Profile: Alone Together
Shefali Walia merged her love for travel and community with Wetravelsolo, to connect solo travelers and craft unusual trips
After completing her MBA from Amity University, Shefali Walia worked for various startups and nascent companies as the Business and Marketing Strategist. The idea of founding her own venture, Wetravelsolo, came to her as she was perusing a book during downtime at work. That book, $100 Startup, “inspired me to live differently”, Walia says.
“$100 Startup speaks of starting a business around things that are close to your heart. So I asked myself what was close to my heart. And my heart answered: Travel, Community and Solo. Wetravelsolo was born in 2014,” says the 27 year old.
“I have always been an avid traveler and never waited for company to set out on a journey. I now realise that I took a lot of risks — I have gotten into a cab with an unknown driver at 4 am, I have been to a Naxalite-hit area and I have embarked on a long walk on a lonely beach just to see the lighthouse. I found that I am happiest when I am with myself at a place in the midst of nature,” Walia says.
Wetravelsolo is a network that connects like-minded individuals online and offline over common interests. The company aims to empower solo travellers, allow them to connect with each other and allow them to share notes on handcrafted budget, experiential or backpacking trips. All three aspects are facilitated by modern technology.
“We offer a huge door to enter the unexplored world. There are more people to meet than places to see and vice versa. So you can travel and meet like-minded people, and get expert advice, guidance and the company of people who have traveled the world. They work as your Trip Crafters. So you don’t just travel solo, you travel solo together,” Walia says.
The response so far has been great.
“I left my job and registered my company in June 2014. We launched our website by February 2015. There has been great traction and people seem to have accepted the concept,” Walia says.
Wetravelsolo raised seed funding in June 2015 and released a mobile application soon after.
However, it wasn’t a cakewalk.
“I was new to the travel industry and everything appeared to be a challenge. But when you are passionate and driven, you just keep going and dealing with problems becomes a part of the workday,” Walia says.
She recalls that when she set out on her new career journey, a few mocked the idea of strangers travelling together.
“I was told not to attempt this as the concept seemed more global than Indian. I realised that we were trying to create a behavioural shift in the Indian market and it wouldn’t happen in a day. So convincing investors and customers went hand in hand,” Shefali says.
As many as 300 people have gone the Wetravelsolo way till now, including working professionals, entrepreneurs and those who are settled in life.
“People who have good jobs, who make great money or not, those who return to India after studying or working abroad, they all have travelled with us,” Walia says.
What’s in the future for Wetravelsolo and Walia?
“We are moving towards the next level of growth after refining our business model. We will use the funds to build automated processes and tech to enable ‘solo, travel and community’. Our new products will enable solo travellers to connect with each other, plan and then travel together,” she says.
Walia strongly believes that each one of us is on our own path of learning and must discover our own definition of success.
“It isn’t easy to compromise. I know that as I’m a strong woman and this has led to problems. But I learnt to keep my war suit on at all times and to challenge myself to be flexible – this is extremely important when you are growing a business,” she says.
Walia believes that we have to keep going “for it is not about the destination but the journey. Nobody can stop you, if you keep going.”
On maintaining her sanity through the wild roller-coaster ride of managing, raising funding and planning for the future, she says: “I don’t forget to take a break regularly. It’s okay to be selfish. That way, I never stop learning.”
Two Get-ahead Tips
Reach out. There are far more people ready to help than you would have expected. Don’t shy away from seeking help, favours and learning. Your success depends on your community so build a great team and involve them in your journey.
Keep the bigger picture in mind and always see the fine line that differentiates smaller troubles and bigger objectives. Listen to everyone, take away all the good points but make the final decisions either yourself or with someone who has vision and experience.
This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated 'May 16, 2016' with cover story titled 'Back-breaking Acquisitions'
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.
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