The AWP Network connected with Monisola Baruwa, Founder of CountlessMiles to learn more about her business, what inspired her to start and how she plans to grow her business.
my company CountlessMiles aims to transform the perception of travel by curating unique, personalized, cultural and immersive destination experiences for Africans traveling globally by connecting them with a community of travelers and providing a home away from home. Apart from our core business model, which is to curate these experiences, we aim to inspire other would-be travelers by sharing stories of Africans defying the odds in global travels.
How did you come up with your business name?
At about 2am on a weekday, my very good friend and I began brainstorming on a name that would simply illustrate hassle-free travel. The name that came to mind that day was “Jet.Set.Go” but the domain name was taken. So we started thinking deeper – we wanted a name that would speak to infinite travel. We tried different combinations and eventually, my friend said “countless miles” and at that moment it felt like the perfect name. I checked Godaddy for the domain name for CountlessMiles and it was still available.
What inspired you to start?
My first solo trip to Europe changed my perspective on travel, specifically on the immersive travel experience and more importantly, how it served as a tool to my self-development. When I got back from this trip, I had a mindset shift from the regular to out-of-the-box. The fact that I was able to navigate the European cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Paris with no idea of how I’d communicate or move around gave me the self-confidence needed to achieve the unimaginable especially when I am outside of my comfort zone. This journey inspired my travel company – CountlessMiles.
You see, I could not comprehend why some Nigerians I knew did not travel like this. The typical Nigerian would travel to the same destinations and for the duration of their time there, just go shopping or sit at a relative’s home. Therefore, I decided that I want to change the typical African’s perception of travel by inspiring them to embrace experiential travel through personalized immersive travel experiences.
How have you financed the business?
So far, I have used my personal savings as well as contributions from friends and family. Currently, we are looking into financing opportunities via crowdfunding or angel investors to help us attain our goals.
What is your competitive edge?
The travel industry is over saturated and there are so many competitors. CountlessMiles however, is focused on the African traveler, a target market most of our competitors are not focused on.
What is the long-term plan for this business?
CountlessMiles aims to become the immersive destination experience brand for Africans globally. To penetrate our target market and to make CountlessMiles competitive both locally and globally, we plan to launch a technology-driven travel product that will allow travelers using our platform the freedom to curate personalized destination experiences through a mobile or web platform.
From a business development standpoint, we plan to participate in more collaborations in the Food and Art industry both locally and globally as a way to promote experiential travel. Our first Travel and Art collaboration themed, “This is Not Lagos” took place on October 1st, 2016 and it was successful.
What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge is trying to merge this big vision and idea that I have for my company to its present reality of a startup trying to break into an extremely saturated industry. The CountMiles idea is ahead of its time therefore, making it harder to penetrate the market. Fortunately, the market is beginning to understand immersive travel and its importance to both economic and self-development. As a result, we are seeing a gradual increase in appreciation of the CountlessMiles brand and vision by our target market.
What key things have you learned since starting this business?
- Find that ONE person you can trust and work with, someone who believes in your vision, and who is also willing to put in the hours to bring your vision to reality. Then cherish the person and appreciate their efforts.
- Focus on ONE thing at a time. While it may seem like the world is moving very fast and you need to deliver in every aspect, you simply cannot because you are a small business with little or no profit. So, focus your energy on what you are good at or on the area of the business that you would like to grow. This will move you a step closer to achieving your goals.
- Never lose sight of your vision. It is easy to get carried away by the noise especially in this age of social media, but never lose focus on your dream and vision. Focus on the end goal, always remember what inspired you to start the business and keep pushing.
- There will always be competition and there is nothing you can do about it. In the ideal world, you want to be the only player but we do not live in an ideal world. I learned to develop a thick skin to news of a competitor doing work similar to what we are doing and focus my energy more on thinking of ways to stay competitive despite what the competition is doing.
What six (6) things do startup entrepreneurs need to know?
- The journey of an entrepreneur is not all glitz and glam. “The proof of passion is perseverance” is a good quote for startup entrepreneurs. Some days are good, some days are bad, some are extremely bad but always remember your vision and what motivated you to take the decision to become an entrepreneur. Let that be your driving force during the tough times.
- There will always be competitors, existing or new. Actually as soon as you launch your idea, you notice more competitors than you did prior to launching. Competition is okay but what is not okay is letting what your competition is doing discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Learn what your competitors are doing and figure out how to have a competitive edge with your product or service. Remember, every entrepreneur’s journey to the top is different.
- Rejection is part of the process. You will get rejected a lot of times; it is an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey. The amount of times I have gotten rejected is unbelievable. But among the rejections, there are a few Yes’s, and they remind you to stay focused on the journey. So never give up.
- Entrepreneurship is not only about pursuing your dreams but also about finding the right opportunities, need and target market. Have a clear vision fueled by your dream and passion but always know when to think outside the box, and seek the right opportunities that will catapult your business idea to the next level.
- As an entrepreneur, you should learn to be self-sufficient. As a new business, especially with little or no funds to hire people, finding that perfect mix of volunteers or people who can fill different roles in your business will be hard to find. Learn to do things yourself, else your business may suffer.
- Find the best resource fit. Look for someone (one person is enough) you can trust, someone who is capable, who believes in your idea and vision, and who is willing to take this journey with you. Also make sure this person is filling a position or a role you are not good at. Remember, no man or woman is 100 percent self-sufficient and you cannot do everything alone. Needless to say, two heads are better than one.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
- First, start the business and the money will find you. People who may want to help you want to see the work you put in before they offer any financial investments.
- Second, think of avenues to generate money from your business. It may not necessarily be your core business model but it will help bring awareness to the brand and some cash inflow to the business.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
As a lot of young Africans explore different industries and opportunities for development, we can show support to each other by helping new businesses when they reach out. Share ideas, resources, and invest by paying for the product or service. In my experience, Africans – especially Nigerians – tend to be very competitive and do not want to collaborate. The sad reality is that deep down, one business owner does not want the other business owner to be more successful than they are. We need to learn to be more supportive of one another and not make everything a competition and a race for who gets to the top first.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I am yet to create any paid positions because the company is running very lean. However, over the past year, CountlessMiles has filled five (5) volunteer positions mainly in the social media and content development area. We plan to hire for a few full-time and part-time roles once we receive funding.
Where will the funding come from? Crowdfunding or angel investors.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
The Countless Miles vision and the idea in itself is technology-driven. As a technology consultant, I am constantly thinking of ways to use technology as leverage for the business. Right now, a lot of work is done manually because we do not have the funds to develop a full tech-enabled platform. That being said, we are seeking funds for this purpose and hope to launch the first or second quarter of 2017. The product will provide travelers who utilize our platform with the ability to curate their experiences anytime, anywhere in the world, in a single seamless process.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
If we create an ecosystem that fosters ideas developed in Africa or by Africans, we may have the opportunity to tap into resources that we can leverage to develop ourselves and our businesses. Again, as Africans we need to learn to support each other and not make everything a competition. Also, it would be great for investors to support technology driven business ideas in Africa even in the not-so-popular industries. Right now, most of the investors mainly look at the agriculture or financial industry.