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Photo: WRW Smith

Skyrocketing Ottawa startup Wandure is expanding to Barcelona with travel app

By Nickie Shobeiry on February 25, 2019

Everyone knows that seeing a new city with a local makes your travels that much better. Founded in Ottawa, travel app Wandure allows users to do just that. Having launched in summer 2018, this app provides unique experiences created by locals, or the opportunity to find like-minded travel buddies who want to discover new places.

With Wandure, you can provide an experience yourself, showing off your hometown by turning your passion, talent or hobby into an experience—all while meeting new people and making money.

Image courtesy of Wandure.

It’s an amazing concept, which is why it’s not surprising that Wandure has already won four pitch competitions, including Startup Ottawa, Startup Garage, and the University of Ottawa’s Launching Entrepreneurs—the latter seeing the team take home $45K in January 2019. Talk about your New Year’s resolutions.

The app co-founders L to R:A li Kazal, Luis Anacona, Ismail Benmbarek. Photo: WRW Smith.

So, who’s behind all this? Wandure was founded by three close friends—Ismail Benmbarek, Ali Kazal and Luis Anacona—who knew each other since high school. They all loved to travel, and, wanting to do what so many brave souls have tried to do before them—to prove Ottawa is anything but boring—they decided to explore the peer-to-peer experience and travel industry.

They did this so magnificently that, from the start, aside from nailing all competitions, they’ve had users sign up without being approached—every entrepreneur’s dream. I asked Ismail how it felt. “It’s been really great. Even in the middle of winter, during one of the slowest travel periods of the year in Ottawa, we managed to accumulate over 5,000 users, a few hundred bookings and over 15,000 messages exchanged between travel buddy users. In fact, we felt confident enough that we’ve recently expanded to Barcelona as our first scaling city!”

It’s true: at not even one year old, Wandure has expanded to Europe. They’re also #3 on Google Play Trending and have a 4.9 rating, with over 700 cities set as ‘destinations’ by users. It’s not hard to see why. Take one scroll through this beautifully-designed app, and you’ll some of the most unique experiences Ottawa has to offer: dog sledding, medicinal mushroom hunting, mermaid school, llama walking, paella cooking—one of Ismail’s favourites (to quote, “Mediterranean crew!”).

Image courtesy of Wandure

“We’re naive and stubborn, which has actually worked to our advantage,” Ismail explained of Wandure’s success. “If we knew the amount of work it’d take to merely get to this point – only a few thousand users—we wouldn’t be working on Wandure anymore. After a bunch of trial and error in terms of our growth and marketing strategies, a bunch of technical issues that we continually fix, listening to users for feedback and constantly iterating the product accordingly, we have something that people actually kinda like.”

All this has given the company significant growth. How’s the team keeping up with it? “We’re hiring new faces at a steady rate. We now have a team of eight, from starting off as only Ali and I. Slowly, we’re discovering what each team member is specifically good at and leveraging that. So, now we have more defined roles which is great for productivity. We’ve also understood that we’re a scaling business so in addition to Barcelona, we plan on expanding to four more cities by the end of this year. Those are: Vancouver, Montreal, Bangkok, and Singapore.”

In addition, Wandure has fantastic partnerships with Ottawa-based organizations, including Wingd Inc., Ottawa Tourism, StartUp Garage, Alt Hotel, and more.

As with any start-up, there’s always some challenges. Ismail listed off some of the largest Wandure has had to date. “Constantly having to iterate the product as we listen to user feedback. We really didn’t think it’d be as frequent as it has been, although now we’ve come up with a good system to easily determine schedule and prioritize feature implementation. Experience onboarding has been a challenge for us. Although, we are slowly automating the experience onboarding process by adding set rules and steps to carrying it out.”

I asked Ismail if he could give his pre-launch self one piece of advice, what it would be. “Nothing,” Ismail replied. “Being naive and not knowing what was coming ahead is what led to our persistence and consistency.”

Go see what all the rave reviews are about and download Wandure. Available on Google Play and the Apple Store.