Ready, Set, Glow: The Alonsos Tell Their Built Story

Share This!

This Durham couple’s app allows users to create and participate in self-guided tours

Brian and Alexina Alonso, creators of Build Story, an app that allows users to create and participate in self-guided tours.
Holiday light tours are popular on Built Story, the brainchild of Brian Alonso and Alexina Alonso that received $100,000 in funding from Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund.

By Shane Snider | Photo by John Michael Simpson

For Brian Alonso and Alexina Alonso, places are not just about buildings and streets – it’s more about the words and experiences that connect us. It’s the story.

The couple co-founded Built Story in 2020. It was the Alonsos’ answer to a world locked down by COVID-19. Businesses were closed, and workers were sent home, but the roads were open, and stories still needed to be told. Billed as a marketplace for self-guided tours, Built Story offers users a platform for interaction and tools to create their own travel stories. The app provides turn-by-turn walking instructions, stories, audio, text, video and more to provide an immersive experience.

Give us a brief summary of your personal and professional lives.
Alexina We are husband and wife, and co-founders, too. We both grew up in Miami – it’s where we met each other, started a family and started Built Story. We have since moved to Durham, and we love every minute of it here. 

Brian I studied biomedical engineering at Duke University, where my familiarity and love for Durham began. I earned my master’s degree in civil engineering from George Washington University. My appreciation for storytelling and historic preservation began while I was a principal at our family-owned department store, La Epoca, whose roots date back to 1885 in Havana, Cuba. My brother and I took the reins in 2005, long after the business had relocated to Miami, in a historic downtown building. … [And] as president of Dade Heritage Trust [in Miami], I worked alongside earnest community members to preserve historic buildings, rich with stories.

Alexina After graduating with a history degree from the University of Central Florida, I worked in higher education for several years. At Florida International University in Miami, I earned my master’s degree and managed key external partnerships while in the university’s Office of Engagement. Interested in making my small corner of the world better, volunteerism, amplifying voices and education are important to me.

Tell us about Built Story.
Alexina Connecting people and places is Built Story’s mission. The Built Story platform is the world’s first self-guided tour marketplace, connecting tour takers and tour creators. Anyone can build and publish self-guided tours from home, and anyone can purchase those tours with the app, [which] provides the tour and all of its created content – audio, video, text, photos – along with turn-by-turn walking or driving directions to each of the stops along the way. You’re not walking with an in-person tour guide.

Brian Creators have written history tours, architecture tours and true crime tours on Built Story. Passionate people have published bar-hopping tours and scenic bicycle tours. Built Story allows creators to share the rich history and stories of the communities they know best, while tour takers explore in a unique, new way. Stories, via tours, are documented and shared in a sustainable way.

How did your stories add up to Built Story? 
Brian Like all things in life, I suppose, it’s a combination of forces. Alexina is passionate about history and community engagement. 

Alexina Brian and his brother, while leading La Epoca department store in Miami, were focused on the tourists who made up a large percentage of their customers. A focus on tourism was born. But the ability to share the stories that those walls held, to help customers connect with the place around them, always proved a challenge to Brian – something that stuck with him for years. When life shifted and there was time to focus on connecting people to place, Built Story was born.  

What makes the business unique? How do you stand out from the competition?
Alexina Built Story is versatile, scalable, nimble. It amplifies other people’s voices. Sure, there are other companies and apps here and there that offer self-guided tours. But none offer the marketplace platform like we do. We allow anyone, free of charge, to build, create and publish self-guided tours – all from their home, office or public computer. Those creators, when their tours sell, earn revenue for their knowledge, creativity and time spent. 

Brian Launching in 2020, just as the world shut down for COVID-19, we responded. Travel slowed, but locals still need things to do. Self-guided driving tours to the most enchantingly decorated Halloween- and Christmas-lit homes were born! The technology we’ve built works for all of this.

Give us an idea of the business structure and workforce. 
Alexina We are a revenue share company. Free of charge to create and publish tours, anyone can be a tour creator. Tour creators then earn revenue each time their tours sell. It’s just about a 50-50 split. 

Can you share some of the company’s successes since its founding?
Alexina More than 120 individuals and nonprofits have registered as tour creators across the country, but a handful internationally, too. More than 140 tours have been published. With our newest Christmas light tours this holiday season, this number will move to more than 200. 

Brian This summer, Google named Built Story as a recipient of the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund – an immense boost that came with $100,000 in funding.

What has been the biggest challenge since founding the business? How did you overcome it?
Alexina COVID was a big one. … But creativity bloomed with the refocus and rethinking that came from trying to help people when travel had come to a halt. Our self-guided tours to the best-decorated Christmas homes around towns were a direct result of COVID. We are thrilled to be a part of bringing happiness to people.  

Since the holidays are upon us, tell us a little about the self-guided Christmas tours.
Alexina Holiday light tours are a wonderful way to explore and learn about the community you live in. The personality among towns becomes evident, too, in lights tours! The decorated, Christmas-lit homes along the Raleigh tours, for example, are stunningly brilliant, and maximalist. Every square inch of the exterior of the home is sparkling, no corner is lacking in a cheery (and likely two-story-tall) inflatable Santa or a dancing snowman. A couple of homes along the Raleigh routes have won national recognition. 
And the Durham lights tour is magically different. You’ll experience a cozier drive; homes on this tour are located nearer to one another. No one here has won an ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” award. But the Durham tour features homes that are so special, cheerful and jolly. The merry houses along this tour are not “minimalist” exactly – they are bright and fun enough to be on a tour after all – but they somehow also embody a “less is more” vibe. … In a uniquely Durham way. The wonder of the season is here. You’ll just have to experience it to see exactly what I mean.  

How has the business evolved, and where do you see Built Story going in the future? Is changing technology (i.e., virtual reality and metaverse) adjusting your planning for the future at all?
Alexina We actually joke that we are not the metaverse. Because, we aren’t. And we are not trying to be! We believe that people are happiest with their feet on the ground … the actual ground. We are connecting real people to real places, in a physical way. The Built Story app delivers the tour and all of its content – audio, video, text, photos – via technology. But you are outside, you are seeing things. Perhaps you are walking along with friends as you are enjoying your self-guided tour. Sharing the experience of exploring the world around you with friends and family – what a wonderful thing.

Brian But do stay tuned! Augmented reality is coming very soon. What an exciting thing, to experience AR elements, as you explore the stories of the world around you.

What is the legacy you’re hoping to build?
Alexina We want to make our corners of the world a better place. We want to bring a smile to people’s faces. What individuals do, what businesses do – it all matters.

Brian We want to amplify people’s voices. Anyone can create a tour and share the stories of their own community. We want to be a part of sharing that story.

Which is your favorite tour and why?
Alexina I love the holidays, and I love Durham. How can I not answer with a Durham tour? The Durham holiday lights tour is my favorite. 

Brian The “UNC Chapel Hill – Most Terrifying and Mysterious Ghosts, Haunts and Legends,” written by Raleigh local and UNC alum, Al Parker, immediately comes to mind. It is an eerily fun walk through campus. It’s a genuinely unique and intriguing way to experience Chapel Hill.

Share This!

Posted in ,

Durham Magazine

Scroll to Top