New travel website aims to aid area nonprofits
MIDDLEBURY — One Middlebury resident has figured out a way to make flying the skies friendly to charities.
Andy Dosmann, an evolutionary biology professor who teaches online college courses through San Francisco’s The Minerva Schools, has created a travel website that when used to book flights or hotels kicks back money to local nonprofits.
Dosmann has been working for a couple years to create and work out the bugs for his site, TripHeroes.org, which he is now taking public in partnership with the international booking site JetRadar.com.
According to Dosmann, the process is not complicated. Logging onto TripHeroes is essentially like logging onto travel sites such as Kayak or Expedia, which search the internet for the best deals on air travel and lodging.
But, he said, his research showed that 70 percent of the time JetRadar, a 12-year-old firm based in Thailand with offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and St. Petersburg, produced savings over its competitors that averaged $30.
JetRadar then pays TripHeroes a fee, essentially a sales commission — Dosmann said roughly $7 for each flight and $20 for each hotel booked, more than offered by its competitors — that TripHeroes then forwards to charity.
Dosmann was asked for the traditional 15-second elevator pitch as to why people should use TripHeroes.org. He gave one in five seconds.
“You get the lowest prices, and you get to help out good causes. It’s just as simple as that,” said Dosmann, who takes no personal cut from the proceeds earned by TripHeroes, a registered nonprofit.
Dosmann landed in Middlebury because he and his wife, Middlebury College alum Laura Thomas, both had jobs that allowed them flexibility on where to live, and they chose this area.
“The professors can live wherever they want, and my wife and I chose Middlebury,” he said. “My wife was an undergrad here, and when we had locational freedom this checked the most boxes.”
GENESIS OF AN IDEA
The concept for TripHeroes grew almost organically from the Indiana native’s background. After his undergraduate years at Marshall University, where he played soccer, he made good use of the break he took before he obtained his graduate degree from the University of Chicago.
“I took a chunk of time off between undergrad and grad school, and that’s when the travel bug really hit me, a number of road trips and a bike trip over in Europe, and I worked overseas in a number of different places,” Dosmann said. “That’s actually when I also got into wildlife biology, which got me into evolutionary biology.”
He said the Minerva School — and its parent, the Keck Graduate Institute, which is in turn part of the Claremont University Consortium — also blends in technology, while his travel background including working for nonprofits.
TripHeroes thus combines Dosmann’s travel background, his inclination toward charitable action, and his growing interest in the economic potential of technology.
“Very much it (TripHeroes) springs from my love of travel and past work doing charity. One of my first international jobs was with a conservation organization over in Thailand,” he said. “And so when I was here and had a little free time over the summer with my professor job, I decided to start pursuing something that would get me back into those areas. And then also being part of Minerva and the startup culture there made me fascinated with the internet economy and tech.”
Dosmann began, in part, by studying how internet companies made money from viral videos, including by noting that the YouTube video “Surprise Kitty” had tens of millions of views (almost 76 million as of Wednesday morning).
“If the money from that had gone to a mosquito net charity, which is one of the most efficient ones in saving lives per dollar donated, it would have been tens of thousands of lives,” he said. “Just doing a little bit of that exploration made me think there’s something in this idea.”
Dosmann became convinced that creating an “online enterprise to generate money for charity” could work. With help from consultants that have included a wide variety of people from his own father and the father-in-law of a friend to WomenSafe Executive Director Kerri Duquette-Hoffman and local resident Jordan Benjamin, among many others, Dosmann said he actually got the website up and running two years ago.
Now he feels TripHeroes is ready for a public unveiling.
“Things are operational and ready to go. Now I’m in the phase of getting the word out and getting people to use this and trying to figure out how to make this something better, both for consumers as well as the charity side,” Dosmann said.
He said the site is not difficult to navigate, especially for anyone who has in the past relied on the internet for travel bookings.
“It functions exactly like Kayak or Expedia,” Dosmann said. “You’ll click on that best option, whichever one you prefer, and it will take you to the site, where you can actually book. So it operates like the other sites people use, but set up with a different structure, so the profits are then going to charities.”
In an email, Dosmann offered an example of how TripHeroes could pay off: “If 100 Middlebury families booked their yearly vacation flights and hotels through TripHeroes, then WomenSafe would receive more than $10,000 that otherwise would have gone to a for-profit travel website.”
WomenSafe is the default charity, but there is a drop-down menu where customers can choose other nonprofit options, including the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, United Way, and Carbon Fund. More can and will be added in the future, within reason due to modest engineering costs required to do so, and a site feature allows users to email suggestions, Dosmann said.
Dosmann also hopes to grow content on the site to promote the nonprofits served and the travel experiences of customers.
“One of the things I realized through talking to WomenSafe is the financial benefit to them is something they would be happy about, but there’s potential to try to reach more people with their message through social media if we can get that established,” he said. “So that’s something I’ve recently put in place and I’m going to try to grow, and it will help both aims.”
Eventually, Dosmann hopes to expand TripHeroes’ reach beyond the local market, and to talk to larger business about making TripHeroes their default travel site.
“My hope certainly is to take it broader, but I want to start here for a couple reasons. I’ve found helpful people around here to push things further as I’ve run into questions and problems,” Dosmann said. “Starting locally, being able to have those face-to-face interactions, I think is really going to be helpful to figure out the way this is going to work best for both customers, people who want to support charities, as well as charities they’re supporting.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.