Interview: Scott from Vayando

Scott from Vayando with Ivuka artist Bonfils

I started chatting to Scott one day at Cafe Neo and thought his idea for Vayando was super interesting so here’s a bit about him and his project. You can find out more about Vayando on their website, Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve always thought the musician Tom Waits had the best answer to that question. He said, “I was born in the back seat of a Yellow Cab in a hospital loading zone and with the meter still running. I emerged needing a shave and shouted ‘Time Square, and step on it!'”

As for me, I’m from the suburbs of Chicago. I went to university in Madison, Wisconsin, then moved around a bit. I lived in San Francisco for a year, then rode my bicycle about 4,000 miles to the east coast of the U.S., moved to Alaska, served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador, then moved back to Chicago, where I worked with a U.S. Department of Education-funded program for migrant agricultural workers and families for 7 years.

At some point in there, a Peace Corps friend and I started talking about creating a travel website based on the talented local people we met throughout El Salvador, and our passion for unique travel experiences. We honed in our concept over Skype calls from all over the world, and eventually decided that we wanted to create a website where travelers can connect with micro-entrepreneurs and learn more about their livelihoods through immersive visits. We launched Vayando in late 2014.

What are your first impressions of Kigali?

I arrived at like 2am, and I think my very first impressions from the cab were along the lines of, “this is a great road…sweet street lights…turn your headlights on, dude…where’s the trash?…I need a beer.” A few months into it, I still really appreciate the safety, but I’m also figuring out, as I’m sure many of your readers already know, what a small town feel Kigali can have. Folks here must have a lot of Facebook friends, because everyone knows one another. It’s kind of awesome.

What are you working on?

Up until late January 2015, I was working with migrant farmworker families in the U.S. My last day of work was on a Monday, and I was on a plane headed to Kigali the following day. Now I’m focusing 100% on Vayando – and it’s going really well.

Our website, http://www.vayando.com, connects curious travelers with micro-entrepreneurs for short, experience-based visits. Think of it like the Airbnb for experiences, with options to meet up with artists, farmers, woodworkers, potters, weavers, beekeepers, fashion designers, web developers, etc. – local entrepreneurs doing what they love. We try to strike a good balance between traditional and modern livelihoods, with offerings in both rural and urban areas.

The feedback has been great so far. We’ve done well in some big startup competitions including a semi-finals placement in the Global Social Venture Competition, acceptance into the 2015 cohort for the Mentor Capital Network (1 of about 40 startups from an initial global pool of over 4,000 applicants) and pitching at events such as Startup Riot, and winning cash awards from Awesome Foundation and Ideas to Serve, sponsored by Georgia Tech University.

We’ve also had great success with connecting with others in the travel space and have been able to connect with some incredibly talented micro-entrepreneurs.

How did you end up in Kigali?

Vayando’s other co-founder and I both served in Peace Corps in El Salvador. Throughout the years we’ve remained in touch with one of the former Peace Corps El Salvador administrators, who is now an administrator with Peace Corps Rwanda, so it’s a great place for us to start. It wasn’t just our contact, though, that brought us here. We want to operate where other providers aren’t. We want to show people that a small tourism market in a small country doesn’t equate to a small level of skill in communities, nor does it mean that there are uninteresting things to see and do. We thought Rwanda was a perfect match for the type of cultural travel experiences we offer. Right now, our other pilot country is Costa Rica, so it’s always quite interesting comparing notes with our field staff there.

What makes Vayando unique?

We’ve found a unique way to combine the demand for trusted, immersive travel experiences, with the convenience of online booking. We’ve also created a space where local entrepreneurs with little or no access to the internet can market what they’re already doing as part of their livelihood strategy, and at no cost to them, so I’d say that’s pretty unique. There is no shortage of high quality operators in Rwanda who can link travelers up with immersive experiences – we work with field partners all over the country to identify those experiences and put them in a central, online, bookable marketplace.

What’s next for Vayando?

Once we get things dialed in here in Rwanda and in Costa Rica, we’ll start moving on to neighboring countries. In the last month alone, we’ve had NGOs in, I’d say, at least 10 countries reach out to us to see how they can add micro-entrepreneurs they’re working with to our website. At the moment it’s hard to be in so many places at once, but we’ve got a solid plan for being able to quickly expand into other countries

How have you been received by the entrepreneurs you’re marketing here in Kigali?

We’ve been received overwhelmingly well. We do our best to work with partners that can introduce us to local entrepreneurs, which certainly helps. Even when I approach an entrepreneur I don’t know and ask if they’d like to be marketed on Vayando, they’re usually very receptive. In fact, I’ve found that local entrepreneurs view us with a good balance of optimism and skepticism, which I think is smart for any entrepreneur thinking of getting involved in a new marketplace. They ask the right questions.

Anything else?

Absolutely. Check us out! We’ve got a really nice website and are regularly posting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to share the link to the site, send us feedback, ask us questions, reach out with ideas for collaboration, and book our experiences!

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.