Zofari adds a personalized touch to the bustling travel app industry. Touted as the “Pandora for Places,” the app debuted in May 2013, generating a lot of buzz but with initially disappointing results. The new version features beefed-up content, a wider range of destinations and a more professional interface design.
The app stands out from the field of thousands of travel app competitors by matching users with place content that resonates with their personal experiences of the kinds of places they already like. It avoids abstract ideas of “cosy” or “elegant,” which can of course differ by personal taste. Based on user thumbs up and thumbs down responses to suggestions, Zofari recommends places to stay and eat. Recommendations for music and other entertainment venues are in the testing phase.
Weinstein was inspired by his own travels. Stuck in a tourist trap hotel in Bógota watching bad TV, Weinstein yearned for a way to find places with a vibe similar to his hometown, New York’s East Village. The question emerged, “if I have a place I love, can I use that to find other places that I love?”
Former marketing manager for Google/YouTube, Weinstein was looking for a new challenge, so he and friend Jason Kobilka began the start-up in San Francisco. On a shoestring budget, Weinstein learned to code to get the initial version of Zofari off the ground. The New York Times covered it as an app answer to common travel woes. Though contributor Seth Kugel reported: “It’s not quite there yet,” he recommended that readers check back with Zofari.
This is a good time to check back. The small team did some fundraising and hired engineers to rework the product. Zofari uses public data and sources like Foursquare as a base from which to draw. The algorithm used to make the personalized recommendations relies on a wide variety of signals to indicate place similarities. Zofari’s algorithm is designed to act as a local friend and contact.
Weinstein explains: “In reality, the best local recommendations come from a good friend who knows the city, knows you, and can tell you the places you’ll love. We know we can’t replace that friend (yet), but we can be there for the times when he or she doesn’t exist.”