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Meet Jeff Peo of Walkli in Fort Point

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Peo.

Jeff, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m not really sure how it started, but I caught the travel bug when I was in college. While my classmates were relaxing on beaches, I was over in England or France convincing myself that it wasn’t too cold to walk around in the dreary March weather. A few years later I took my first extended international trip – a five-month-long solo journey around the world, crossing six continents and 14 countries.

As I racked up more travel experience – I’m up to 75 countries now – a few things started to happen. First, I got pretty familiar with researching destinations, booking travel, and exploring new cities. Next, a shift towards local, authentic experiences in the tourism industry was taking place and travelers were becoming increasingly interested in exploring cities beyond their major tourism sites – often on foot or bicycle. And finally, I became the guy that all my friends, family, and coworkers would go to when they needed travel advice. From these observations and activities, I started to see where there were gaps in available travel resources and what I thought would be good ways to fill them.

Through all this, I was still working 70+ hours a week in management consulting. I loved what I was doing – and was gaining invaluable experience – but was still sneaking away for long weekends in Europe or the Middle East or wherever. After a trip to Japan, I started to build out the concept for walkli. It took six months before I felt confident enough in the business case to go to my employer and tell them I was leaving to launch a startup. Eighteen months later and I haven’t looked back.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Having traveled all over the world, often on my own, I’ve definitely hit a few bumps in the road. I got ill hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and had to be carted down on horseback; I arrived in Damascus only to find no hotels available and slept on a rooftop for four nights, and I was once stranded in the Dar es Salaam airport due to a fuel shortage. But getting through those types of experiences – especially alone – helped to build the confidence to leave a comfortable job for a startup.

Starting a business has had its bumps too. When developing new software it doesn’t seem to matter how much you test it before a release, bugs will always come up once it’s in the market, usually at the least opportune times. For instance, our entire site went down about 72 hours before I was scheduled to board a flight to a major international travel convention to pitch walkli to about 600 potential power users. We had put a ton of work into it by that time so it was a pretty frustrating and frantic few day. By the time I landed we were back online, but only minimally, and we lost a lot of potential business as a result.

More personally, launching a startup is a constant emotional roller coaster. On good days you feel like you’re changing the world, on bad days you feel alone and foolish for leaving a steady paycheck. We’ve been lucky in that most people that we’ve pitched our idea to have been very receptive and supportive, but occasionally we get in front of someone who isn’t as enthusiastic about the company as we are and who isn’t shy to share their thoughts on why we won’t succeed. That can be rough and no past job experience can prepare you for that. I’m very fortunate that I have a wife and family that are very supportive of what I’m doing.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about walkli – what should we know?
Walkli is a site for people to share maps for exploring cities on foot or on bike. It’s like having a friend in a new city show you the best ways to see their city while guiding you around virtually. We make it simple and free to research and compare differential potential travel destinations from home, and then easy to explore after arrival. We currently have content for more than 275 cities across 80 countries so there’s a good chance that if you’re thinking about travel to a new city, you’ll find some inspiration and guidance on our site. You may even find fun new ways to explore your home city, or to show your out-of-town guests around during a visit.

Walkli has grown so much since we started in 2016, but I think I’m most proud of the community of travel writers that we’ve been able to build. Interacting with them on a daily basis is probably the best part of my job. These writers range from 18-year-old gap year students to retirees who have sold off everything to travel the world. To have them decide to use walkli as a way to share their experiences and inspire the next generation of travelers is really rewarding.

This community of travelers and our map-based content are also what makes walkli unique. Each map posted to our site includes photographs and a profile of the map creators, and links back to their blogs and social media accounts. This helps potential travelers form more trusting connections to the advice and leads to more personal and memorable travel experiences.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Having a clear and structured plan and confidence in your goals are certainly essential. But I think it’s even more important to build and empower a team of people with the right experiences and complementing strengths. None of us can be experts in everything, and it would be impossible to do all the work alone.

Delegating and sharing responsibility – and credit – with your team members is vital to any business and has served me well, both in my experience as a management consultant and now as the CEO of walkli.

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