Our First Year Journey: Trip Merchant

We’re coming up to our 1 year anniversary of incorporating Trip Merchant (May 18th) and we wanted to share our experiences with you as you’re part of our journey. We think “Journey” is an appropriate word to use, like the song “Don’t Stop Believin”, which was also the wedding song my wife and I danced to…or at least tried to dance to. Also, our new travel brand is called “Trip Merchant Journeys”, which focuses on private/tailored made travel experiences.

After spending our entire careers working for other companies, we decided in March of 2018 that we should consider starting our own travel business. The decision to do so came with a dose of fear and reluctance, but a much stronger feeling than this was that we realized this was something we had to do or we would regret it forever.

We began writing out our business plan to determine the feasibility of what we wanted to do. Shortly after, on May 18th of 2018, after allocating hundreds of hours into planning, writing and discussions, we decided to incorporate. At the time that we filed for incorporation online, I was sitting on the top floor of my hotel in Playa Del Carmen, with my laptop on the bar talking with Ryan while he was in Calgary.

Our biggest initial expense was to actually build the platform that we needed in order to execute our business strategy. The day we had to pay our first big bill was the day that we realized there was no turning back. We contracted a tech company to build our corporate site and our consumer websites to our specifications; this involved coming up with the layout, design, writing content for each landing page and determining all the applications necessary for our system. We were constantly alternating between that and negotiating with travel suppliers to receive special offers, reaching out to associations and constantly presenting, presenting, and more presenting… Once the templates were ready it was all hands on deck for loading the content and we had a goal of launching in September of 2018, which was a moving target for many reasons. Whenever there are components that are beyond your control there is nothing you can do but keep pressing and light fires whenever necessary. We wanted to launch with a minimum of 15 travel suppliers before we went live. The months of September and October we’re spent mainly behind a computer, and then eating and sleeping in between; sometimes 15 hours a day of just loading content. I ended up getting a repetitive motion injury and had to go to the Doctor to get painkillers and a wrist guard…then it was back to loading content. My wife asked “Why don’t you hire someone to help?” and my response, “Do you know someone that will do this for free?” Ryan and I have bootstrapped the entire company with our own funds so we needed to be cautious on our expenses. We needed to account for our insurance, CRM system, phone system, licences required, etc… Just when you think you’ve got everything covered, you have more things that need to be done and some can be very tedious, as well as time consuming, and all cost money.

We finally launched Trip Merchant the first week of November of 2018. This was the week we traveled to London, England to attend World Travel Market, at the ExCel Center, which is the second largest travel trade show in the world. We had 25 pre-set appointments over a 2 day period with travel suppliers serving key destinations we wanted to develop a product in. We booked an AirBNB apartment and when we arrived, it turned out that the guy renting it actually lived in the same apartment and basically just shut his room door and that was our privacy.

During the event, we literally went from appointment to appointment (running sometimes), and took 20 minute lunches on both days. One of our focuses was to establish a partnership with an in-destination Egypt travel partner. Ironically enough, one of the meetings that wasn’t scheduled was when I was catching a breather and in front of me I saw a booth of an Egyptian company with a tall slender man and his daughter. I went over, chatted and explained our business and he was very interested in our model. We both interviewed each other and he asked me, “Have you ever been to Egypt?” I said “No”. He followed with, “Come to Egypt and I will host you. You have to taste, touch and feel the destination.” At this time Ryan was at another meeting and once we reconvened I brought him over to introduce him to the owner Mamdouh, as I was very impressed with his company and the level of service they offer.

Needless to say, we were pretty much talked out by the end of the event. To celebrate a successful couple of days, we went to the local English Pub to enjoy a couple beers, which was located outside the main entrance to the Excel Centre. We then hopped in an Uber to central London to explore the city. The following day, we took the tube to Heathrow, with the not so usual spring in our step.

Within a week, after flying back home to Canada, we made the decision to go to Egypt the following month and take Mamdouh up on his offer. I wrote about our entire experience while in Egypt in my recent Egypt blog, also located on your travel site under “Travel Tips & News”.

After the Egypt trip we spent the rest of December ramping up for the new year. Every week we would have our list of goals and activities to accomplish for the week. January through now has been a blur as we have been adding lots of content, meeting with new suppliers, organizations, live in person presentations, webinars, calls at 5 am to suppliers in Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, Kenya and others. Time zones are not always your friend. South America is nice though, never more than a 4 hour time difference. 

In March 2019 we traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. Vietnam was another place we’d never been before. In the upcoming months we will write a blog about that experience and share it with you on your travel site and in the newsletter you receive. ‘Coles notes’ version, we flew into Hanoi and spent a couple of days, where we rode on the back of a scooter through narrow streets and alleys, had some delicious food and other adventures..Then we went to Halong Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City before getting on a 7 night Mekong River Cruise taking us to Cambodia. Being in Cambodia recently really makes us appreciate how fortunate we are to live where we do and to have the opportunity that we have. We truly have nothing to complain about. I wish that more kids in Canada could go to some of these countries and learn first hand of what many in other countries have had to live through. It would teach a lot about perspective.

Our wives have been extremely patient with us as we continue working on our business and traveling to these destinations without them. We’re certainly enjoying ourselves, but we’re also doing work while away. We always need to have our laptops and internet access. To many of our family and friends the work part of these trips doesn’t really come across, mainly because photos of us typing away on our laptops or being on our phones just doesn’t make our personal Facebook photo cut. We knew what we were getting into starting our own business and I can tell you that we don’t regret a second of it. It has been an incredibly rewarding, challenging and exciting learning experience. There is a silver lining to all of this work as we’re planning a surprise trip for our wives this upcoming December (I’m horrible at keeping secrets). We certainly couldn’t have done it without them and their support.

Our goal is to deliver the best travel experiences to our customers at the best possible prices. We’re searching the globe to bring you unique experiences and we do this for you, as you’re the reason why we’re in business. As I write this, I reflect on everything that has happened over this past year and how excited we are about the future and how thankful we are to be doing what we love doing. Thank you to all of you. You’re all a part of our “journey”!


Our Core Values:
Customer Service | Engagement | Loyalty | Integrity | Community

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