Interview with Jamie Wong on IdeaMensch
What are you working on right now?
We’ve got several big projects we’re working on that I’m very excited about. We have a partnership announcement coming out soon, and we’re also releasing some exciting features soon (they’ve been a long time coming). I’m also spending a lot of time talking with customers and guides and figuring out how to turn their wish lists into reality. It’s incredibly challenging and super fun.
Where did the idea for Vayable come from?
My first travel experience was when I went to a Native American reservation with my third-grade class. I stayed in the home of a Hopi family. There was no running water, and there weren’t any supermarkets. We picked our own greens for dinner. This immersive backdoor experience became my template for travel. Years later, I was in a carpet shop in Morocco, toting my “Let’s Go” travel guide, and I told the shop owner that my friends and I were looking to ride camels in the desert. Rather than go on the expensive commercial tour listed in the guidebook, he offered to drive us 15 hours through the Atlas Mountains in his Honda Accord to stay in his cousin Ali’s caravan camp in the Sahara for a quarter of the price. We agreed, and we ended up having the most magical five days of my life, and the shop owner was able to support his family for a month with the money he made. When I went home and my friends and family asked me to connect them with my Moroccan guide so they cou ld have a similar adventure, I knew there was incredible potential here.
What does your typical day look like?
First, I scan my email for anything urgent; I try to knock out the rest later in the day. My days typically start off with calls or meetings. I am not a big fan of meetings, so our head of ops has renamed them “powwows.” Nevertheless, we try to keep these at a minimum. Our team lunch is usually around 12:30. We have delicious, organic, locally sourced meals delivered every day. Then, I try to spend the afternoons on projects I’m directly working on. These days, I spend a lot of time recruiting, talking to customers, and strategizing on how to make our product better and our customers happier.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always start with the problem. What is the problem we are trying to solve? Then, I talk to people. I ask open-ended questions, as well as present solutions, and see how they respond. We also rely on “thoughtful” brainstorming a lot, meaning presenting an idea in advance for everyone to put individual thought into, and then get in a room together and share and build off our ideas. For many of us, our best ideas aren’t things we come up with on the fly; rather, they’re ideas we’ve put a lot of thought and analysis into beforehand. Then, we start building and getting feedback from users. It’s a very iterative, interactive, and collaborative process. No one can bring an idea to life all alone.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m excited by using technology to power human interaction offline and create a new economy.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I once worked as an office manager for a fast-paced and demanding production company. It was both the best job and worst job I ever had. I learned that you can accomplish amazing things at lightning speed as a team when you act with urgency. I also learned how important it is to set boundaries for yourself in your work and not push yourself to a place of resentment and exhaustion. It’s important to do what you love with people you love.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I am very happy with the journey I am now on, and everything that came before it has helped to pave the way.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask questions. Ask your customers. Ask your team. Ask your friends. Ask yourself. Never stop asking questions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had many. I think the best way to overcome failure is simple — just learn from it and keep going. You define how small or large the failure is by how you react to it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If I’m willing to give it away, it’s probably not a very good business idea.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would want to get rid of fear. I believe one of the best ways to do that is to help connect people from different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs through shared experiences.
Tell us a secret.
I’m good at keeping secrets.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I have one, Google: I think we can safely say life as we know it would be drastically different without it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Shrug. This should not only be a bible for product development, but for human communication.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@BobRoss — He provides profound painting tips for life.
@KimKierkegaard — This focuses on the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, mashed with the tweets and observations of Kim Kardashian.
@jamiejwong — I recommend myself because I rarely post, so I won’t clutter your feed.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laughed about 30 seconds ago, when everyone in the office started spontaneously saying “Yay.” You had to be there.
Who is your hero?
My sister, Jessie, is my hero. She’s a super badass. She’s working on her PhD in clinical psychology and is the sweetest, most thoughtful person you’ll meet.
What continues to drive your company to find the best local guides for travelers?
Travelers’ appetites for unique, non-commercial experiences are growing, and it’s imperative that we change the way the industry is structured.
What has been your favorite experience while traveling to 35+ countries?
I have many, but my favorite is here: https://www.vayable.com/about.