Alex Pu is the co-founder of Baryl, a travel tech startup that takes the stress out of trip planning by helping travelers create hyper personalized itineraries within minutes.
A member of the 2021 Future Founders Startup Bootcamp and People’s Choice Award winner at the 2021 U.Pitch Elevator Pitch Competition, Alex has spent the last year navigating the challenges of scaling a travel startup as COVID-19 disrupts every facet of the industry. We recently caught up with him to see how things were going, and to learn a little more about his journey as a young entrepreneur.
A lot of my favorite memories with friends and family always come from traveling. Yet with nearly every trip that I’ve ever been on, the weeks leading up to the trip always involve the same conversations: “So what do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “Well, I don’t know.” This becomes especially stressful for busy people. As a kid, I really just didn’t know. But now, as somebody who’s getting older, I really don’t have the time to figure a lot of this stuff out sometimes. It just seems like a very painful problem for a lot of people. So rather than living that reality the rest of my life, I figured that this seems like a problem that could be solved. The technology is not so advanced that this would be impossible.
That was how I got started on this problem.
I feel like I don’t necessarily surprise myself a lot, but I guess something that I did learn or kind of confirm about myself is just how far I’m able to push myself when I really put my mind to something. My mom told me something in high school and to be completely honest, I forget what the actual sentence was, but the way that I remember it in my head is something along the lines of: “If you don’t quit, you win”. I think she said this in the context of when school gets really hard, just keep going and you’ll get your diploma. But then I started thinking, “okay, well why do they say that 90% of startups fail?” To put it into crude terms, it means the founder quit.
I’m sure there are a lot of reasons behind why they had to quit, but then I started thinking about how I can make sure I don’t quit. This past year I’ve built a team that depends on me and of course I depend on them as well. I’ve told pretty much everyone I know that I’m working on the Baryl after graduation. I began pouring all of my time into this. And so I’ve created commitment devices for myself, if you will, so that if I do quit, there are some consequences to it.
I’ve actually been able to push myself pretty far, and I think having the confirmation that I can do whatever I put my mind to is something that’s been super valuable for me.
I don’t know if it’s so much a piece of advice, but I think a misconception that a lot of people have about entrepreneurs is that they have to be incredibly disciplined. That’s not to say that you don’t need discipline because you definitely do, but I don’t think it’s to the degree that a lot of people believe. Even before I started on this journey when I would think of successful founders, I would think of people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. People who have made it and who have the most ridiculous work ethic that probably isn’t healthy for like 99.9% of people, right?
I think there are pieces of my life where I am disciplined. I work out six days a week. I usually wake up around seven. I spend every day working and thinking about Baryl. Those are the things I’m very disciplined about, but I still procrastinate and watch YouTube videos. I hang out with my friends more than I should probably. And I’ve met other entrepreneurs who I look up to and they’re normal people too. They put in the crazy 80-90 hour weeks when they have to, but they also like to play video games until 2am. And so it’s kind of this realization that, you know, that entrepreneurs aren’t robots. That’s a misconception a lot of people seem to have.
What keeps me up at night? It’s just knowing that at some point enough countries are going to get the COVID situation under control, and travel is just going to take off. Travel is already opening up now. We can see it happening around us, but at some point it’s really going to explode, especially as countries in Asia and Europe begin lifting these COVID restrictions, hopefully with the right protocols in place. So when that time comes, I just want to make sure Baryl is ready for that wave of travel. I listened to a TED talk once on how timing is the most important part of a startup. If we really want to nail the timing, then we have to be ready. And so that’s something I think about a lot…is Baryl going to be ready when the time comes?
I guess that also relates to what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m working on something that excites me. I think a lot of people get excited about their startups, and I don’t want to brag, but I think travel is like a pretty cool startup space to be in, even though a lot of people fail in this space. I know that we have the potential to really change the industry if this is done right, and so waking up every day knowing that I get to work on something really important to me is what I get really excited about.
If I can be really blunt, I think it would be really cool to exit a company or IPO one day, whether that is with Baryl or another future company that I work on. I think that would be an amazing milestone. But in terms of what success means to me, I think there is an element of financial success, and for me that means having the money to do what I want and to be able to spoil the people that I love. That’s a dream that I have.
There’s also an element of career success, which in many ways I feel like I’ve already found. To me, career success means that I love what I do, I can see a clear path forward to where I’m going, and I’m actually enjoying the journey along the way, which I don’t think a lot of people can say for themselves. So many of my friends that I’ve seen graduate college, they go into very lucrative careers and then whenever I call them and check up on them, they dread going to work, they’re not enjoying their lives, and they count down the days until the weekend. Not that it’s a terrible way to live your life…I think a lot of people do that and a lot of people are actually happy in those scenarios. But I have to enjoy what I do. I love the journey and the direction that I’m headed and hopefully that leads me to financial success eventually.
Check out www.baryl.io to learn more and get your next trip planned. You can also follow their Instagram @baryltrips for travel tips & inspiration. And feel free to connect with Alex on LinkedIn or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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