On a mission to enrich lives through offering travel experiences – Interview with Tripaneer CEO Robert den Hollander

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Tripaneer is an Amsterdam-based startup which develops online marketplaces for theme vacations. The young online travel company was founded on the belief that a travel experience with an educational theme is a lifetime memory that lets people discover their abilities and increases happiness and personal growth. Tripaneer was founded in 2012 and officially launched its first website BookYogaRetreats in 2013. Since then, customer revenues have mostly funded the growth of the company’s 160+ people strong team which today works from 16 different countries.

As we think that Tripaneer is kind of a hidden champion when it comes to European travel startups, we just sat down with Robert den Hollander, the founder and CEO of the company, to learn more about Tripaneer’s early days and future plans.

How did you come up with the idea for Tripaneer and how did it all start?

Back in 2011, I was reading Tim Ferris’ ‘4 Hour Work Week’ and there was a chapter in it that emphasized it was better for us to think of a target audience and come up with a solution for them rather than coming up with a product and finding a target audience for it.

At the time, I was practicing Kung Fu and it was one of my goals to deepen my knowledge & practice in the discipline by studying Kung Fu in the mountains of China with (Shaolin) monks. Funnily enough, I never ended up going through with it but it sparked the idea for one of our first three websites; BookMartialArts.com.

When I was researching online, I had found it difficult to find a website that offers an overview or comprehensive selection of martial arts training camps located all over the globe. What I had found was mostly websites of Kung Fu schools and in many of them, it was challenging to find the information I was seeking (Details on training programs, accommodation, reviews, etc.). It dawned on me that I couldn’t be the only one who is facing this ‘issue’ so I set out to create a website where one can easily find, browse, and book from a wide selection of martial arts training camps – all in one place.

Since the demand for martial arts training camps wasn’t very high, I decided that it was best to add more themes to our ‘roster’. After some market research and due-diligence, we found that yoga (yoga retreats) is a theme that has a high demand so we decided to pursue it. Where as for culinary retreats, one of the 3 ‘original’ team members really enjoyed cooking and as it has enough demand, we thought it would also be a good additional theme for us to focus on.

What were the main stumbling blocks in the first 2-3 years after founding Tripaneer and how did you overcome them?

Starting out is always tough and it certainly comes with a set of challenges – but if I had to pick two, it’d be: defining priorities and finding the right people.

As there were only 4 of us and we had limited (financial) resources, we had to work hard to determine what should be our focus so we can maximize our time and effort. In the beginning, we believed that it was best for us to focus on how to deliver the best product/ service as possible. Once we were able to establish that, we were able to define and work on the tasks that we should most of our resources on (focusing on operations related tasks & projects).

Though finding the right people to join the team is always a challenge – no matter what stage your business is at – it was particularly difficult when we were first starting out. I had used my own capital (bootstrapped) to start the company, which means I had to be very cautious when it comes to expenses and this includes employee salaries. Since it’s quite expensive to hire local (Dutch) team members, I decided to look for high quality remote workers with relatively lower compensation. So, I focused the recruitment in South East Asia – particularly Indonesia, where I found the three ‘original’ team members. Two of them, I’m happy to share, are still with us!

What is Tripaneer’s unique value proposition that sets it apart from its competitors?

As a company, we have a mission to enrich lives through travel. And what we mean by this is that we want people to use their travels as opportunities to further explore not only the world – but also themselves. We truly believe that a happy and meaningful life is simply not something that one can acquire in books – rather, that it can only be gained through experiences. In essence, we want to help them to grow personally and perhaps, professionally, through their travel experiences.

What sets us apart from our competitors is that we provide platforms that enable anyone, with access to the Internet, to find, compare, and book a comprehensive selection of themed travel experiences to help them do so. Most travel companies out we know of, only offer general sightseeing trips and/or offer a single theme travel experience whereas we seek to become the ‘go-to’ company for theme travel as a whole.

In February you closed a financing round led by Point Nine Capital. How are you planning to invest that funding and what are the next milestones for Tripaneer? 

We primarily use the investment we received from Point Nine Capital to further strengthen our team and accelerate our growth. We are currently focused on growing two of our travel theme websites: BookAllSafaris and BookSurfCamps. Additionally, we are investing in product improvements so that we are able to assist more people to have an unforgettable travel experience.

With over 160 employees, how do you support corporate culture and how do you make sure employees stay happy and motivated?

This is definitely one of the cases where starting out small really became an advantage. When began to expand the team, we come to realize that we had established at close-knit culture. Right there and then that we decided that we do not want to lose this ‘family-like’ environment. As we continued to grow, we were very conscious of maintaining this culture where we respect our team members as much as we appreciate our customers and the travel organizers we work with.

This is why, to this day, we’re quite selective in terms of hiring – not only in terms of skills and competencies but also in terms of character and values of the candidates. As much as possible, we try to gauge whether or not the candidate embody the company’s core values and will ‘mesh’ well with the existing team members, before we bring them on board.

As of April, Tripaneer currently has a total of 171 team members working in 16 different countries (26 nationalities). And I am proud to share that many our current team members had shared that they view the company as a ‘second family’ that care for them and able to provide them with positive support.

What is your experience with Amsterdam as a location to start an Internet company? 

Technically, I had started the company in The Hague – as I was living there when I founded and registered Tripaneer (Previously named eBookingServices). It wasn’t until 2016 that we established our headquarter in Amsterdam.

That said, Amsterdam appears to be Europe’s hot spot when it comes to startups. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know various entrepreneurs all over the globe who are also growing their own companies here. Our current office is actually located in TQ, one of the city’s co-working spaces that cater to startups. In this space, we’re able to meet even more inspiring and innovative startups to collaborate and learn from.

All in all, Amsterdam has been an excellent location where are able to grow our company and it has certainly helped in accelerating our growth.