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Maryland startup Tuzmo wants to bridge the gap between international travelers and local artisans

The Gaithersburg-based company developed an Android- and iOS-compatible app that acts as what founder Rana Saad calls a "two-sided marketplace" for locally made goods and souveniers across the world.

A Tuzmo-using artisan. (Courtesy photo)

Avid traveler Rana Saad created a startup out of a desire to tap into a market that he said impacts everyone visiting far-off destinations: the souvenirs they try to bring back.

He describes collecting something to take home, especially art and crafts made by locals, as the fifth most crucial travel activity — and one that tech has not yet disrupted.

“When we travel, we book our airline ticket, we book our hotel, we book our car and when we are in a place, we look for food and activities. And the fifth one is: We bring back something for memories,” Saad told Technical.ly. “If you look at the spectrum of these activities, these travel-related expenditures, all the other four have been disrupted. There are technology solutions for those.”

The multibillion-dollar travel souvenirs market took a hit over the past few years when the pandemic reduced travel. Products made by local artisans are even harder to find, Saad said, because many lost their livelihood and were unable to recover. To help, he created Tuzmo, a marketplace where visitors can connect with local makers during their travels.

Created as a native mobile app for Android and iOS, with the backend in AWS, Tuzmo is what Saad calls a “two-sided marketplace.” On one end, artisans can register and create a profile with their products, including a short video on how they work. Travelers, once they reach a destination, can filter by city or country, browse by category, set a spending limit and see all the nearby artists in a social media-like fashion.

“The idea is that you should be able to, even before you buy something, have a very reasonable idea of the product, who the artisan or maker is, what’s their story, how they make it, how long have they been doing it, what’s special about the craft and what other people think about this particular artisan or this particular craft,” Saad said.

Saad has visited over 90 countries as a tech consultant and travel hobbyist. He launched the company in March 2020, using the pandemic time to grow the app’s technology and platform. He has since also grown Tuzmo, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to approximately 30 employees.

A silver bracelet in the shape of a butterfly from a local maker

A bracelet from a local maker. (Courtesy photo)

So far, the app hosts about 1,000 artisans from 47 cities worldwide — a number that Saad wants to grow. In the next 12 months, he hopes to increase that headcount to 100,000 artisans from 100 cities and countries globally. He also hopes to add features like the ability to communicate with artisans in real time, as well as blockchain-based authentication. By the end of this year, he also hopes a million travelers will be using the app.

Until now, the company has been funded with a mix of Saad’s own self-funding and angel investment. It recently completed its first pre-seed raise from the Maryland funding agency TEDCO. With that funding, Saad plans to grow the company’s marketing and social media teams, as well as set up a team in Turkey.

Saad also wants to go even further within the company’s dual mission: to empower artisans with economic opportunities and connections, and enrich the experience of worldwide travelers.

“Our plan is to keep making our app stronger and better,” Saad said.

Companies: TEDCO

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