It was early March 2020 when I realized we were going to be struck by the worst event we never expected: a terrible pandemic that was going close down countries, tourism, and perhaps our company.
I still remember the frustration of how the growth we were experiencing before the COVID 19 suddenly stopped and all of our travelers canceled their bookings. At this point, we had a few months of runway to survive, no possible revenues to rely on, and no light at the end of the tunnel.
With 10 team members at the company, it was very hard to figure out what to do and how to survive. Some of the team offered to reduce their salaries so we could make it through as a company. A few days after, that group turned into the entire organization making the same offer. That moment was highly emotional but also eye-opening: I realized that we have the most unstoppable, intelligent, and passionate people committed to doing whatever it takes to make the world more accessible.
During the pandemic, we reorganized, reprioritized, and planned a completely new platform and a software solution for our partners to become part of our marketplace. This way, we could onboard more partners and listings onto our platform. Each listing would include more detailed and accurate information. We created a goal to then increase the number of hotels and tours available on our website so that travelers had more options to explore.
We also wanted our users to have an extraordinary travel experience. We knew that in order for that to happen, we needed to understand exactly what they needed. This is how we came up with the idea of building a unique user experience for them to build specific profiles stating what their accessibility needs are – from what bed height allows them to transfer easily and the type of bathroom they need, to whether or not there are stairs or braille signs available.
To give those of you without disabilities a better understanding, a bathroom that is not accessible to someone doesn’t really serve a purpose to them. So, a traveler with disabilities not knowing what type of bathroom a hotel room has is similar to not knowing if that room even has a bathroom, could you imagine that? Basically, you would book a room, arrive, and then surprise – there is no bathroom! Well, that’s the reality for 15 million travelers with disabilities who have booked trips in the last 12 months.
Finally, we thought ok, if we achieve this system we can match traveler’s needs with the accessibility features from our partner’s services (hotels and Tours)! So what next? We don’t have enough money to execute this. So we decided to fundraise to achieve our goals (in the middle of the worst crisis for the travel industry)… was it even possible?
Allowing millions of people with disabilities to travel to thousands of destinations around the world is not something we will achieve in a year or two. But we do know 15% of the population today has disabilities, and they have family and friends related to them, which increases the number of people that we can impact. Also, sooner or later everyone will have a disability as a consequence of aging. We know the problem is here and today there is over 100B USD spent by people with disabilities, without a clear leader providing the service they deserve. That’s the vision we presented to potential investors.
Guess what happened? After a year, I’m pleased to share that we emerged from stealth mode. We launched our new platform www.gowheeltheworld.com and closed a USD 2M Seed Round, led by Chile Global Ventures through their CLIN Fund followed by Dadneo with their Vulcano Fund, Plug N Play Tech Center, among other incredible investors, including Susan Wojcicki, Youtube’s CEO & Dennis Tropper a top executive from Google. Finally, we experienced the growth we were missing so much, and more than before. This year so far we’ve already grown 2.4 times in revenue and 3.8 times in users, compared to 2020.
I want to thank our amazing Investors Jamie Riggs and Allan Jarry who have backed and believed in us and especially our 25 person team who won’t let anything stop them, not even a pandemic. Together, we’ll continue building the best travel solution in the world for people with disabilities.