In Scandinavian countries, gift cards don’t just sell merchandise, they also sell experiences. The idea is that a friend might love an activity over a product for a birthday or graduation. It’s a nice way to be a unique gift giver. The problem is that these activities are not usually vetted, which means handing over a headache as a present (think: ski operators who only pick up the phone on alternate Wednesdays). The team behind Truestory thought that there must be a better way to do experiential gift-giving, so they created it.
Truestory was founded in 2015 by an ecommerce marketer and a technology consultant looking to change the narrative on experiential gifts. It’s a Scandinavian experience platform, enabling customers to choose from lots of activities and adventures to gift or book themselves. Cofounder Lasse Kjaer says, “We match experiences from host operators with locals.”
The goal was to create a much more personal experience than gift cards. Lasse says, “Gift cards are stuck in stores for a long time. We wanted to do something online, digitally, and on-demand.”
Customers have their pick of diverse activities, broken down by category. From beer walks to hot-air balloons, the opportunities are nearly endless. But the best part is that they have all been fully vetted by Truestory.
According to Lasse, “Our supply team screens each experience. They look at vendor financials, reviews from other sources, like Google trip advice and others. And then we have more subjective judgment. We are looking for unique, authentic experiences created by passionate hosts. Take beer tasting, for example. There are a lot of ways to have a beer tasting. But we sell tastings at the local brewery where it’s the brewmaster who gives the tasting. We are open to all sorts of ideas and suggestions.”
Once Truestory adds a new experience, the operator has to prove their worth. True Story tries to get reviews from all of the customers who have experienced the new offering. If the reviews are bad (surveys are sent soon after so the experience is fresh in customers’ minds), Truestory provides feedback to give operators a chance to troubleshoot. But Lasse says, “Operators get kicked off the platform if they have bad reviews and don’t improve after getting the feedback from us.” There are no guarantees which ensures quality offerings.
What started as a way to gift has quickly grown into an instant booking platform as well. Lasse says, “We have instant booking availability on around 70 percent of experiences,” and that’s on purpose. Lasse wants to help customers become tourists in their cities. Different from Airbnb Experiences, Truestory caters to locals. As the pandemic stretches on, fewer people are planning big trips. Instead, they are planning staycations and exploring their cities anew. This platform makes that infinitely easier.
Here’s how Truestory works, according to Lasse. “You choose a region (Truestory is active in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) and then you can see all of the various offerings. If you like it and the price and availability suit your calendar, you book the date and immediately get it. It’s not booked per request – it’s instant booking.”
True Story’s software is unique. Lasse explains, “Our platform is built mainly from scratch and thus fully customized, however we do use a PIM system called Struct as our product management backend. Our biggest technical challenge in scaling the platform has been the realization that we couldn’t build the platform we wanted by relying on existing software and ecommerce solutions. Truestory is so much more than just an ecommerce store.”
Truestory needed to be accessible to both customers and operators separately. “We have a software solution where we help operators get online and help them do their bookings,” Lasse says. Building the software was extremely time-consuming, and Lasse is thankful for his and his cofounder’s technology background. They were able to minimize spending by keeping it all in-house.
True Story relies on outbound sales and word of mouth to find operators. On the customer side, its uses digital performance marketing, word of mouth, and various other channels. Lasse explains, “We acquire most new customers through digital performance and brand marketing, including social media, paid advertising on Google and social media, affiliate marketing, email marketing, and more. We started with Google and email marketing. We nailed those and then added more channels through the years. The same with traffic partnerships and influencer marketing. So nothing new or fancy, just making sure that we constantly push and improve our performance and brand presence.”
All sales are commission-based and growth has been tremendous. Truestory ended 2021 up 40 percent in sales from the previous year, bringing them to $10 million in revenue. The initial team of two has grown to a group of over forty.
Truestory’s most popular experiences include Michelin-star restaurant tastings and outdoor adventures including learning to cook over a fire in Denmark. Customers dig bridge walks, which are not for the faint of heart.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the company’s revenue was zero while the world figured out what was going on. Luckily, Truestory was able to run on savings and did not lay anyone off. The very first summer of the pandemic, the business quickly made up for lost time as people were hungry to get outside. Since then, the company has continued to grow at a rapid clip.
Truestory also benefited from the Danish government. Lasso explains, “The government did something good for the experience industry which was to allow companies to buy their employees higher value experience gifts than the cap for traditional gifts from employers.” This allowed the company to grow B2B sales 500 percent in 2021.
This business is driven by passion above all else. It’s why the brand is Truestory after all. Lasse explains, “We just want to help people experience more together.” It doesn’t get more factual than that.
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