Anywhr Insider: Felix on Two Years of Going Anywhr
Anywhr Insider is a Project #GOANYWHR blog series contributed by members of the Anywhr team. We write of our personal reflections, lessons learned about our craft and industry, and the lesser-known sides of our global journey to change the way people live through travel.
To kick start the series in 2019, here’s a reflection by Anywhr’s Co-Founder Felix, on his journey of building and growing Anywhr the past two years:
As 2018 draws to a close, 2 years has passed since Zelia and I launched Anywhr. The journey has been nothing short of absolute fulfillment, seeing our Travellrs on trips, sharing their joys and journeys, makes the hard work and hours we put in worth it. Of course, when we first started this, we did not anticipate it growing to such an extent. We also certainly would not have been able to pull it off without the help of many friends, mentors and advisors. 2 years in, hitting pause and giving time to reflect, in particular to 2018, seemed appropriate.
Back in March, an intern once described us as a college school project. That might have been meant as a compliment, but it did not sit well with me, it felt wrong. It was jolly, it was fun, but high performing companies are often not built on such foundations. It led us as founders of the company on a long period of soul searching. What did we want our Team to be like? How do we get there?
It ultimately boiled down to our own personal preference of the type of environment we wanted to work in. We wanted to work with a team of achievers. We wanted to work with highly effective people, people amazing at what they do. We wanted a team where everyone can learn a lot, have freedom to perform at their best, improve fast and be encouraged to improve faster, all while having fun.
Since then, we've worked hard at building exactly such a team. It was tough at first. Zelia and I struggled with delegation. We struggled with determining the right people. And when we've determined the right people, we struggled with getting them to join us; nobody wanted to join a team of what seemed like ragtag misfits. But as you recruit the first, the second becomes easier. Then the third, so on and so forth.
Fast forward to today, it's been a few months since I've been involved in the day to day of our Trip Operations. It's astounding to think that in Jan, I was doing all of these myself as a single person. We now have a stellar team of engineers, lean, agile, committed - always ready for a celebratory beer after shipping a new feature.
Just a few days back, a friend mentioned that the team we have now sounds like a professional sports team. It finally feels right.
Neither Zelia nor myself had background in engineering. We've also never worked directly with engineers before. The classic dilemma that occurs in the tech industry thus occurs; how do you build a tech startup with no tech?
We hired computer science interns as an experiment - I'm genuinely sorry for them, they were set up to fail. We tried going for offshore teams, hiring a team in Indonesia. In hindsight, the bid to approach engineering on a budget made the company more losses than gains. We lost time when we could have shipped features, we incurred a pile of technical debt with a poor code base - things which should not have happened with what was a simple application.
One finger points outwards, four points backwards.
At the core, I could have just been a better Product Owner.
It boiled down to learning product development principles. Abhi (Check out his Chatbot!) first introduced the concept of a Sprint to me, handholding me through the first few. Junwen gave me good initial reads. Jarin, our first designer, forced me to keep one step ahead of her in learning UX principles. Sunny, our VP of Engineering, butts heads with me on a daily basis and I've learnt so much about engineering from him and Aik Chun.
Together, we went through our first major product launch in November 2018. You can read the International Press Release here, together with our launch video which premiered at our Travellrs Party in December 2018:
I realised it's easy to read about Agile and how product teams work, but only now do I feel that I'm starting to get a grasp of it. Ever since going through our first product launch last month together, team roles are becoming clearer, processes have been established. Atlassian puts it as Norming. As I write this, we're about to ship our multi currency feature and internal voucher code support in one sprint; we've never shipped so quickly before and we're not even at our best yet.
In the process of raising our first round of funding in the months of April to July, growth was something we obsessed very much over as founders. We wanted to get more bookings, we wanted to show that there was demand for what we did. In the days after we raised capital, we had serious doubt in ourselves. Growth was inconsistent, were we doing something wrong?
Yet, in being so heavily growth oriented, we had created tunnel vision for ourselves. Dave from Nugit, one of our Angels, very aptly pointed out that in that period, we had already grown 100% from 2017, why were we being so hard on ourselves? We had doubled, by the simple act of doing right for our community, our Travellrs; as Grace from Found reminded us of, we needed to get back to our roots, our community. In that desire to grow, we had forgotten about ourselves and what got us to that stage in the first place - our Travellrs.
We sought to re orientate ourselves around our core; and Zelia has been simply phenomenal in this.
She started interviewing our Travellrs again, something which we did at the beginning but lapsed in midway. Hearing from them share their journeys with us has not only been heartening, it has given our communications soul. Much of our content revolves around these stories, serving to both honor our Travellrs and to share the joy that we have gotten from hearing about them. It’s through these stories that our core mission shines through, as verbalised by our Travellrs themselves.
As with all growing startups, we go through our share of ups and downs. It’s not always rosy like how the media tends to portray startup successes. Yet it’s through many trials that a startup becomes great. The first few years will always be years of exploration, finding our footing in the larger ecosystem. We ask ourselves this question: Why should we exist? If we can’t justify this, then in the unmerciful landscape of the global economy, we will eventually disappear. As with all other companies, Anywhr needs to earn its keep.
The year truly ended well for us, with the company breaking a brand-new record in some metrics, and further established our purpose which we are convicted to fulfill. Anywhr is your bespoke travel curator, and the journey starts when you discover your destination at the airport. We look forward to planning more personalised trips better for you, and truly change the way we live through travel.
2018 has been integral in helping us set foundations, as founders, as mentees, as friends, but even more so as a company, as a service. That said, we have many more plans for 2019; for the many more stories that are waiting to be told.
Felix is the Co-Founder of Anywhr. He started his first company at the age of 21, utilising a combination of psychometric frameworks and software to assess workplace culture fit. He has since been involved in various aspects of the startup ecosystem including venture capital, and industries like biotech, HR tech, marketplaces, fashion, and logistics. Prior to co-founding Anywhr, Felix was the Head of Operations at a Rocket Internet venture, managing marketplace supply and regional business intelligence.
His favourite travel journey: Living with locals in a desolated Filipino village, and through their inviting celebrations of song and dance, he learned that you can have so much more with less.