A new type of vacation rental company

I had to travel to Brussels recently to participate in the Mobile Health Industry Summit. Thanks to my delayed planning for the trip, when I looked for hotels, the prices were pretty high (€100 and up). I also checked AirBnB and I found some good places but they were too far away from the conference location. Now I had to come up with a solution to make this work.


Fortunately, I knew the founders of MorningCroissant. This is a french version of AirBnb. The main difference between these two is that MorningCroissant offers personalized help if we do not find anything on their website that suits us. I was a bit skeptical of this claim since it is difficult to find suitable accommodations. I was also skeptical about finding accommodations outside of Paris, where MorningCroissant is based.


In my case, I did not find any rentals in Brussels. So I thought of checking out their claim of helping us to find the right accommodation. I contacted Laurent, one of the founders with my dilemma. He got back to me in half a day and got me an apartment rental 10 mins from the center of Brussels for €60/night! I was very surprised and impressed.


When I traveled to Brussels, I stayed at this apartment. Turns out that it was even better than I thought. It had awesome views of the city. It was also well connected to the metro and tram stations. The host was very hospitable who offered me maps and directions to the places that I had to go to. All in all a very enjoyable experience.


If MorningCroissant can maintain this level of service to their customers, I am sure AirBnb has a huge threat coming at them. It remains to be seen how they can scale up this personal help to travelers.


I completely understand that this experience can be biased due to the fact that I know the founders. But if they are capable of providing this type of service to me, I am hoping that they can provide this level of service to regular users of their site. This is the main differentiator for them.

Interesting New Children’s Educational iPad game

One of the advantages of being part of the Founder Institute is that you hear about products being launched by other founders all the time. Recently, I came to know of a founder who launched an iPad game for kids called Grow Your Garden HD.  Since I am always looking for interesting and educational apps for my son, I asked and received a promo code to try it out (Ok, that was a disclaimer there!).

The app is a game to teach math for the kids. The objective is to water and grow the plants in your garden. As you grow the plants, they will give you flowers that you add to your flower collection. The education part comes in how you water the plants. You get some watering jars to water your plants (see image below). The plants can only take a fixed quantity of water to grow. If you give it more water, the plant will die. So you have to figure out the right quantity of water using a combination of jars provided in order to water the plant. When I saw this, I wasn’t sure if kids would understand or like the premise. So I gave the app to my son to try it out.


The first few minutes, he was trying to figure it out. Then he was on a roll. He liked the fact that the game becomes more and more challenging as you move through the levels. I was actually surprised that he played with it for more than an hour before getting tired of it. After a while when he wanted to use the iPad, he went right back to the app and completed all the levels! He did ask for my help with the last level though.

I was very impressed with the way the app is built. When I played with it, I could feel myself getting involved with the challenge. I think this is a great way to combine education and games. I am sure I would have loved to learn math this way!

Dear Google, Please Don’t Shut Down Aardvark

You might seen this post from Google announcing their intention to close out a few of their experimental products. One of the products that will be closed is Aardvark. Aardvark is a social question and answer tool where you can ask a question and it will find someone to answer your question for you.


You might wonder why Aardvark is so important considering that there are so many Q&A sites like Quora, Yahoo answers etc. The reason is this – Aardvark is the only one that could find someone who knew the answer to the question (however esoteric) that you throw at it. It also pings the people to answer your questions so it has a dynamic and personal nature to the answers. If you have further questions based on the answer, Aardvark will get those answered too (by the person who originally answered your question).


Since people like me got so much value from Aardvark, we always chose to answer random questions that Aardvark brought for us. Even if I did not know the answer to a certain question, I would research it so that it could help the person who asked that question. I wanted to make sure that I had a positive karma balance with Aardvark (more questions answered than asked). I am sure there were many others like me since the quality of answers that I got was so high.


In our move to France, Aardvark was a very critical tool for our integration into the country. It was like having a close friend who knew all the answers to your questions about living in France except that this friend was available 24X7.


Here are some of the ways in which it has helped us:


1. Once we had to send a very urgent letter on a weekend and everyone told us that we have to wait until Monday. I asked Aardvark, and voila! I came to know that a La Poste was available near the Louvre in Paris. We were able to mail our letter on a Sunday!


2. We consume a lot of Tofu since we are vegetarian. When we came to France, we could not find fresh tofu in the grocery stores. We did find the dry variety which isn’t as good. Many people told us that we should go all the way to Bio stores in Paris to get fresh tofu. I turned to Aardvark, and found that there were three stores within 5 kms of where we live that carried fresh Tofu!


3. We wanted to find an alternative to the local French banks that charge a bomb just to give you a current account. I got referred to Fortuneo, ING Direct etc thanks to my anonymous friends on Aardvark.


4. We are learning French using Rosetta Stone. Since there are no explanations in Rosetta, I always turned to Aardvark with my questions about French. At any time of the day or night, I got answers from my trusty Aardvark that helped speed up our learning.


With Google sunsetting Aardvark, I feel like I am losing a close friend. I think Aardvark addressed a gap in the market and the gap still exists. So please dear Google, please do not shut down Aardvark. Heck, give it to me and I will keep it going!