Preparing to go to large conferences is draining for teachers/club advisors. Behind the scenes, months before the trip even takes place, they need to put in hours of out of school work, booking hotels and flights, buying tickets, and working out ground transportation.
Jake Pfeiffer, founder of EXP Trips, built a travel company to alleviate pre-competition stress from teachers and provide the best customer service in the process.
When Jake attended in high school, he was debilitatingly shy. He even took therapy sessions and wasn’t able to make any friends. He admitted, “I never would’ve dreamed of being an entrepreneur”.
During his junior year, he joined DECA, a business/leadership focused competition and not only did joining the club change his outlook for the future, but it also opened his eyes to some of the struggles his teachers went through.
“My junior year, we had a DECA advisor at my school who, for whatever reason, saw something in me that I didn’t see and kind of made me her project. I was really involved in DECA, and within a year, I went from that shy, lonely kid to a state officer of Arizona DECA”.
That advisor also went through great lengths to plan conference trips and witnessing the extra hours she had to put in left a mark on Jake, a mark that would become the catalyst for his company.
EXP for Experience
After he grew up, Jake said, “I looked back at my high school career, and looked back at that DECA advisor that changed my life, and realized that there was this common thread: …you have these already overworked teachers that are willing to take on the burden of planning a massive trip for their students and it’s just insane.”
Based on this insight, he founded his company. When trying to decide on his business name, he brainstormed all the things that travel meant. As he pointed out, “We’re experiencing. We’re exploring. We’re expanding minds, and I was like, alright, all of those have EXP in them, so we’ll just run with it.”
Having a name was not enough. He needed a differentiator from all the other travel companies, so he put a strong focus on customer service and creative itineraries.
Whenever EXP trips sent a group to a conference, they would also send a trip representative to accompany them. Although technically only a guide, they built a stellar reputation through excellent customer service, whether it was helping out with the bus driver or buying allergy medicine when somebody needed it.
And on creativity, he said, “as we sit here in the office and plan some of the trips for 2017-2018, …we take cultural activities, flavors, education opportunities, and co-curricular things, and we’re smashing them together in this really unique way to create experiences rather than activities.”
Building itineraries for traveling student groups became less of a “How can we get this done” process, and more of, “how can we integrate different elements of the location into their schedule”. This attention to detail and creativity was what became the common thread in all of their business activities.
Building EXP Trips
Building the business wasn’t easy. To Jake, running a startup young and alone was difficult. Information wasn’t always readily available, and he didn’t know what questions to ask to get answers. Jake didn’t just give up though. He sought out the solutions, being a “sponge” and absorbing as much possible information as he could. He reminisces back on the early days saying, “I read every book on entrepreneurship, I read every blog, I listened to podcasts, I soaked up everything and anything I could, and I worked with mentors.”
Being a sponge worked, and Jake raised his company from the ground up, but the new startup also needed to find people to use the service.
EXP Trips utilized an almost insignificant aspect of their customer service and turned it into one extremely profitable marketing strategy: Cookie Marketing.
Whenever EXP Trips sent a CTSO (Career and Technical Student Organization) off on a trip, they would put these “massive sugar cookies” in the conference survival bags for the teachers.
It turns out that the cookies were so good that teachers who got them started talking. As they talked to their friends about it, word spread, and soon, everybody around the CTSO community had heard about them and had reached out to contact EXP Trips. Jake was thrilled at how well the cookies had spread the word about his business, so he grabbed at the opportunity to use them to obtain customers.
He revealed, “we started doing what we called cookie sales which is where during our downtime on trips, we [EXP Trips representative] would literally go into areas where we knew there would be a lot of DECA advisors or FBLA advisors and start handing out cookies to them and it’s unbelievable how much that opens people up to a real quick and genuine pitch and it’s worked out pretty cool for us.”
Building Better Educational Trips
The company’s focus hasn’t shifted from the beginning to now, but it has narrowed. Jake Pfeiffer plans on leading EXP Trips in the direction of cornering the educational travel market. Overall, Jake just wants to do everything the EXP way, with excellent customer service and creative itineraries for teachers struggling in the off hours.
“I would say to really just give yourselves a gut check and decide if it’s something that you truly want to do, and if it is, and you want to do it, then do it 100%.”
Opinion: “It is just the most beautiful city you can imagine, the best food you can ever imagine. Truly a crossroads of the world and just a vibrant culture that I could absolutely spend every day of the rest of my life in.”
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