Julie-Anne Uggla talks about the mobile tour guide app which brings together specially curated walking tours in 28 cities around the world.
All of this is on offer through an app which means that travellers can dictate the pace of their tour, stopping whenever they want and delaying their tour if the weather isn’t looking great! Founder, Julie-Anne Uggla tells us more.
I came up with the idea when... I was looking for a city tour while I was on holiday with my daughter in Italy. I was surprised by the poor choice and lack of quality tours available. Once we finally chose a tour to go on, we found it to be very expensive and inflexible. It didn’t allow us to stop and take in the city at our own pace. We also found the tour guide to be uninspiring, any interesting facts were dulled because of their monotonous delivery. These factors combined did not make us want to stay on the tour, which seemed silly given that we were in a beautiful part of the world and really wanted to find out more about it!
As a keen traveller, I knew there must be a way of using tech to make exploring a new city more exciting while giving explorers more freedom to take things in, in a way that suits them best. From that, Cities Talking was born!
The biggest challenge is... Putting together tours for all the great cities we have visited. Every tour we create for the app requires a lot of time. Finding the right voice for the tour, researching each city and putting together tours which offer a look at the city beyond just the key landmarks does not come easily. This can mean we need people on the ground in a city to make sure the tours reach our high internal standards. After all, locals know the cities best, and it’s important we tap into this knowledge to create the best tours!
The average day is spent... We are constantly working on creating great new tours, be that expanding to cover new cities or improving our collection of tours in an existing location. This process is the junction of art and technology as part of the team is updating the app and building a new route, while elsewhere talented writers are crafting the latest script and one of our stars is giving a great performance in a recording booth!
Our ever expanding team consists of... our core team of developers who make sure the app looks and performs brilliantly. Around this core swirls our roster of star script writers and local celebrity voices between whom the tours come to life. Also not forgetting our marketing and customer service department who work hard to ensure customer feedback is taken on board in the app development and the product is marketed to the correct audiences.
My favourite quote... ‘There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.’ – Robert Louis Stevenson
I am where I am today because of... Hard work. I started out working as a model before setting up my own headhunting firm when I was 24. Through perseverance the firm grew quickly despite my young age and brought me into the world of business. Today I support a number of ventures and sit on a number of advisory boards where I can share the experiences I have accrued.
I am who I am because of... Travelling. On my travels I have seen some truly beautiful places, but I have also seen a lot of suffering. I have been involved with charitable fundraising for the last sixteen years and I recently founded Zamcog, a charity which is improving education in Zambia. I am really proud that we donate a percentage of the profits from Cities Talking towards charities in each of the cities in which we offer tours because the team believes as deeply as I do that travelling not only changes the traveller, but it can also have a positive impact on the places we visit.
The best advice I've been given... ‘Surround yourself with a great team, and build that team slowly’ – Having that initial idea is incredibly powerful, but building a successful app on your own requires a lot of time, technical knowledge of many disciplines and a lot of luck. If you have a team of people who you trust and who believe in your idea as much as you do, then you can focus on what you are good at without compromising on other areas.
In five years I'd like to be... It is an ambitious aim, but I would like Cities Talking to be synonymous with travel. I would like people to think about Cities Talking and which tours to download when going away the same way people will check Skyscanner when they are looking for flights.
Technology is already making travelling much more convenient. All my boarding passes are now always on my phone, I am a big fan of the e-passport gates which drastically cut queues at border control in the EU, and with data charges falling abroad, travellers are using their phones on holiday the same way they use them at home. I believe that now is the right time for Cities Talking to make discovering a new city more convenient, more flexible and exciting.
The one thing no one ever tells you about running your own business online... Working with people around the world actually makes things better. We have team members based in France, the United Arab Emirates as well as in the UK. While we have to make a few concessions to time zones, the benefits of having different viewpoints are huge when we come across some of the more challenging aspects of creating our tours.
My biggest mistake and what it taught me... Going into a new industry too quickly. My background is in headhunting and not technology! While I knew how to build a successful company, I didn’t know how to code a successful app. I outsourced the building of the app, during which time I learned an immense amount about the apps industry and what it takes to create a winning app. By the time the first build of the app was finished, I knew enough to know that we needed to start over with the app itself as it did not meet the standards I expected for a final product, which was time consuming.
I learnt that doing your research pays dividends in time and money. Even if it seems to be taking a long time, building up that foundation of knowledge will ultimately speed up the process more than learning by trial and error.
The most rewarding experience we've had to date... Is reading positive reviews of the app and hearing stories of people using Cities Talking. We created the app to help people get the most of their travels to be able to explore new cities as easily as possible, so to have that proof point from our customers is great!