Some of Speedinvest’s most exciting portfolio startups share their success stories
Secret City Trails offers a fun and playful way to discover new cities. How did you come up with your initial idea for the startup?
Kristina: The idea started when I discussed with Wendy what to do one weekend in Amsterdam. We both were not satisfied with the options to do if you do not want to go to a bar or restaurant. We felt that there should be something fun to do in your own city, which is not too touristic and boring, and we wanted it to be flexible and independent.
Wendy: It started when Kristina (Co-Founder) and I were looking to do something different in our ‘home city’ at the time (Amsterdam). We’d already played most escape rooms and we had gone through the lists of best places to have lunch/dinner/drinks on popular local blogs. We wanted a self-guided experience that would show us cool spots in a city — and an activity that we could enjoy at our own pace. Also, we were frustrated with the bookmarking of loads of different blogs and places to go. We wanted something more spontaneous! And that’s when our first secret city riddle trail was born.
How did you acquire the knowledge to run a startup?
Kristina: Both of my parents started their own business as I was growing up, so I think I grew up around it. Then, I worked in jobs running big projects and you learn on how to manage deliverables on a tight schedule. In my last job, I was creating MVPs for a bank in a corporate startup environment. I believe its more about the mindset than a skill, I never liked or enjoyed corporate jobs as I could never do more than my given tasks, even when I was bored and had nothing to do.
Wendy: Besides coming from an entrepreneurial family (both my grandfathers were and my mom is an entrepreneur), I’ve always been interested in how we can develop or build a product, service or experience that can create an impact on other people’s lives. After several years of working for large brands (Microsoft, Groupon, Carlsberg and Nike) in corporate communications I decided to quit and volunteer my skills to social enterprises in Sri Lanka. Working alongside various grassroots businesses there was when I knew I’d be building a startup/business of my own! After this experience, I ran the Chivas Ventures Fund (an accelerator and 1mln fund for social entrepreneurs) and after this, I set up and managed the Booking.com Booster (a 3-week accelerator and 2mln fund for startups in sustainable tourism). In these roles, I’ve not only reviewed 900+ pitch decks and business plans, but I’ve also worked closely with the startups in each of the programs. This helped me a lot to learn about building a business, challenges in different stages, managing teams and life as an entrepreneur.
In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being an entrepreneur?
Kristina: There are many advantages, for me. The biggest ones are that my days are always different, there is always the next challenge to face and I am constantly learning and developing. A disadvantage is perhaps that it never ends and we don’t really turn off ever and if I do not want to do a task, no one will do it for me so eventually, I have to do it anyway. :)
Wendy: Great question! First the positives, you’re building something that’s impacting other humans, that’s fucking awesome. In our case we’re offering people experiences/entertainment, either while they’re traveling or in their own cities. Playing games brings people joy, which in turn makes us pretty happy! Then, as an entrepreneur, you’re learning every day — and for someone who loves learning, that’s fantastic. I’m not only talking about hard skills, but I’m also talking about personal growth and growth as a leader. You can also be more flexible in your life. Work and life are fully blended — as you’re always thinking about your business. But, I enjoy starting my mornings with yoga and slow homemade breakfast and get to the office at 10 and work until late, I have that freedom and I love it. Oh and I’ve made great friends during networking gatherings, something that didn’t happen when I was still networking for my corporate job. Disadvantages? It’s risky. Depending on the stage your business is in, you might not know if you can pay rent/your mortgage. It’s something that’s constantly keeping your mind occupied. Even when you’re having a coffee with a friend on a sunny Saturday morning… Or during your meditation.. ;)
What was your biggest moment of success?
Kristina: I hope yet to come :). Every day, when we receive positive feedback from our customers and when we turn them into ambassadors of Secret City Trails.
Wendy: I think it’s yet to come. Though one of the biggest moments so far has been when we decided to take it from a side project and dedicate ourselves full time! And launching our first game made by a local — and this is what will make us scale! Now, all our games are created by locals who follow our framework and get our feedback to create kick-ass experiences.
What are the biggest challenges you faced during the early stages?
Kristina: Both of us did not have experience in marketing, so actually spreading the word and make people aware of our brand. It is still our challenge :).
Wendy: Digital marketing is hard. It’s also HUGE as a topic. And when you don’t nail it, sales are hard. Sales are crucial. And finding the right people to join you early on is hard too!
What are the most crucial personal traits you need in order to be successful as a founder/ as an employee in a startup?
Kristina: Fail quickly. There are always ups and downs and if something doesn’t work out, you need to act quickly to get over it and focus on the next steps.
Wendy: You need resilience. Lots of it. You will fail, many times during your journey. It’s tough, but you have to learn and keep going. Without that, who’s going to create something awesome for the world?
Which advice would you give young founders?
Kristina: Everything takes much longer than anticipated. :)
Wendy: Just do it! (which is funny as Kristina and I met at Nike). I think what we learn during our business degrees doesn’t prepare us for what it’s like to have a business/run a startup, so do it and learn as you go!