Meet The Disruptors: Evan Frank of Fora On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Operate with a clear sense of mission. Startups are hard, and honestly, even in today’s startup hiring market there are easier ways to make a living. There are many cold nights. It’s the mission that keeps us going.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan Frank of Fora.
Evan Frank, a serial entrepreneur, is a three-time founder or CEO of travel and hospitality marketplace startups. In the last decade, he’s started, scaled, sold, restructured and pivoted high growth, globally distributed businesses. Evan co-founded onefinestay which was bought by Accor Hotels for $200M, and was later hired as the first external CEO of Context Travel, a globally distributed travel experiences business. Most recently, he co-founded Fora in August 2021, a modern travel agency focused on empowering anyone with the interest, passion and time to sell travel just like the pros.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My career started in corporate finance, and then venture capital. The joke in banking is everyone wants to move to the ‘buyside’ — because investors were having more fun. But once I became an investor, it was the same thing — all the VCs I know just wanted to be entrepreneurs. So, I turned 30 and decided to try building a company. After a short stint selling underwear on Portobello Road in London in an early D2C startup, I was invited to be a cofounder of an alternative accommodation startup called onefinestay. I loved the work. So, I’ve spent the last 10+ years building new disruptors in the travel and hospitality space.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The work that we are doing at Fora is literally disruptive in the classic ‘Clay Christensen’ sense. The current travel industry is dominated by big OTAs and big agencies. By empowering the long tail of who could sell travel for a living, thinking laterally about our advisor targeting, building tools to make the work easier and a community to make it more fun, we think we can create something with OTA-like tech and agency-like human touch.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
If you mean my entrepreneurial career — I messed so many things up. A lot of first-time entrepreneurs have this slightly surreal experience where they, up until that point, have done more or less ‘everything right.’ And then they start a company and don’t have a clue what they are doing!
My first startup was a D2C men’s underwear brand. We manufactured in Portugal and batch shipped to London, where I lived at the time. Doors in London have letterboxes. So, I thought it would be cool to manufacture a specific letterbox package to deliver the underwear in, and we could deliver it just like the morning paper or a utility bill.
Problem was when you put the underwear in the box — which I spent thousands of dollars manufacturing — it bulged too much to fit through most letterboxes. I quickly abandoned ship and moved to simple black envelopes and stuck a branded sticker on top of it, which worked infinitely better and looked cooler.
Lesson is: be scrappy and lean, and allocate resources wisely!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I learned a tremendous amount from my cofounder at onefinestay, Greg. He was really the person who introduced me to startup ways of thinking. He was a legendarily tough interviewer and had an insanely high bar for talent. My hiring philosophy is in large part due to the many years I spent building onefinestay alongside Greg.
Honestly, I didn’t have that many other mentors along the way. BUT I did read a ton. I approached every book I read for years as an opportunity to learn, and apply in nearly real time, some of the lessons from some of the most amazing business builders in history. This learn, apply, adjust loop has served me well.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think disruption is generally good, as it results in better consumer experiences and value. I think most entrepreneurs have that bias. It can, of course, go too far. Uber is an amazing company but created real economic challenges for taxi drivers in NYC, for example. And various health and safety issues that they’ve taken steps to address. Same with Airbnb — disruption is cool when you are monetizing your spare bedroom, or finding a well-priced accommodation when traveling, but it’s less cool when affordable housing is being exploited by Airbnb landlords — or when your holiday is ruined because the host didn’t take the same steps to make sure the basics are in place as a hotel would have.
Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Operate with a clear sense of mission. Startups are hard, and honestly, even in today’s startup hiring market there are easier ways to make a living. There are many cold nights. It’s the mission that keeps us going
- Hire the best and never settle. Not only does this create the best work culture, but in many cases lifelong relationships
- Play the long game. Disruption is hard and often misunderstood for a long time
- All we have is time, and not enough of it. Guard it carefully
- Every interaction is an opportunity to reduce someone else’s suffering
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m committed to growing Fora and getting it to a much larger scale than today. I’ll keep working tirelessly to bring new people into the industry and support travel advisors as the best we can with technology and community. We are focused on our mission of empowering 100,000 travel entrepreneurs to enter the industry and making a Fora advisor truly the best job in the world.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I did love Jim Collins’s Good to Great. It’s a classic. I think the most important takeaway from the book is how ‘Good’ is the enemy of ‘Great.’ This concept can be applied across so many areas — relationship dynamics, hiring, business models and even child rearing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think it would be Peter Thiel’s “If you have a 10-year plan of how to get [somewhere], you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months?” It’s really hard to be complacent about work, relationships, career path and achievements. And life is short and unpredictable. It’s a reminder to always bring plans forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Treat every interaction as an opportunity to make someone’s day better.
How can our readers follow you online?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/evanbfrank/ and evanfrank.co.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!