AnyRoad Travels Off the Beaten Path
There’s a Whole World Out There Beyond the Office
If there is ever a life experience to be had at least once in your life, it is to travel abroad—experience different cultures and ways of life to assess and reevaluate your own so that when you return home, you realize that there is a whole big world out there full of opportunity. Daniel and Jonathan Yaffe, co-founders of AnyRoad, really took this notion to heart when they first created the tourism website back in the mid-2000’s in San Francisco, CA.
We were able chat with Daniel Yaffe, COO of AnyRoad while his CEO brother was off striking a deal in Japan. The pair grew up with a zeal for travel from a young age, accompanying their parents on worldly excursions to far off places. “I was born is Switzerland, so [we] were no strangers to traveling,” Daniel Yaffe told us. “We took a couple big trips when we were young and we were definitely open to what was out there.”
“I left San Diego after high school, came up to Berkeley for college and I really haven’t been back much,” Yaffe remembers. “Obviously Berkeley is a world of difference; it’s super diverse, there are students from all over the world, but [it has] also given me the opportunity to study abroad—to travel a lot.” Diversity seems to be a running trend for Daniel, as he claimed he had a wide variety of businesses and jobs before AnyRoad, including a restaurant, publishing company, a film company and even served as an EMT for a while.
“After college, [Jonathan] took off for South America for two years. In our past, I think we were exposed to other cultures earlier on,” Daniel Yaffe states. “San Diego is not the most diverse place in the world. A lot of our peers wouldn’t necessarily have picked up and traveled around as much, but I think we knew that there was a whole other world out there, that San Diego was a microcosm inside of a microcosm.”
Although Yaffe found a lot of opportunity to become cultured and refined at Berkeley, he reveals that starting a business for the first time was a far cry from his scholastic career. “In school, you learn what it takes to get good grades; it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the hardest working, but you figure it out.” Yaffe definitely learned the value of hard work once he left the sprawling school grounds to carve out a place in the world for himself. He would try many different ventures, each more risky than the last, before he would reunite with his brother to form the online service that pairs tourists with their guides.
“I had always been inspired to start my own thing. Through high school [and] through college I was able to start clubs and organizations. I [feel] like I have the ability to start things, whether they become successful or they’re companies that are funded—it doesn’t matter. Starting an organization [or] a project takes a lot of the same qualities I think.” We have found through our many interviews that true born entrepreneurs all share a similar trait in that they love to start and create things for themselves early in life, whether it is a lemonade stand or building something new from a pile of junk. Yaffe himself believes that the ability to actually begin a venture on your own volition is paramount to being a good entrepreneur.
“A lot of it is about doing. I think a lot of entrepreneurs think about something too long and think of a million reasons why they shouldn’t do it. I think [that] a lot of entrepreneurship, and starting companies and projects for that matter, is just putting something on paper—getting something out.”
An all-too-common problem many entrepreneurs face is taking that first step, and Yaffe hits the nail right on the head. Many are attracted to the shiny allure of going into business for yourself, whether it’s because of that “next great idea” you have, or simply wanting a change from your 9-to-5 job. “I think there are a lot of people who want to become entrepreneurs because it’s become over-glamourized…Silicon Valley has created celebrities, an entire media structure behind it, groupies, stars and I think that’s really interesting.”
Yaffe likens becoming an entrepreneur to being an actor in Hollywood, in which everyone is trying to make it in the business. Some do it because they are seeking the fame or “living the life”, while others just do it because they love their art. Even Hollywood outlets like HBO have gotten on the glamourizing bandwagon with their new TV series “Silicon Valley” that spins tales about the daily lives of entrepreneurs in the tech startup paradise.
Yaffe and his brother Jonathan decided to put their own other businesses aside in 2006 and begin AnyRoad, but not without doing their homework first. Since they were already travelers themselves, they set out to meet over a thousand independent tour guides to get feedback on the tourism industry as well as the pains of the guides themselves. Now that is what you call research!
It was this personal approach the Yaffe brothers took that persuaded them to change their original general tourism idea to one that directly helped these independent (albeit more authentic) tour guides conduct their own businesses through AnyRoad to compete with the major tourist companies across the world. The Yaffes believed that the smaller outlets had something more unique and often times better to offer than their corporate counterparts. The co-founders decided to focus their efforts on matching customers with the best guides possible, depending on whether a general tour was desired or something more off the beaten path.
After using the “Lean Startup” model and getting funded after many rounds, the Yaffe brothers have proven that you can indeed work with family. “We’ve gotten very close over the last five years. Our minds think a lot alike, so we’re able to finish each other’s sentences a lot, but at the same time we know our own weaknesses and we know where it’s better for each other to step in and take over…as far as the overall vision goes, we really both share it.”