Self-Guided Tour Marketplace Built Story “Connects People To Place”

Brian (left) and Alexina Alonso started Built Story, the world's first marketplace for self-guided tours, out of a love for history and storytelling and a vision to "connect people to place."

For many people who had grand plans to travel the world and see new sights last year, 2020 was a major letdown. With stay-at-home orders and Covid-19 health restrictions forcing people to cancel plans and coop up in their home more than usual, it’s no surprise that many people are feeling increasingly antsy to travel again.

Enter Durham-based Built Story, the world’s first marketplace for tours. Built Story allows people to take and create self-guided tours in their community or the community they’re visiting. It was recently selected as one of 50 startups nationwide for the second cohort of Google for Startups Founders Academy.

Built Story was founded in October 2020 by the wife-and-husband team Alexina and Brian Alonso out of a shared vision to connect people to place. Both have had a love for storytelling since a young age. Alexina grew up listening to her aunt, a university history professor, tell stories, and Alexina later earned a history degree herself at the University of Central Florida.

Christmas lights tours in Durham were a hit during the holiday season.

Brian—who earned a degree in biomedical engineering from Duke— first became connected to historic preservation and storytelling in Miami. His family business, La Epoca Department Store, relocated from Havana, Cuba, to a historic building in downtown Miami as a result of the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s.

Eventually settling in a beautiful historic building in the heart of downtown Miami, it was easy to immerse yourself in the history of both the business and the building,”  Brian said. “Sharing our stories with patrons—connecting people with place—eventually sparked the concept of Built Story.”

The Built Story app is free to download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, which Alexina said is intended to make it as seamless and easy as possible for anyone to create or take a tour. For $10, users can buy a tour and take it at their own pace, which comes complete with driving directions (and by its nature is socially distancing-safe).

With over 2,200 registered users and over 1,700 tours sold so far, Alexina said one of their most popular tours has been a historic tour created by a local author in Martha’s Vineyard. Christmas light tours were also a huge hit during the holiday season in cities like Durham and Raleigh, which helped with their launch, Alexina said. 

Ghost tours, like this one at UNC, have been another early hit.

Other tours already created on the app include a civil rights tour in Durham, ghost tours at UNC and Raleigh, a mural tour in Austin, and a tour of waterfalls in southwestern North Carolina.

“Recently, we’ve seen a lot of ‘blog moms’ creating family-friendly tours for their local followers,” Alexina said. “So truly anybody from a professional tour guide to someone who’s just very passionate about their local community can create a tour.”

Because Built Story’s platform is integrated using Google Maps, Alexina said that aside from some exceptions, the app is technically available worldwide. One of their goals for 2021 is to grow their base in Europe (where they already have tours in places like Madrid), while continuing outreach across the U.S.

Originally based in Miami, Alexina and Brian relocated their family and Built Story’s headquarters to Durham in 2020 when NC IDEA offered them a space in their Labs cohort. The Google for Startups cohort started a few weeks ago, and Alexina said they are excited to continue networking through that as well as Durham’s American Underground, where they have offices. 

“Before we decided to move here, we saw the strength of the support NC IDEA offers and we saw the grit of the community,” Alexina said. “And so we just knew that this would be a great place to continue growing the company.”