Some of the most insightful conversations come in the most casual settings. On The Ride we catch up with today's top personalities in technology and entertainment on their way to work, running errands, or checking out a new show. Along the way, we field questions sent live from The Verge readers via a tablet connected to the OnStar 4G LTE built-in Wi-Fi® hotspot.
Study after study reveals the same trend among Millennials: They want to spend their money on experiences rather than on material goods. That means they're more likely to hop on a weekend getaway than to buy a new stereo system, or save up for a round-the-world trip than buy a new car. British-born entrepreneur Ruzwana Bashir knows this firsthand. She founded Peek, a travel app that makes it easy to access and book experiences, whether they're across the globe or just a few blocks from home. We caught up with Bashir in San Francisco to learn about her inspiration for Peek and some lessons she's learned along her travels.
So, Ruzwana, where are we going?
Ruzwana Bashir: You are taking me to a meeting in the Mission.
I was taking a look at your Twitter, and it's really, really fun. I just love going through all of the posts that you have. Where was the last place that you went?
RB: So I've been to Istanbul a couple of times, and actually it is where the idea for Peek started. So it was quite special for me, because I started the company based on an original trip to Istanbul. I found myself going to all of these websites, looking at guide books, and the whole process was very cumbersome. So I didn't understand why there wasn't one place that I could go to book and buy great activities — all of the fun stuff that I was going to do when I was there — and that is where I thought, "OK, why doesn't OpenTable exist for activities, why don't I build it?" And that was all off of this one trip from Istanbul.
I love the historical and anthropological elements. Whenever I am traveling, I am always trying to learn about the past as much as I am about what is happening currently. And so I am that really nerdy person who does want to have either a really amazing and interesting experience or, you know, perhaps have a tour guide who can help me understand things.
Did you book this stuff through Peek?
RB: One of my favorite activities that I booked through Peek was actually a helicopter tour in Hawaii. For me, I love views, as well. I have an obsession about ruins and I have an obsession about views, and so this helicopter flight takes you over the canyon, which is spectacular, and then you go along the coast, and so you can see these incredible beaches. And it is actually where Jurassic Park was filmed ,so you can see some of the waterfalls and things like that, it was really beautiful. When I was there in Hawaii, I also did this incredible boat tour and saw dolphins swimming, that was an unexpected gift but it was really great.
Is Peek enabling people to do that locally as well?
RB: Yeah. Absolutely. A lot of the activities that we have are based in the US, and what we saw is that most Americans spend a lot of time either in their home city or going somewhere local, somewhere nearby. As an example, you might head to Napa one weekend and so a lot of what we are doing is helping people actually discover their local neighborhood.
I think a lot of what I care about is helping people have magical experiences that also help them connect with the people they do them with. One of the things we have noticed that hardly anyone does an experience on their own. It is typically something that we do with our friends, our family, and we create these incredible moments. Those moments create memories that we can hold onto and they create a lot of happiness. There is a lot of evidence that buying products doesn't make us happy, but buying experiences does because of this anticipation of going on the tour, but also afterwards having this wonderful memory that you can look back on. One of the funny things about that is that often the anticipation and the memory is actually a better feeling than doing something.
It is really important, I think in our society today to help us move away form a culture of materialism into one of human connection and experience. Underlying what we do each day with Peek, really insuring that people can have much more filling and happier lives because they are going from a world of materialism into one of human experience and we are providing that.
How is Peek inspiring people to do that? Or are people naturally inclined to do that?
RB: I think a lot of what we are trying to do is make it easier. So the problem that I found is, look I know I want to do fun things but I don't want to spend hours researching it and I never want to call anyone anymore. And so people become very accustomed to apps and things like that or OpenTable or Uber. It is really hard to figure out when they are open, when the schedule is there, when they have spots in a cooking class this afternoon. What we are doing is providing all of the tools for them to provide us with real time availability. In doing so, as a consumer, I just pull out the peek.com website or go to the app, and I can just find cool things to do around me that are a few minutes away and book them instantly.
It seems magical.
RB: I think that is really it for us, is how do you remove that friction. Make it easy, make it fun so that when you are kind of there thinking what am I going to do this weekend or what am I going to do tonight, we can just help you with a click of a button to find awesome things to do and create these incredible memories. The other thing is when you are travelling, it is often a big burden, and sometimes you can miss out on things that you really wanted to do. So a big part of what we are doing is to make sure that people have a sense of everything that is out there and then find the things that are relevant to them.
On peek.com we theme things so off the beaten path or adventure or foodie, romantic, so we have these themes to help people find things that are going to be easy for them to enjoy so a lot of it is around ease and convenience and one-click purchasing. Everything you can see with Amazon or OpeTable in the product buying space or booking restaurants we are bringing to the activity space.
I have a question from a Verge reader. They ask, "Where was your first travel experience that you remember?"
RB: My parents are Pakistani, they were born and raised there. I was actually born in England and so the first trip I ever took was actually to Pakistan. One of the things for me going to taking that trip was that it really exposed me to this entirely different world. You know, growing up in the UK from quite a humble background actually the divide that you have between the first world and the third world is quite, quite large and it was the first time I was seeing not a lot of people actually have toilets to use. We are quite lucky to be able to have a bathroom and running water and stuff like that. It really opened my eyes as a fairly young child to the fact that there was this entire and completely different world.
Even though the culture was very similar to something I had seen before — my parents are very much Pakistani, they have a lot of those cultural norms and values — it was just completely different once it was in that context. It probably helped me understand that there was this whole large world out there that I had never seen and I wanted to see.
It sounds like that was very formative for you.
RB: When I went to university I took that opportunity to go traveling and to all of these other places that I have been really interested in. One of the things that I think we are really fortunate to do is to be able to travel to all of these places and so for me I tended to try to see as much of the world as I could, especially very different areas. So whether that is you know going to Bolivia or going to Tanzania or Myanmar, I have really tried to learn a lot more about the world. Whenever I am going to those new places I am kind of hoping to read a lot and learn about the history as much as what I see there.
Another question from a Verge reader, "Do you consider yourself a spontaneous person?"
RB: I am a pretty spontaneous person. I think it is more that I tend to not be that good at planning anymore. There is so much going on so if I myself, wanting to find fun things to do last minute or saying, "okay well this weekend is coming up what can we do?" And so I am pretty spontaneous, I think if I am taking any longer trips I can be quite organized and meticulous about it, but I think as life gets busier it is quite fun to not have to think about things quite far in advance. So even if I book a flight or plan to be in San Francisco for a weekend, I tend to leave it to the last minute to decide what I am going to do.
You don't necessarily know what you are going to feel like in that moment?
RB: Yeah that is actually a lot of what we see is that 75% of people are actually booking activities within 6 hours, and we are doing that because we have our phone in our pocket at all times and it is nice to decide how you feel. It is a sunny day, great. I want to be outdoors.
It seems like we also have so many technologies now, you mentioned with your phone there is so many travel companies that allow you to book things on the fly. Do you think that that is sort of the future of travel?
RB: I definitely do. I think in the past people were getting used to planing in advance because you had to, but I think now a lot of us want to wait until nearer [to] the time to decide how we are going to feel. What that means is that it is important that we have a lot of access to a lot of this information at real time availability. The reason that is is possible today for you to book a hotel last minute is because there are essentially global distribution systems showing that availability. That doesn't exist for the activity space. So nothing like that does, it is one of the interesting things that we have done with Peek, is you have Peek.com but you also have Peek Professional which is a suite of tours that we provide to small businesses to help them get online booking, to help them with an app that helps them run their business as they are running around doing their tours.
If you decide you want to do something in an hour, we actually know what is available and we can help you book and buy it instantly. In this space that hasn't happened before, this is what we spend a lot of our time investing in. I think in the future we will all be making these decisions in the matters of hours so this technology and this infrastructure really needs to exist.
I was reading that if you do something that is outside of your comfort zone, it creates a memory more than something that is maybe more comfortable to you.
RB: Yeah absolutely. There are a few effects that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, normally it is just really good for you to feel Ike you are pushing outside of your boundaries because that helps you to do that in any other areas in your life. Maybe it is that you want that promotion and you try and ask for it, or you applied for something you weren't expecting. Maybe it is just asking somebody out on a date.
The idea of going out of your comfort zone and being able to handle that, is pretty exciting but I think in terms of memory you are totally right. The memory is much much more profound when you go out of your comfort zone, which is why zip lining or swimming with sharks or any of that stuff that might be pushing yourself out of the comfort zone a little bit can be very, very effective.
So lets talk a little bit about what it was like starting Peek, and what it was that like getting investors, and the the first days of Peek.
RB: Yeah you know I think the early days of a startup you are doing everything. As a founder, you find yourself spending your time on everything small and large. It is both exhilarating and exciting and also pretty terrifying because you have this idea and you think it is a good idea. At some point you get investors and so you have this added burden of this money that you have taken from somebody, and you want to make sure that you return and give them a great return.
Then you have team members, and those team members spending their time, they might have given up great jobs, they probably have actually and they are coming and really investing and giving it their all. I think I would say that it is both intimidating and exciting, but it also has its highs and lows.
I think one thing that people underestimate is just how much of an emotional rollercoaster startups are, because when you are personally invested in what you are doing, every failure feels like a calamity. It feels like such a big deal and equally the success you are really excited about as well. You do have this rollercoaster ride, and I think the one thing I would say that, certainly someone like myself I really enjoy the challenge and sometimes I don't enjoy those moments of success as I am climbing the mountain. All of that panorama that you have shared. One thing I do think for founders to get better at and certainly for myself and others, is to be able to enjoy their journey a bit more. I think when you have this vision it can be hard to enjoy the stepping stones.
Another Verge question, "Who is your role model?"
RB: For me I don't have role models, I think that there are some individuals out there who are excellent with certain attributes and there is a lot of admiration for them in that specific area. I think that it can be hard to think of individuals for being perfect in every way for you to put on a pedestal as a role model. I do think that there are individuals that have done incredible things whom I really admire.
I would say a multitude of people who's attributes I think are really exciting and interesting or admirable that I tend to look at and think to myself how could I emulate that. I don't want to see, honestly sometimes I think we think we have to be like another person in the end you are better off trying to be the most original version of yourself then trying to be a secondary version of yourself.
Also I think in different periods of your life some things become more resonant and interesting and more engaging for you and so I think at that point the qualities you admire in others change and evolve and I think being open to influence and being able to learn from [each]other is really important. I think putting anyone individual on a particular pedestal and be a little bit dangerous.
So we have another question from our verge readers that is asking "what is the best food you have ever eaten while you were travelling?"
RB: I would say that there is one dish that I love now which is a very peculiar dish. I was travelling in Iran and it is called kashkeh bademjoon and it is eggplant pureed and apparently fried — which is why it is so delicious — with curd on it which sounds not too great, but honestly it is the most delicious thing.
It is hard to say the best food experience, because there are so many experiences where I kind of think to myself, "Oh wow that was amazing." It is one of the more memorable ones, it is one of the things that first pops up into my mind. There is another experience with the food that I remember really vividly which is being in a place in Thailand. And having the most incredible salad. It was so incredibly spicy that I thought wow, this is more than I was expecting. There is no warning here, but it was absolutely delicious and it was after a day of going and seeing some incredible ruins and so that was pretty memorable too.
What is the the worst thing you have eaten?
RB: Probably the worst thing I have eaten, or drunk actually without expecting it, was in Mongolia. I was basically doing a couple of days of horse riding in the Mongolian step — stunningly beautiful, really cool and interesting. Turns out not actually the best food scenario because it is very tough to bring food on those climbs, and there are these spices and flavors that you weren't expecting so I had already noticed this. Then we went spent a bit of time with our guide who owned the horses in his yurt with his family which was exciting and interesting. One funny thing is that they had a TV in the middle of nowhere, in the Mongolian steppe and you know as you have all of these animals outside then you have a TV. The TV was interestingly enough playing a Madonna song and it was a video of Madonna with Ali G. I remember thinking the song was "Music" if I remember correctly and it was quite funny to see actually not exactly what you would expect. And then they brought out some tea and some what looked like cheese. Unfortunately it was actually butter so once you took a bite you realized it was just a square of butter and it actually is not that tasty. Then I was like okay I didn't love that, I will just have a swig of the tea. Except the tea, was salty tea. And so just the two things were exactly what I had not expected and not the most delicious.
Did you ever have like a lemonade stand growing up?
RB: I did not necessarily have a lemonade stand but I think I always knew that for me being able to kind of have self-determination and being able to be part of controlling the outcome of what I was doing was very important. So kind of that Independence has always been there. The second thing for me is that I always wanted to make sure that I would have a positive impart in the world in what I am doing.
So part of the reason that I love entrepreneurship is that assuming you are finding something that you are passionate about and does have impact, you can do a lot.
A lot of the mission for Peek is living in a much richer world where people are happier. So that being the underlying mission makes it much easier to have challenging days or work really long hours or get back up when you have made a mistake and you feel like crawling back into bed and having pizza.
I think the people that I work with each day are literally the smartest people that I have ever encountered and worked with. Incredibly passionate, humble, kind. You know a lot of the values that they have are the thing that I really admire and actually sometimes I will talk to somebody and learn something about them and just kind of be a little bit in awe that all of these people have joined me in this mission to be able to help people have a great world where they engage and have amazing experiences.
So it looks like we are here. Thanks for much for giving us a chance to get a peek inside of Peek.
RB: Thank you so much for having me.