This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.
If you’re looking for an unexpected holiday gift this season, you may want to take a look at Funsherpa Chicago. The former concierge service is now a forum for the public to buy unique “experiences”–aka activity-based gifts. If it’s something to do in Chicago, from cooking classes and private chefs to dance lessons and guided tours, chances are there’s a supplier on Funsherpa ready to hook you up. Recently I asked Funsherpa founder Anton Dy Buncio about the service…
Funsherpa works by aggregating activity-based products from a growing list of “suppliers” (find out how to be one here), then offering them for sale to the public as gifts or direct purchases.
Experiences are grouped into 14 categories like Gourmet, Romantic, Winter, Under $100, and For Him & Her. Most are under $200–and interesting, like a couple’s French cooking class, swing-dance lessons, tandem skydiving (save that one for warmer weather), or a winter-specific snowmobiling adventure.
Funsherpa also maintains a blog where the staff profiles Chicago bloggers and small-business folks. (They interviewed Windy Citizen‘s Brad Flora about the future of community news last month, and Yours Truly in October about public transit in Chicago.)
Here’s what founder Anton Dy Buncio recently had to say about the service:
Mike Doyle: How did Funsherpa get started?
Anton Dy Buncio: Funsherpa was born in a coffee shop in Lincoln Park to move people off-the-beaten path in Chicago and try not necessarily new things, but experiences outside their daily routine. It started out as a Twitter concierge service that gave people news and advice on fun things to do, grew into a blog about the lives of interesting locals, and has expanded into offering locals fun experiences in Chicago.
MD: Who launched Funsherpa?
ADB: I started out Funsherpa in Chicago with my good friends and fellow fun seekers Jonathan, Raphael, and Ramon. As a recent transplant to Chicago (I moved here from Sydney last year), I knew Chicago had more to offer than what was being peddled to tourists, and wanted to share with other people the cool things I was finding around different parts of the city. Prior to starting Funsherpa, I worked at a consulting firm helping technology and communications companies grow, serve customers better, and stop wasting money. We aren’t professional writers, but we are definitely a group of people passionate about exploring the urban jungle.
MD: What is the most interesting experience you’ve ever listed?
ADB: There are quite a few extraordinary ones. A really cool one is a flight in a Soviet-era fighter jet! Some of the unusual ones include ice fishing, and a floatation tank experience that immerses you in a salt water capsule, completely sealing you off from the outside world and allowing you to relax and rejuvenate your senses.
MD: Have you ever rejected an experience?
ADB: We’ve turned down a few experiences. We do a lot of fact checking, including vendor visits and seeing what customers are saying about them. We’ve had to turn down vendors with poor Yelp reviews, and we’ve also turned down animal hunting experiences. I’m pretty open to a wide variety of experiences, but I’m not really sure how I feel about encouraging people to kill animals
MD: Who receives the money paid for experiences?
ADB: We’d like to think of ourselves as an “experience mall.” where people can go and buy every fun thing to do. The price of our experiences is never more than the regular retail price and we take a nominal commission out of any fun experience that we sell. This allows us to sell experiences at the lowest possible price with no additional fees or costs to our customers.
MD: What kind of obstacles or challenges have you faced in launching Funsherpa? Which ones remain?
ADB: Wow…everything has been challenging, which has made this quite fun and exciting! Early on, it was deciding the best way to make this a sustainable venture-in the sense that we did not want to be a dotcom with no revenue model. After that came the development of the online experience store. With the online store now [launched], the current challenge is getting people to embrace the concept and break their daily routine through our site. We believe that if people try us out, they will discover an amazingly simple system and top-notch experiences.
MD: What do you want to achieve with Funsherpa in the future? In the Chicago market? Are there plans to expand Funsherpa to other cities?
ADB: Our goal in Chicago is really quite simple-if we can help people in Chicago get away from their everyday routine and try something new in the city, we will consider our mission accomplished. Our hope is that we can replicate this across the US-actually, we are slowly rolling out our Twitter concierge service and blog in San Francisco and New York City.
Bully for those other cities. You, however, can find Funsherpa right here in Chicago at funhserpa.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.