We unfurled our deckchairs and sat down to chat with the one and only Jasper Deprez, Co-founder and CEO of Tradler Vacations.
We talked about Colombia, Barcelona and the birth of his exciting machine learning travel platform.
Take it away Jasper!
140 character pitch:
Tradler is a global platform that connects travellers with the best fitting activities for them, using machine learning.
- Sign up on Tradler
- Set your preferences
- Get connected with your best fitting activities
Down to business
How did you come up with the idea for Tradler?
I was in Colombia for 10 days, visiting the country for a friend’s wedding. It was the first time I’d been to Latin America and the things I took away from it were Coconut Rice, my first scuba diving experience and a sense of purpose.
Hubbub: That’s some holiday!
We were travelling through the country. The weather kept alternating between boiling hot and tropical storms, and eventually we arrived in Cartagena de Indias. I think besides Bruges, my home town, it’s my second favourite city in the world. It’s a very colourful place and is weirdly familiar, almost like Spain, but with a few differences.
Where Barcelona has the “sexy beer amigo” sellers on the Street, Cartagena has rappers who start busting their rhymes the moment you pass by. I, as the only blond “rubio”, “guiri”, or the “Gringo” of the group, was always the target of their wonderful lyrics. They compared me to various artists such as Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and, weirdly enough, Harry potter.
Just for the record, after this trip I went directly to the hairdresser to set this straight.
Hubbub: Well, at least you tried.
So one day we wanted to go to Islas del Rosario – a group of 27 different islands in the Caribbean sea. Like any tourist, I started doing my homework and researched how to get there.
I started with Google. Rapidly I figured out that this wasn’t the best approach as I got 3.5 million results. I decided to ask the guide at our hotel for recommendations instead. This was better – they had 7 options and the guy at the counter recommended one that was a bit more expensive, but assured us this was the best Cartagena could offer.
The next day we changed hotel and I – being quite central European – asked for their recommendation too. They suggested a completely different “best in Cartagena” provider.
I figured that hotels have commissions on what they sell, so I wanted to get more information before we spent 120€ per person. I went back online (to a popular travel information platform I won’t name!) to see what feedback I could find.
There were 2 completely different opinions:
- Farida M:
Absolutely amazing I would really recommend going in February it is the warmest climate!
- Marco S:
Completely chaotic, do not go there!
So that didn’t really help. I had three main questions:
- Did they actually go on the trip?
- If they went, what were they searching for?
- And then finally, are we looking for the same experience?
Basically, I wanted to know who Farida M and Marco S were and what we had in common.
The popular travel platform I used clearly states that all the reviews are subjective.
- Maybe Marco S is even more central European than I am?
- Maybe Marco is 85 Years old and wanted a private island?
- Is Farida an actual person?
- Farida talks about the warm climates, but that really depends on where she is from. If she’s coming from wintry New York, that’s not much to go on.
I eventually went to the port in the morning to decide there. And there, with everyone shouting at me in Colombian Spanish, it was nearly impossible. So how did we choose in the end? Easy. We flipped a coin and hoped for the best.
Hubbub Labs: So that’s how you decided to create a machine learning platform that would tailor recommendations to individual travellers!
What’s the hardest thing about running your own company?
It’s about keeping focus. There is a story I read in a book called Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke about the myth of Atalanta.
Atalanta was a hunter, a virgin and Sparta’s fastest runner. She did not want to marry, but her father – a mean man – was upset by this and took matters into his own hands. He set up a race and proclaimed that the young man won the race would also win Atalanta’s hand in marriage.
But Atalanta, being so quick on her feet, begged to be able to race in order to keep her freedom. Her father agreed, not thinking even for a moment that she could win.
On race day, Atalanta was as fast as ever and she was certainly going to win. But Hippomenes, a clever boy who desperately wanted to marry her, had brought three golden apples with him. Every time Atalanta took the lead he would roll one into her path each time and she would stop to pick them up. Of course, Hippomenes edged the win and won the right to marry her.
As Wodtke says in her book:
If she had only set some clear goals and stuck to them, she might be ruling the city footloose and fancy free!
Every startup will run into golden apples. Maybe it’s a chance to take stage at an important conference. Maybe it’s one big customer that asks you to change your software for them. Maybe it’s the poisoned apple of a bad employee who distracts you while you wring your hands over what to do about him. A startup’s enemy is time, and the enemy of timely execution is distraction.
Radical Focus – Christina Wodtke (2016).
Who do you look up to in the business world?
This changes all the time and is therefore impossible to give a single answer. But there is one group of people who I have greatest respect for and look up to: the Tradler team.
The reason I look up to them is because they have a proven way of thinking: they committed themselves to Tradler at the very beginning, when there was only an idea. And now, 6 months later, it’s the first time they’ve received a salary.
The mindset is the following:
We can either go and work for a big company in an entry-level position and hope that in the next 3-4 years we get promoted. Or we build our own careers and tailor them to what we are best in.
They have chosen the second option without any doubt. I look up to the kinds of people who not only say they will make a difference, but actually do it.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business in Barcelona?
90% of all startups fail, so in theory you only need to start 10 to have one which works. Start now.
What’s your favourite place to work in in Barcelona?
When we just started we had zero budget to spent on an office, so we found this amazing utopia in Gracia. A bar called La Rovira. We sat there from 9 in the morning (when they opened) until closing time.
If you were leaving Barcelona tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
I’d be looking on Skyscanner for the cheapest tickets back here.
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