This entrepreneur wants you to see the world—without doing it alone

Koala Travel founder Hui Wang doesn’t think the lack of a travel partner should hold anyone back from adventures near and far

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

About seven years into her career as a software engineer, Hui Wang decided to take a break to travel, but she couldn’t find anyone who was willing to join her. “I had to give myself a pep talk,” she says. “‘Just go on your own.’” She did just that, spending a couple of dreamy months in late 2016–early 2017 exploring Australia and New Zealand. When she returned home to London, she landed another full-time job—but her idea for Koala Travel was beginning to take shape. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to build, exactly,” she says. “I just knew I wanted to do something about this particular problem. A lot of people put off traveling because they don’t have someone to go with.” 

She started by creating an app that would connect like-minded travelers, but had “no clue what to do with it,” she says. So she joined a coworking space that introduces members with mentors, which is where she met her eventual cofounder, Stuart Megarry. He suggested she scrap the app and build a website (“it’s easier for people to find,” she explains), and from there she organized her first trip—to Asturias, Spain—in early 2018. “It was me and two other women on that trip,” Wang remembers. “I’m still friends with them.” 

Megarry officially joined the company in August 2018, which is also when Wang quit her job to go full-time. She’s since planned adventures, which typically include about 10 travelers, in places like Lisbon, Paris, and Slovenia; still to come in 2019 are trips to Blue Lagoon in Iceland, Vienna, and Amsterdam. 

But Koala offers more than out-of-town excursions; the majority of its profits come from local weekly “experiences”—a dumplings tour or a journey exploring London’s street art, for example. “Originally my thought was that we’d do tons of trips in a year,” Wang says. The vision changed in part for financial reasons—they wouldn’t be able to scale a company that offered only trips—but the shift also made sense. “The mission of Koala hasn’t changed,” says Wang, a WeWork Labs member at 8 Devonshire Square. “It’s about connecting people, curing loneliness.” In 2020, she hopes to host about eight trips as well as multiple London-based experiences each day. Below, she shares her diary of a recent workweek, just ahead of a fantasy trip to an exclusive island. 

Wang not only created the idea of Koala Travel, but she also organizes and leads the trips on-site.

Monday

10 a.m. Settle in at the office, make myself a cup of tea, and write out my to-do list. I come in a little later than usual on Mondays to make up for lost sleep since, until now, I’ve been hosting all of our weekend experiences. Thankfully, we just hired a new associate, Goda, to help with those. She’s a godsend.

10:15 a.m. Finish designing the Koala roller banner and posters for the WeWork Labs Investor Open House event on Friday. It’s a showcase event for startups, but we have a trip the same weekend, so I won’t be able to make it. Even though we are not actively seeking investments, it’s good to have a presence at these events.  

12:30 p.m. Grab a quick lunch.

1–3 p.m. Finalize details for this weekend’s trip to Osea Island, off the coast of Essex. It’s an exclusive, 380-acre island that normally only caters to corporate events, weddings, or celebrities like Rihanna, but my business partner, Stuart, managed to secure it for the weekend. We have 22 people going, which means it’ll be our biggest trip yet.

3–5 p.m. Brainstorm our “Koala Fridays” concept. The idea is to host a different event every Friday to connect like-minded people. We’re going to start with a private-dining experience. A friend owns this gorgeous restaurant in East London, and we’ll do a three-course tasting menu where the chef will explain to us the origin and history of each dish. We’ll also have someone tell us about the wine. My job is about knowing the right people and making the right friends. 

5 p.m. Catch up on emails. We get quite a lot of customer inquiries, and I’m trying to set a specific time each day to reply—that way I’m not constantly getting distracted from other tasks.

7 p.m. Back home and cooking with my housemate. I love cooking and he loves eating, so we make the perfect team.

9 p.m. Piano time! I’m writing a new song at the moment. Keep an eye out for my first album due out in 2050 :-).

Tuesday

9 a.m. Arrive at the office and have my weekly meeting with Stuart. This week is all about making sure the island trip goes smoothly.

10 a.m. Upload the next batch of Koala experiences onto Klook and BuyAGift, two travel platforms that we’ve been trying to partner with. It’s finally happened!

11 a.m. Coffee time.

11:15 a.m. Inform vendors that future experiences will be run by Goda.

12:30 p.m. Lunchtime. I walk around Old Spitalfields Market for a bit. Walking helps me clear my head. 

1:30 p.m. Call with the event organizer of a panel talk I’m doing this Thursday.

3 p.m. Create a WhatsApp group for our island trip to get everyone excited. My phone starts going off immediately.

3:45 p.m. Create our weekly newsletter for subscribers; we keep them up to date with what’s going on in the Koala family.

5 p.m. Social-media time! Promote Goda’s guide to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We regularly get travel lovers within our network to write authentic guides of their favorite cities.

6 p.m. At the start of this year, I thought to myself, “I need a better work-life balance.” So on Tuesdays and Thursdays I usually go to tae kwon do. This week, I skip class to see Noises Off, which is a play about a play. It’s actually quite funny. In the first act, you see the actors during the play, with things going wrong; in the second act, you see their backstage reactions. It reminds me of running a business: Customers see a smiling face no matter what, but behind the scenes you’re like, What’s happening?!

11 p.m. Straight to bed. I’m absolutely knackered.

Work-life balance is usually a struggle for entrepreneurs, so Wang makes sure she fits in activities like tae kwon do, musicals, and playing piano.

Wednesday

9 a.m. Arrive at the office and make tea. Meet with Goda for training. She’s been shadowing me for a couple of weeks now, but this weekend will be her first time hosting our weekly dumplings-and-chicken-wings tour solo.

11 a.m. Set up the roller banner I designed on Monday.

1 p.m. Finalize details of the private-dining experience and list it on our website and partner platforms.

2:30 p.m. Lunch.

3:45 p.m. Plan our 2020 trips with Stuart. Most of our trip ideas don’t have much scientific backing behind them. It’s like, “I want to go there and do this.”

6 p.m. Fix some bugs on the site.

8 p.m. Back home. After some food, I read another chapter of Trillion Dollar Coach, a book about leadership that Stuart recommended. Definitely worth reading.

Thursday

9–11 a.m. Talk on a panel called “A Morning of Small Business Inspiration” with three other founders. We talk about how we started out, the mistakes we made along the way, and what advice we have for other entrepreneurs. I share how, in hindsight, I spent too much of my early stage thinking about things like What is the right font size? What is the right color? I’m not saying details like that aren’t important. But running a business, it’s important to prioritize your tasks.

12 p.m. Lunch.

1 p.m. Hand over some last-minute details for Sunday to Goda. She’s going to be great.

2 p.m. Go through all my emails. Schedule a few social-media posts since I’m not sure how good the signal is on the island. 

5 p.m. Leave relatively early so I can get a good night’s sleep before our epic trip. I am in bed by 6.

Friday

7 a.m. Wake up. Day of departure!

11 a.m. Due to high tide, the island can be reached by car only twice a day for four hours at a time, so I’m eager to get everyone on our minibus.

2 p.m. We arrive, but I’m still waiting for one customer, who wanted to drive himself. He arrives as the water level is rising on the road. Had he been five minutes later, he wouldn’t have been able to make it onto the island.

2:30 p.m. Everyone settles into their assigned cottages.

3 p.m. Time for a BBQ.

6 p.m. We light the firepit and talk and sing around it all night. We then move to the beach area for a spontaneous beach party that becomes a pool party. It’s such a blast. When you’re the person organizing and planning a trip, you have a certain responsibility. In that sense, these trips are always work for me. But once everyone’s arrived and I see things are working out, I have a good time and it does feel a bit like a holiday. I can’t fully switch off, but I’m grateful for every experience. I’m getting to travel and meet like-minded people, and that’s exactly why I started this business in the first place.

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