Our #FounderStories series celebrates the inspirational journeys of some of the fantastic founders in our Farillio network. This time, we're chatting to Stuart Megarry and Hui Wang, founders of Koala. Get to know them better below...
What’s your favourite mode of transport and why? We just discovered Lime Scooters in a recent Lisbon Trip... so much fun
Hotel or a hostel? Hotels with a hostel feel (Think Citizen M)
In all your travels, what has been your favourite meal? Paella in Valencia
Somewhere warm or somewhere cold? Warm
City break or beach holiday? City break
Tell us a little bit about Koala – what made you take the leap and start your own business?
Koala is essentially an online platform for the young professional traveller. We provide unique group trips, no-bullshit content and relevant city experiences for the new generation of empowered traveller.
We are here to fundamentally change how travel is booked and experienced, put trust back in travel providers and essentially cure loneliness (everyone should have someone to travel with).
The business was born out of frustration at a, quite frankly, lazy market in providing relevant offerings to our core 20–40 market. We both had travel experiences where we couldn’t find the best travel mates or a provider who knew us as customers.
We started part time and the leap felt natural as we are very lucky to have a strong level of demand for the offering.
What’s the funniest thing anyone’s said to you in business?
Founding a business is such a unique experience with many ups and downs, but in this instance, we will focus on funny. Regularly being approached by service companies offshore who have clearly not researched the company always gets a good laugh ;)
You recently posted a blog post all about the sometimes negative connotations that come with the title of travel influencer. What role does the right kind of influence play in the promotion of a location or hotel? And why are they so important in this social media age?
We know influencers are important, but we personally do not use them as we respect our customers too much. Our community is organic and positive, so why pay people to help un-naturally build this?
If you can make money from your influence, then all respect to you but I believe it is so negative because of the perceived attitude of the influencers (who are all just struggling and fed up of asking to do things for free) and social media puts so much pressure on people because they are shown an edited view of someone’s life.
We would not pay an influencer to promote a location or hotel we plan on using for a trip, but I can see why a struggling new hotel/location would use this strategy – it engages and speaks to people directly for sure.
On your site, you also plan trips and holidays – what kind of planning needs to go into an event like this?
Yeah, one might say this is our ‘bread & butter’ – thankfully, we are pretty great at it and going onto our 8th trip now since launch. Planning-wise, we use our knowledge and understanding of our customers to find the most unique spots and make the trip awesome.
For example, we went to Lisbon recently – beautiful city, but the planning process involved finding accommodation people would be blown away by (we rented out a whole apartment complex around a beautiful courtyard) and bringing the group to off-the-beaten-track spots like the LX factory instead of just hanging around the tourist hot spots.
And carrying on from that, how do you try and tailor events for people? Or how do you ensure that the trip will accommodate lots of different people, and what they want from the holiday?
Our sign-up process and offline events allow us to really get to know our customers. Travel captains also go on our trips so they can personally make the trip a success/adapt to what is needed.
The job obviously involves a lot of travelling and exploring, but what hidden gems have you uncovered in London recently?
Yeah, we are lucky in that we essentially travel for a living, but London is our home and the perfect city for Koala to grow.
I would not say it is a recent discovery, but it still amazes me how many people don’t know about Wapping (the beautiful zone 1 village). Mercato Metropolitano street food market in Elephant & Castle is also a gem waiting to explode.
Who have been your role models, both in the travel industry and the business world, in your startup stories?
Hui – Sarah Wood, founder of Unruly
Stuart – David Buttress, founder of Just Eat
Since the start of your journey, what has been the most valuable piece of legal advice you have received?
Personally read every important document.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Be persistent and don't give up.
Lastly, what do you think the future holds for Koala?
If there is an inefficient area of travel for the customers we love, you know Koala will come along and disrupt it ;)