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Tech startup: NextGreatPlace Inc.

INITIAL LIGHT BULB In 2002, Tom Filippini co-founded luxury vacation club Exclusive Resorts when he was 27. A decade later, he’s launched another travel-oriented startup in NextGreatPlace.

In 2010, after leaving Exclusive Resorts and before taking his family on vacation to Belize, Filippini took a "solo reconnaissance" mission to make sure everything was as advertised. "What I found was really eye-opening," he says. "There were places that were being blatantly oversold. The trip could have been a disaster."

So, later in 2010 Filippini started NextGreatPlace with Erik Mitisek to help people sort through the information (and misinformation). The website beta started in 2011, and the website launched this May. Today the company has 15 employees.

IN A NUTSHELL For $500 a year, members get access to its web-based vacation planning tools and a network of NextGreatPlace-approved destination partners, as well as personal "Placemakers" who "handle all of the planning details and do all of the heavy lifting," Filippini says. Acting as a wholesale distribution channel for partner properties, the company is taking "a market-by-market approach," starting with destinations that include Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Anguilla in the Caribbean, and ski towns like Vail and Steamboat Springs, as well as guest ranches throughout the West.

Employees vet properties that are potential partners with a 300-point checklist covering everything from kitchenware to the view from the master bedroom. "We take a holistic approach," Filippini says. Beyond the PlaceMakers, the company will soon have staff "Localists," specializing in specific destinations, and "Vacationistas" who will blog on their experiences in various destinations.

"We are absolutely experts in every market where we operate," Filippini says. "A lot of our product probably skews toward the affluent, but we’re really trying to get off-the-beaten-path places where there is strong value." He points to Belize, where a beach-centric vacation costs just a quarter of the price at a comparable resort in Mexico.

"A large part of our growth is offering memberships in bulk to progressive employers," Filippini says. One such employer is Denver-based T3 Media, which signed on with NextGreatPlace in September. "It’s a retention tool more than anything else," says T3 President Steve Joanis. "Everybody wants to talk about high unemployment. In tech, it’s still hard to find and keep good people. Any benefits we can give our employees to keep them happy and on board is a good thing."

THE MARKET Aside from the corporate market, Filippini says he sees a broad market that includes about 20 million households in the U.S. "Our users are spending somewhere between $3,500 and $15,000 a year in vacation travel and take one to three vacations a year," he says.

FINANCING The company closed on a $3.5 million Series A round led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Trinity Ventures in December 2011. Filippini says the company will ramp up pursuit of a Series B round soon. "It’s working," he says. "Now it’s a matter of adding fuel to the fire."

where Denver | FOUNDED 2010 | web www.nextgreatplace.com

"You’ve got 100,000 different owners on VRBO and they have no incentive to be transparent. There’s also no third-party information. They (company reps) generally haven’t been there." – NextGreatPlace President Tom Filippini on the downside of vacation-home portal VRBO.com

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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