Founder's Story No. 1 - Two years on (by Joly)

Two years ago today, I handed back my corporate pass, my laptop and walked out of Microsoft’s office with fear and hope. Two years ago, I often introduced myself as Marketing Manager at Microsoft, they would smile, nod and seem to be impressed.  Two years on, I introduce myself as someone who is trying to find the meaning of my life, and trying to build something that creates value for others.

Today on Linkedin, you’ll find me with the job title of ‘Entrepreneur’. Well, it’s such a trendy word nowadays, but the reality of being an entrepreneur is a combination of emotions that seem to co-exist at the same time: dreams (that look far away most of the time), struggles (mentally and financially day after day), doubts and faith.

My journey started with building up a small community called “7-day Challenge” which aimed to help people choose and build healthy habits for themselves by taking small steps every day within a group. It lasted 6 months, with 76 participants. Though i never turned it into a business, it did help me build some habits of my own: morning routines, meditation, daily gratitude notes and non-complaints.

Then came the ‘gap’ in my notebook. The list of ‘business ideas’ has been piling up, but I struggled making a decision on what exactly to do next and doubted whether stepping into the ‘startup’ world was right for me. What I kept hearing was ‘follow your heart’, ‘do what you believe in’. But at that time, although almost 30, I was still in complete darkness when it came to knowing myself. I’d always followed the path expected of me from the people around me. My beliefs, my passion… how did I know those really came from my heart or were they just planted there by experience and society?

I packed my bag and hit the road – took the first long solo trip of my life with the goal to just go along with whatever happened and listen to myself. Did I find the answers? No, actually the trip raised more questions in my mind. However, it has brought me one of the most important realisations: freedom is what I pursue – the true freedom that is not just about doing what I want/feel, but trying to get closer to myself, to humanity. I also realised this would be a life-long journey through constant experiments, pushes, and mindful observations.

Solo travelling was the tool that I employed and I still go for regular solo getaways whenever I feel lost. I don’t see travelling anymore as going somewhere new and away, but more a break-away from the daily hassles and mental noises. It allows me to get back to myself. When I arrived back home I was determined to follow this path and build something to help others do the same. That was a year ago.

It was a lot of zig-zagging forward and backwards. After creating and testing four different types of solution (safety mapping, accommodation, activity, travel companion) we settled on creating meaningful connections. After talking to many women travellers, we believe that no matter how far technology advances, genuine relationships between humans don’t change. Fundamentally we are social animals, and through the people we meet, we learn about the world and reflect on ourselves.

Now I’m sitting in a co-working space with two of my friends and now business partners – Ben and Andrii, looking at our prototype and figures, scratching our heads and working out the next step – one day, one week at a time. Most of the time it still feels like we’re navigating in the dark not knowing where the light switch is. Everything’s about: Okay, we want to get there – how? – not sure – okay, let’s run these and see which works – oh this doesn’t work - why? – Is there a better way to get there?

Now we’re in the stage of busy testing our product before releasing it as beta in the UK, I look back and I’m grateful for everyone who has been on the journey so far.

I have met so many interesting people who kindly offered their time, experience, advise, expertise and more. I really cannot thank them enough – friends and (once) strangers who have helped me to put the London community together and joined our meetings; who have met me, shared their stories and tested the prototypes; who answered my calls for help; who encouraged and motivated me throughout the difficult times

It has brought Ben, Andrii and I together. The first time I met Ben who offered to advise me on the business, we spent over three hours… and over time, we become good friends. He introduced me to Andrii, later we discovered that we have so much in common (we even arrived the UK on the same day!). Recently, I got to know Beth via Escape the City, who is not just passionate about travelling, but also with ambition to create a business in this field. Together, we are moving Solocal forward, and hope to land it soon.

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