What’s the point of leaping out of your comfort zone only to land on the well-staged trail of an average tour? We travel in search of authentic, transformative experiences. Yet, venturing off the beaten path usually takes money, an international network of friends, or a great deal of time for planning – none of which the student abroad that stands to benefit so much by going local is likely to have so early on in life.
There must be a way for students studying and traveling overseas to truly interact with the larger world. At least that’s what Matt Murphy, startup founder and CEO of Global Citizens Travel decided after previously unknown places worked their magic on him. Here he books our passage into the vision of his US-based travel company and guides us into the wilds of startup entrepreneurship:
What first drew you to entrepreneurship?
Although a little unconventional, my first exposure to life as an entrepreneur came when I started playing poker as a teenager. After I turned 18, I started playing online and in poker rooms wherever I could find them. I think there is a lot of overlap between playing cards and running a business – taking adjusted risks, understanding people, making quick decisions and being able to keep an even keel when things don’t always swing in your favor.
Describe the moment when you realized you had to do this, (quit your day job / pursue your entrepreneurial dreams / start your company / etc.):
I was studying abroad in the fall of 2010, and for the first time in my life felt that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, when I wanted to be doing it. I have always loved to travel, experience new things, and solve problems. During my time traveling abroad I learned a lot about myself, including my desire to spend my life making my own schedule, traveling, and continuing to help others do the same. The travel industry is moving towards automation, but you can never replace the human aspect of planning international travel. With thousands more students studying abroad every semester, there was a need for a US-based travel company to help provide authentic, kick-ass global experiences for like-minded students. From there, it was off to the races.
What inspired your current startup / business and what makes it so killer? What sets your company apart from your competition?
During my semester, I realized that it wasn’t easy to plan international travel in some of the more unique places I wanted to see. Language barriers, sketchy websites, questionable payment terms, etc. seemed to be a constant theme. Traveling completely independently is admirable, but traveling with locals always seemed to be a more personally rewarding experience. Interacting with the locals in a non-touristy setting was what made or broke the experience, and it was apparent that others felt the same. GCT works with the coolest local guides to design itineraries that you can’t find anywhere else. We’re less interested in traditional city tours and more interested in trying the most authentic food, experiencing the nightlife, interacting with the locals and getting outside of our normal comfort zone to truly get the most out of international travel.
How has work on your current startup / project been different from other projects you’ve been involved with?
Working on a start-up with such an international element has been one of my favorite things about Global Citizens Travel. Working day to day with entrepreneurs all around the world is really exciting and energizing. I’m not sure we’ll ever have true business hours due to time zone differences, but there certainly is never a dull day. Working on an international business keeps you in tune with world news, macroeconomics, etc. more than you might in a US-focused startup.
What’s your greatest satisfaction in business life?
The greatest satisfaction for me is seeing an idea or concept come to life in color and to know that you are changing an industry and other people’s lives for the better. The relationships I’ve built with our guides overseas is something really special to me. Talking with students that come back from our trips and tell me that it was life-changing and the highlight of their semester makes all of the late nights and bumps along the way worth it.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in your entrepreneurial / startup life?
A lot of times we run into challenges sending money in a quick time frame to our guides in different countries. Other times, we get interesting requests for things that might not be available in their country that they’d rather have than cash. Recently, one of our guides in Brazil requested that rather than pay him the balance that we owed him for a recent trip, we instead send him a high-end gold detector! Strange request, but we did some research and sent it down.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out? What’s your “golden rule” of entrepreneurship?
I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years it is hard to narrow down! To start, I always tell other aspiring entrepreneurs this: take a look at a market you truly understand (a hobby, interest, industry) and think through some of the inefficiencies or annoyances involved. A lot of times a niche idea might seem too narrowly focused, but in today’s environment, if you try to cast too wide of a net, you will get swallowed up by larger companies that have better pricing or resources.
My second piece of advice is to bite the bullet and incorporate your company. Spending months on business plans doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere – incorporate your company, build a simple website for $50, and test your concept. If the product / service brings value to the world, your business plan will develop on its own as you grow. Finally, find people that you trust and that have diverse skill sets to help you build your company. Mentors, employees, partners – whatever role they are going to play – make sure that they can compliment you and bring something unique to the table rather than something you could do on your own.
What’s the greatest / most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
There are plenty of great things about being an entrepreneur, but the one that sticks out the most to me is the excitement of controlling your own schedule and destiny. I’ve worked in the corporate world on Wall St. and seen the hierarchy that exists – it makes you feel like no matter what you do or how much revenue you bring to the firm, your earnings potential is limited and you still have to show up the next day at 8am and stay the entire day. The freedom of being an entrepreneur can be dangerous if you don’t have the discipline to set a schedule, but I love the freedom of deciding when I work and what I want to take on.
How do you cope with the unique pressures and challenges of being an entrepreneur? How do you relieve stress?
You certainly have to have a high level of emotional consistency to be a successful entrepreneur. Letting the highs and lows get to you is dangerous. I try to do everything I can to keep things in perspective, and I always try to think of the big picture when handling a problem or even a short term win. I like to relieve stress by playing guitar, listening to music, or playing sports. Anything that can get you completely focused on something other than your business is important to do from day to day. Being able to turn off your mind from being a 24 / 7 business owner is difficult but absolutely necessary if you want to live a balanced life.
What websites, apps, and other tools can you not live without as an entrepreneur?
I’ve definitely been a fan of plenty of entrepreneurial tools over the past couple of years, but a few of my favorites are Line2, Google Drive, Dropbox, WaveAccounting and Elance. I also consistently read smallbiztrends.com, under30ceo.com and youngentrepreneur.com to stay up on what else is going on in the start-up world.
What is your music-streaming site of choice, and what are you currently listening to?
Spotify! Game changing and a must-have for any music lovers. At $10/mo, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t build it into their budget to have every song on the planet at their fingers at all times. Recently I’ve been listening to Avett Brothers, the XX, John Prine, and Ben Taylor Band.
Our editor, Dawn, LOVES the Avett Bros! Has being an entrepreneur affected your personal life? How so?
It certainly affects all angles of your life, including personal. The fact that other people are relying on you for certain things and your business won’t necessarily just run itself if you aren’t around is constantly on your mind. I embarrassingly get anxiety when I lose cell service, but it’s something I’m working on!
Where are you based and what’s the local startup scene like there?
I’m currently based in New York City and loving it. The resources for entrepreneurs here are endless, with networking groups, co-working spaces, and every industry in the world all around you. I’ve met some incredibly smart and talented people here in NYC and paying the extra rent is certainly worth it. It’s also cheap to travel in and out of, which is a nice perk rather than having your company based in low-cost areas that take 3 flights to get to!
A lot of the entrepreneurs we talk with have dreams of traveling, (once they’re successful / once they have a few days or weeks off). Where would you like to travel to?
Travel is certainly something that has interested me to the point of starting a company in the industry. There is something entrepreneurial in nature about traveling – a lot of unknown, ability to experience something new, etc. People that work normal 9-5 jobs often have to plan their travel in a very tight time frame and a lot of the freedom to choose when / where is taken away. Entrepreneurs in our generation are more and more commonly going location independent and working remotely from all over the world. Technology has made it easier for entrepreneurs to run successful businesses while traveling, and I think that is why we are seeing so many more entrepreneurs going that route.
My short list for travel locations is the Galapagos Islands, Myanmar, and Antarctica.
Where can our readers get a hold of you?
Courtesy of startup founder & CEO | Global Citizens Travel