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Meet the student entrepreneur who wants to turn travel into a game

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Anyone who remembers when Pokémon GO first came out in 2016 will remember the masses of people, driven by the chance to catch and train their favourite Pokémon, venturing out into their towns and cities to explore.

Mark Yeo, a Singaporean international student at King's College London and co-founder of exploration app ExplorR, has created something similar, in the hopes of turning travel into an adventure game.

explorR Logo Courtesy of Mark Yeo

Bush House, the home of the King's Business School, is the perfect place to meet the young entrepreneur, who will graduate this year with a BSc in Economics and Management. Catching him in the middle of a busy day, I sat down with Mark to interview him for The National Student.

Tell us about yourself, and about ExplorR.

Mark: I'm one of the co-founders of ExplorR, a location-based game that tries to gamify spontaneous exploration. Rather than the user planning their trip when they go to a new place, what ideally they should do is go to that place, open up the ExplorR app, and randomly discover new places as they journey on.

We're recreating the exploration experience for our users. The idea is that when you discover something out of surprise, you get the thrill of a unique experience, which is something not many mainstream tourists could do.

Mark Yeo. Image Credit: Mark Yeo

So what's the story behind ExplorR? How did it begin, and how did you get here?

Mark: It started off with two co-founders meeting at summer school in Paris, in 2017. It was literally an East-meets-West story! One of my friends from King's, who is French-Italian, met a guy from China.

My French-Italian friend had this idea of exploring China without relying on a tour group, while Jingwu (the Chinese guy) was more than happy to showcase what China could offer to foreigners like him. Jingwu was keen to bring him around, but he recognised that a lot of the traditional tour companies couldn't bring foreigners to really authentic places in China.

The initial idea was to create a platform where, instead of relying on tour companies, locals would bring foreigners to unique places that they know. I came in to say that we want to fundamentally change travel, rather than becoming just another platform or agency, because there was no competitive advantage in such a business model. There are a lot of apps in China where people can meet up for inbound travelling, as well as other platform apps, and of course, there are plenty of traditional, if outdated, tour companies.

We needed to change the whole exploration experience, and we could do that using location-based technology similar to Pokémon GO or augmented reality. Why not allow people to explore, discover and get rewarded for doing so?

I was also inspired to do this because I play a lot of video games with a huge open world where you have your avatar just exploring, adventuring without knowing what to expect. That feeling is something I want to translate into real-life - this time, we are the adventurers discovering the real world!

You mentioned video games. What kind of games do you play?

Mark: Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, that type of open-world RPG. My sister even plays Skyrim, which has a large virtual world where you can climb mountains, explore villages. The games I play allow you to explore the world.

What was the hardest thing you had to do, and what was the most rewarding experience?

Mark: The hardest thing right now is sales. We are trying to promote the style of unplanned, spontaneous travelling that ExplorR supports. It's still not mainstream and limited to certain demographics like backpackers. It's a niche market - it's big enough for us, but can we make it mainstream?

That's the biggest challenge, moving from the backpacker demographic to just any young traveller sick and tired of modern travelling. How do we encourage people to start talking about their unique experiences? When it's starting to be normalised, that's when we can finally go mainstream.

The most rewarding experience I've had is when we pitched in New York. The audience and the judges were so intrigued that they didn't even ask about the financials, or about the commercialisation of our business. They were just so excited by the idea of spontaneous exploration, and one of the judges even told us he always dreamt of having a product like this.

It confirmed a bit of the hypothesis to us that people have an innate desire for unstructured, spontaneous exploration. It is romantic, epic, and refreshing, and I think people have always wanted that, but for practicality's sake travelling becomes more of a chore.

So why should someone use ExplorR?

Mark: I think we offer a unique way of travelling. We don't see ourselves as a necessity, we see ourselves as a fresh experience and to some extent, a lot of modern travellers desire this kind of new experience.

If you're bored with the current way of travelling, if you're stressed out over planning, visiting the same tourist spots crowded with so many other tourists, and you just want a very different travelling experience, something so memorable as if you're an adventurer, try ExplorR! You take the app, go somewhere you've never been before, and allow that moment to reveal hidden places to you. That would be a life experience for someone who is willing to step out of their comfort zone and is tired of the current method of travelling.

Finally, what advice do you have for students who want to get into entrepreneurship?

Mark: I'm not too sure if every entrepreneur would share the same view, but I wouldn't recommend being an entrepreneur for the sake of being one.

I think you need to be very passionate about your idea, to the point where you might ask yourself every morning, "What if I had something like this?" and you start taking action upon it. I think that passion, that drive for the idea (not even success, just the idea), would push you to keep going on even when others aren't convinced.

When you have such an idea, if the idea of not starting a business using that idea makes you unable to sleep, then go for it - it will be hard, and it will be risky, but dare to be creative and to be passionate about that creative idea.

You can download ExplorR from the App Store for iOS devices or get it on Google Play for Android users.




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