left): Avery Cai, Carina Lofgren, Tram Doman & Stephen Akers


The Hapybara Platform


Hapybara’s mission is to maximize your adventures by safely connecting compatible travelers. Hapybara tries to address the real needs of solo travelers, something the incumbent solutions have failed to achieve. Although solo travelers today migrate to travel forums, hostels, and group tours, they have no control over whom they choose to travel with, often with no alignment of personalities, travel rhythm, travel goals and more importantly, no layer of safety & identity verification. Group tours don’t allow for flexible itineraries and there is no guarantee of joining a compatible group. A few apps have attempted to solve these problems, but they share common pitfalls: under-par user experience, unsophisticated algorithms, and insufficient network effects to match travelers successfully. This is where Hapybara wants to succeed, a platform built on two core principles: safety & compatibility.



Safety & Compatibility


Safety: We guarantee “everyone is who they say they are”


Identity Verification: The app uses biometric & an ID document as means of ID verification to avoid fraud and catfishing. This method immediately weeds out bad actors and ensures that everyone on the platform is accountable for their actions.


Optional Background Check: Available with a fee for members who want to further screen others.


Emergency Contact: Hapybara checks-in during the trip to ensure users are having a safe and fabulous experience and informs their emergency contacts of where they are and who they’re with.

Review System: Hapybara keeps their community safe and in high spirits with users’ post-trip reviews. It is committed to taking appropriate actions when needed.


Compatibility: One of the top cited reasons for solo-traveling is to meet new people, and Hapybara is here to remove all friction and make that happen. Once safety is ensured, we further optimize the connections travelers make by matching based on prioritized preferences, including demographic and social identity, risk appetite, travel habits, and activity preferences.


Hapybara Beta Launch & The Road Ahead


The Hapybara team has already set the wheels of progress in motion. The diverse team of co-founders have expertise spanning industries, thus creating a vibrant team dynamic. After 35 extensive user interviews and a deep dive across three market segments, the team identified ‘safely connecting travelers with similar interests and values’ as the core value proposition. After being together as Hapybara for two months, they are launching a beta in Chicago. The team is gearing up by partnering with local hostels, high-traffic online forums, and current online travel meetup groups to validate traction and further refine their value proposition. They plan to incorporate learnings from the first batch of users to optimize the initial app design prototype they have developed. They will then run usability tests with potential users before building the actual product to ensure a seamless experience and will hyper-focus on launching one location at a time, piggybacking on congregated events such as music festivals to ensure sufficient users for matching.


The team is currently focusing on getting their product market fit validated and have already explored monetization strategies as they firm up their business model. These include freemium model, targeted ad monetization, and two-sided travel marketplace with travel service providers as paying customers.


On the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71 New Venture Challenge (NVC) & Plans for Fundraise


A company looking to bring a smile on solo traveler’s faces could not have chosen a better spirit animal as an inspiration for the name of their startup. Hapybara is a play on ‘happy capybaras’, an animal known as the most social & happy animals, a reflection of the positive travel environment the team at Hapybara is trying to build. Currently bootstrapped, Hapybara is planning to enter the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) as the next step to accelerate their launch before fund-raising. When they do, they will seek investors who look at the platform’s potential rather than immediate revenue return. As a result, they will likely partner with firms with a risk appetite who can work with Hapybara’s strategy to focus on user growth and market occupancy speed over profit in the initial stages of investment.


To learn more about Hapybara, please visit the website at Hapybara or contact team@hapybara.com. For any further information on Hapybara - feel free to reach out to co-founders Tram & Avery through email (tramdoman@chicagobooth.edu and avery.cai@chicagobooth.edu) or through LinkedIn.