We all love traveling. Sight-seeing, meeting new people, and let us not forget the endless amounts of Instagram posts. But the best part of all is food. Food is powerful. It has the ability to shape the journey and define the memories. It is also an essential part of life and community. Without food there is no authentic travel experience.
In a similar quest to explore the culture through its food, Steph Lawrence travelled to China and was struck by how, on her first very touristy trip, she connected so little with the local food and culture. After this first unfulfilling trip, she decided to move to Beijing to learn Mandarin, immerse herself in the culture, and, on her bucket list, learn to make dumplings from a local. Disappointed again by the lack of resources available to help her find the experience she sought, Steph decided to start a company that would help travellers like her looking to connect with the local people and culture.
After a couple of years, Steph met Aashi Vel, a passionate food and travel lover who had also struggled to find authentic food while traveling, at the Hass School of Business. Together they decided to start Traveling Spoon, a website that connects travelers to private, authentic food experiences, from home-cooked meals to cooking lessons, in local homes around the world. Traveling Spoon brings travelers meaningful, delicious travel experiences and currently operates in over 85 cities across 35 countries globally. They are funded by the former CEO of Expedia and other leading food and travel investors.
A Nomadic Soul
Steph Lawrence, the Co-founder and CEO of Traveling Spoon, has always loved making things. Creating something from scratch has always brought her the most immense joy. “To have an idea and then help it come alive is one of the most fulfilling and joyful things I can think of,” says Steph.
Steph considers her parents the source of her inspiration. She is especially encouraged by her mom, who went to business school, got her MBA, and then went on to be a successful marketing executive and CEO of a startup, all while raising three children. Her dad started his own nonprofit and from the earliest days has been a guiding voice reminding Steph to listen to her gut and do what she love. “I couldn’t be more grateful for these two complementary viewpoints and guiding principles in my life,” shares Steph.
For Steph setting a clear vision and mission for the company, and hiring the right people who believe in that mission to help execute it, are the two most important factors to consider. “As founders, one of the best things that Aashi and I have done is demonstrated our clear belief and passion for our mission, and then hired people who exude that same passion,” says Steph.
A Fanatic Approach to Quality and Customer Service
Steph aims at making every person’s Traveling Spoon experience the single best part of their travel. And if it isn’t, or if a traveler ever has an issue, she wants to be the personal, empathetic problem solver that helps the customers exactly as she would want to be helped. “My co-founder and I speak with both our hosts and our travelers daily; it helps us stay connected to our company and recognize the most important issues that concern our users,” shares Steph. She wants Traveling Spoon to be the best company in the field, offering meaningful, personal travel experiences to travelers worldwide, and to do that they will continue to strive towards reaching the best quality hosts and the best quality care to offer their customers.
One of the ways Steph encourages creative thinking and innovation is to get inspired by ideas from everywhere. “We love nothing more than hearing great ideas from our employees, and we make it a point to ask questions in nearly all of our meetings about how we could be doing things better,” reveals Steph. The other important thing a leader must do to foster innovation is to ensure that good ideas have room to grow. If a teammate has an idea, Steph makes sure that they have the resources and know-how to execute on that idea.
“Our goal is to be the leader in the culinary tourism industry,” says Steph. Traveling Spoon has many plans in the works for the coming years, from technology improvements that make it seamless for travelers to find the exact experiences they are looking for, to geographic expansion, to growing into new culinary verticals like farm and producer tours.
“At the heart of every part of our expansion is our core mission of making travel more meaningful,” asserts Steph. The main challenge is to continue to grow this new industry that not everyone is aware of, to make sure that each one of the more than one billion annual travelers sees home-cooks as part of their travel itineraries as a means to experience authentic, meaningful travel.