Tech Pitch: Cities Talking

Startups gets an introduction to the app which provides mobile walking tours, voiced by the likes of Christopher Biggins, to the world's most popular city hotspots

Company name: Cities Talking
Founder: Julie-Anne Uggla (52)
Background: Uggla – Former model, serial entrepreneur and previously worked as a non-profit fundraiser in countries such as the Ukraine and Zambia.
Based in: London

Very simply, what does your tech start-up do?

  • Cities Talking is a mobile tour guide app which provides 40 specially curated walking tours in 28 cities around the world on Android and iOS devices.
  • Its tours are the perfect blend of locally curated, witty and interesting content combined with lively and entertaining narration. All tours are individually produced by a dedicated team of celebrity narrators, writers and entertainers. For example, the London tours were written by bestselling author Kathy Lette, and they are narrated by Britain’s national treasure, Christopher Biggins
  • It lets people explore cities at their own pace, in their own way. With Cities Talking, people can pause tours when they want and then restart in their own time. All tours can also be accessed offline so that people do not have to pay roaming charges when using the app abroad

Tell us why there’s a need – what do you disrupt?

I first noticed that there was a need for a more modern way to explore a city when I went travelling with my daughter in Italy. I was surprised by the lack of choice and quality of tours available, which I found to be expensive and inflexible. Many of the tours were unfortunately dull and monotonous, and didn’t exactly inspire me to find out more about the amazing cities we were visiting.

I knew there had to be a better way to explore a city, and that’s where the idea for Cities Talking was born – to provide people with a very affordable way to tour cities on their own terms.

Another critical part in our journey has been finding the best local voices to narrate the tours. They really bring to life our tours with hilarious stories, fun facts and insider tips on the best places to eat and drink.

Are you funded?

Initially, I set up the company with my own investment. Then, early last year, I secured further backing and additional operational and tech support from Dubai-based Xebec Venture Holdings, Ltd., which has really helped to accelerate the business.

Currently, we’re speaking to other investors for additional growth capital given numerous key initiatives and large travel partnerships we’re working on.

What were you doing before starting?

I started out my career as a model, before setting up a headhunting firm when I was 24. This grew quickly and was a good introduction into the world of business. I have since supported a number of ventures and sit on various advisory boards.

As well as this, I have always enjoyed travelling and have spent a lot of time abroad, which spurred my interest in charity work. I have been actively involved in the non-profit industry for over 20 years, and set up my first non-profit fundraiser in the Ukraine in 1992 which funded 16 different orphanages.

I also founded a UK-based charity called Zamcog, which helps educate some of Zambia’s most at-risk children. Charity work remains an important part of my life, and that’s why at Cities Talking we also donate a percentage of all profits from the app towards good causes in each of the cities where we offer tours.

What’s the best thing about where you’re based?

There are so many great aspects of London that it will be difficult to name just one! As a major global capital city, London offers a highly skilled and diverse workforce which is great when setting up a new business. It’s also an entrepreneurial hub which makes it an exciting place to be based as a start-up.

But perhaps most importantly, London is one of the most exciting cities in the world. It was voted the world’s best city in 2015, as it welcomed 18.82 million visitors last year alone. So being a tour guide app, there is no better place to be based!

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