Discovering Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s pizza haunt in San Francisco or chef Wolfgang Puck’s favorite place to golf in LA or the Hawaiian bar where designer Tory Burch grooves to island music used to require actually knowing them. Sure, you might stumble on an interview with some delicious travel tidbits from the stars, but what about the average girl gushing about night surfing on glowing boards in Chinese waters? Or the veteran travel writer’s tips for experiencing the real Las Vegas? What if you wanted to find all this information and book reservations and chat online with someone who has actually done a bike tour through Napa about how many wineries you can hit without wobbling?
Peek.com is your new best friend—the kind of best friend who lives in a really cool city and isn’t shy about telling you every must-do and helping you make it happen. The site is lush, heavy on eye-popping photos and a layered user experience. After launching last year, its roster of U.S. destinations has grown to include five in the West, four in the East—with two more soon to launch—and four islands of Hawaii. Europe is next. And because users can contribute content, the reach extends to the farthest corners of the world.
The latest addition to Peek's principal roster, the Vegas guide has some cool surprises and deals even for locals who think they know everything worth doing.
“When I came up with the idea of Peek, it was really because I had the same problems as the consumer,” reflects CEO and co-founder Ruzwana Bashir, mentioning a weekend trip to Istanbul that required about 20 hours of polling trusted sources, researching their picks and making calls to individual activities providers for reservations. “It did mean that we had this awesome time, but it also felt like a waste of my time. I wondered whether there was a solution that was better, that allowed me to work out what I should do and then be able to actually book and buy it easily. That’s really what Peek is doing. We’re a one-stop shop for travelers and for locals to book amazing things to do, and that can be as simple as you booking a ticket for a museum or going to a winery all the way through to swimming with sharks or heading to the Tribeca Film Festival.”
We caught up with Bashir right after Peek’s Vegas launch to talk about the site’s vision and contest for a two-night stay at our own Nobu Hotel plus $1,000 in Peek credit.
One of my favorite things about Peek is its collection of “perfect days” from both average folks in the user community and famous tastemakers. Now I know where the founder of Fab.com shops in NYC! You ought to care about the lens that somebody’s looking at a city from. So, if you’re a foodie, then it’s fantastic to go to Napa and have recommendations from the chef de cuisine at French Laundry. Or if you’re a fashionista, then the fact that Diane von Furstenberg tells you what to do in LA is amazing. We went out and we reached out to tastemakers and said: What do you do when you go to a place? Give us your authentic recommendations about the really great things there are to do and see in a city, especially if it’s a city that you love.
Dozens of big names contributed, with a level of detail that suggests they were excited to participate in your idea. One of the things that I think resonates for anyone who’s a bit of a travel junkie is that once you’ve had a great experience you want to be able to share it with others. You’re excited to be able to tell people about this great hidden gem that you found so that they, too, can go and not miss out on that wonderful experience. So I think the concept has just resonated with individuals who’ve had these problems themselves and are excited to create what is essentially an online library of all the best travel tips you could wish for in order to explore a particular city.
It took you 20 hours just to plan one trip. How did you manage to create such a robust site that covers so much of the U.S.? Fortunately we have a pretty large team, so it’s about 20 people now. The way that we work is that we have a team of travel experts who help us with the curation at the start. Then we have the tastemakers. From there we’re able to get a great list of the best activities in the market. And then we reach out to those activities providers.
The practical, logistical information is essential, but so is the visual drawing users deeper and deeper into the experience of the site, like its own sort of vacation. That’s been a big focus for us because, ultimately, we want to tell you the story of this experience and what it’s going to be like for you when you do it. That’s only really possible when we can capture the moment, and that’s done through the content and the descriptions and all of the information. … The little details can often be missing on different websites where you have to make phone calls to try and find out: Is it suitable for a child who’s 6 years old? Are there any other restrictions I should know about? If I’m pregnant can I still go on this boat ride? There are a lot of those kinds of things that we work with activities providers to really be able to find all that information and put it into one place on the Peek site. ... We have this direct relationship with them, which means that if you have any issues you can call us and we have 24-hour customer service seven days a week.
I’ve learned that some travel sites can’t be trusted as much because the content is selected based on who pays for presence. How do you ensure that Peek’s content is truly the best of the best? We don’t take any money up front from our vendors. … If it’s not really good it’s not going to get booked. … We use tastemakers and travel journalists to be able to source these activities in the first place, so there are a lot of layers of control that we put in.
Living in Las Vegas, we see a lot of travel writing done by outsiders that seems to come late to the party, or not at all. We’re a little jaded. That’s why having locals in the market has been so important to us. We rely a lot on finding the right people who are really in touch with a specific market in order to find the best activities. And some of them are a little bit evergreen. We’re not out there trying to find the thing that just opened last week … we’re trying to find the thing where, if you’re coming to Vegas or you live there, it’s going to be one of the best things to do. … So the mission is to help you find some unique, off-the-beaten path activities but to also help you find the things that are classics. Having that mission means that we spend a lot of time on this, on ensuring that we have everything, but also constantly evolving. We add new activities to the various different regions all the time. Our job is never done; we’re always looking for new experiences and new things that might delight our customers.
I know you’re soon to add international destinations to Peek, but for now your users are taking the rest of us all over the planet! There are perfect days for the North Pole, for jungles in Laos; it’s been fantastic to see. Our users are these travel junkies, too, and they have these incredible tips, and it’s exciting to be able to open those out and help them share them with others. … We have people coming from all over the world, from China, from Ghana, from London; there’s a huge mix. … It’s been one of the most fantastic elements of what we do, hearing from our users saying, “Thank you so much for your help—we had the most incredible week in this new place,” or “I went and saw areas of my own city I never knew existed because of you.” That gives us a huge, huge amount of joy.
It feels like more and more people are seeking those unforgettable journeys. One of the things that’s happened in recent years is that, as a society, we’ve all been focused on buying things. And yet things don’t really make us happy—activities and experiences do. Experiences make us almost twice as happy as buying a product. … Having new adventures, they’re not only pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and creating these fantastic memories, they’re also potentially impacting these communities that they’re going into. There’s just a really powerful and positive effect to all of that.
You’re a graduate of Oxford and Harvard with experience working for the big dogs of investment banking and private equity, as well as inventive organizations focused on startups and fine arts. Your co-founder in Peek is an MIT alum with serious programming firepower. And together, you were able to raise seed money from the likes of Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Eric Schmidt. That must be extremely validating as a tech entrepreneur—almost as validating as watching the user community grow and enrich the site. It’s been an incredible journey, taking something from an idea into reality and then having users love what we’re doing.
Did you use the site to maximize your recent trip to Vegas?I booked O through the Peek site. I did a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon—I’ve always wanted to do that, so that was fantastic. I went to SW … it was really lovely to sit outside and have a great meal with friends. We have relationships with the nightclubs as well, so you can book to go out to all of the top nightclubs, so we went to XS, and there was a great DJ, Avicii. ... It was a short but fun trip filled with great food and a little bit of partying, which is only appropriate. … I can’t wait to go back.