Henry, Geordie and Felix are avid backpackers and travellers. Yet they found themselves relying more and more on a network of like-minded travellers for advice on interesting places to visit, good hostels, local bars and hangouts. They got frustrated with the lack of relevant information out there on the internet. So it made sense to develop an app where backpackers around the world can share their experiences, journeys and tips – no matter where they are. They linked up at university, brought on Dom and Oskar and the rest is history. We spoke to them to get the story…

Tell us a bit more about BackTracker

BackTracker is a mobile and web app where you can share your backpacking experiences with other people and take inspiration from others.  Our users can plot their journey on our map with photos and text and share it with family, friends and others on the BackTracker network. You can follow other users and friends, see where they are in the world, read about their trips, browse their photos and chat to them about what they’re doing.

Users also have access to a whole load of content to inspire them and help plan their trip. We’re talking hostels, bars, clubs, things to see and do, places to go and some awesome featured journeys.  

And where are you based?

Wherever there’s WiFi! For three of us that’s currently in Henry’s bedroom in South­west London. We were all at Bristol University which is where we launched; we finished our finals this year and moved to London in June. Dom Bryan and Oskar Bunyan have recently joined the team on the development side – in fact they dropped out of university to do so. At the moment they work from home in Leicester and Bristol, but we’re hoping to get them to London soon.

Tell us about your target audience. Who is the app aimed at?

Young travellers and backpackers. Travel and tourism is one of the largest and fastest ­growing industries in the world and youth travel is the fastest growing sector within that. We’re talking about a generation of people who are more connected, less patient and more information ­hungry. And yet the resources available to them are extremely outdated, disparate and disconnected. There’s a massive gap in the market for a resource or platform which takes advantage of this contradiction, modernising and reuniting the sector.

Why do you think your business is unique? What gives you the competitive edge?

It’s difficult to talk about direct competitors because we’re at the beginning of a trend. There are some really great new travel apps coming out at the moment, but there’s no other app, website or service which is doing exactly what we are doing. Most current travel resources exist to give you information ­- a one­-way street if you will. A backpacker is required to make the first move; to search actively for a destination, activity or provider. With us, backpackers can discover information around them and all over the planet about things they didn’t even know existed or were possible to do. We are a crossroads where all players in the travel industry come together.  

travel app startup

How long have you been working on this project?

We started working on the project in September 2014 while we were in our final year at university. We launched in April 2015 just before our finals and then took it on full-­time after graduating in June 2015

Where did the idea come from?

Out of frustration. We’ve all backpacked extensively for long periods of time and come across the same problems time and time again. There was never a really interesting and easy way to record your journey, staying in touch with other backpackers while on the road was near impossible, and it was very difficult to find up-­to-­date and relevant information. In our experience the most useful and rewarding information came from other backpackers -­ we wanted to create a platform which made this exchange easier.  

Can you tell us a bit more about the partners in the business and your backgrounds?

We came straight from studying at university. The idea for BackTracker made so much sense that we decided to pursue it. Like all other backpackers, right now we’re sleeping on sofas and working behind bars whilst we build it!

Felix: Henry Latham is our CEO. He speaks 3 languages, and there aren’t many countries he hasn’t been to in all honesty. He spent his summers working in the marketing department of his dad’s travel company!

Henry: Geordie heads up our analytics and growth and like Henry graduated in June from Bristol University with a degree in Modern Languages. He also speaks 3 languages and has travelled extensively in Latin America and once made the mistake (long story) of driving to Mongolia. He has since replaced grammar and vocab with numbers and graphs!

Heading up marketing and content management is Felix Hughes-Morgan – again with the same degree from the same university! He has travelled to a number of countries (around 20 at last count) and also speaks 3 languages. Growing up in a family of journalists and writers, it was only inevitable that he ended up focusing his efforts on combining his knack for words with his love for travel.

Dom Bryan is our lead iOS developer. He was in Singapore when BackTracker got hold of him. He started off studying Computer Science at Leicester University but dropped out at the end of the summer to dedicate all his time to BackTracker. He speaks two languages: English and another that the rest of us are having to learn very fast –  it’s called Python or something…

Finally we have our backend and web developer, Oskar Bunyan. He was also studying Computer Science, at Bristol University, but has since dropped out to build BackTracker. From a family of techies and engineers he’s only really ever got one thing on his mind: building cool stuff.

What about your own childhood background? Were there any entrepreneurs in your family who inspired you?

Back in the day we weren’t those kids on the street selling lemonade and cookies, and we think in many ways that’s what makes our team so great. Many entrepreneurs are motivated foremost by a love for business. We entered the startup world through belief in an idea. It is an emotional attachment to BackTracker that drives us – we get up in the morning because we know that what we’re building will enrich the backpacking experience.

Can you think of any event that happened that sparked this venture?

Yes, a long and rainy boat trip down the Amazon from Leticia to Manaus! The idea for BackTracker was born out of our own personal frustrations from backpacking. But it was this boat trip that gave us the time to reflect on these frustrations and design a solution. What distinguishes entrepreneurs is the fact that they don’t simply accept the status quo. They reflect and analyse daily life and contemplate how they can improve or fix it. In many ways we were lucky that on this boat trip we had no choice but to think. Now, we make a point of reflecting and analysing on a weekly basis.  

Tell us about the most exciting moment to date

Definitely the launch. So often ideas remain exactly that -­ an idea, and it was really satisfying to hold something in our hands that we’d created and that was really cool.  

What about the toughest moment?

We launched in April and our final exams at university began in May… that whole period, trying to balance university work with launching BackTracker was exhausting. That was probably another really exciting moment in fact, when we finished our finals.  

Was there ever a strange moment where you felt that this idea was destined to happen?

There was never a singular moment where we felt a sense of destiny, but every day we have new ideas about where we can go and what we can do which gives us that excitement and reminds us that we have an opportunity with BackTracker to do something really cool. We constantly talk to our users, to current backpackers, and their feedback reminds us that we’re on to something big. This is our biggest motivation.  

And what’s next for Backtracker?

Rio. Or Barcelona. Not fussy. (laughs).  The goal for us is to be the ultimate backpacking tool, as indispensable as the backpack on your back.

One final bit of advice for someone starting their own business?

Just do it. Ideas are easy, making them a reality is not. Oh and make sure it’s something that you really enjoy and believe in. It’s a hell of a lot of effort for something that you’re not that bothered about.

 

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