AMA: Jan Dolezal, founder of SmartGuide

A travel boom is pending. Backpackers and holidaymakers are itching to get back on a plane, but when they do, will they travel differently?

Globetrotter Jan Dolezal is the founder of SmartGuide, an app that offers a new way to see the world.

Jan-Dolezal

Hi Jan! Tell us a bit about your company.

SmartGuide turns tourists into explorers by turning every phone into a personal tour guide. Tourist attractions and destinations use the platform to digitize tour guides orders of magnitude faster and cheaper than normally.

SmartGuide app guides travellers using audio, geolocation and Augmented Reality like a live guide, outside of the crowds, safe from Covid-19.

SmartGuide has over 300,000 users, 480 destinations, including the official guide of Prague, Harvard, many UNESCO sites and Singapore.

How did the idea for SmartGuide come about?

We are a team of passionate travellers. I have visited close to 70 countries myself. During our travels, we realized we got the most out of each place with a good local guide.

We were however frustrated by the lack of quality digital guides that we would expect in the 21st century. We saw that quality content for interesting places exists, just in outdated forms (paper, web, brain of some local).

We also saw over and over how tourist attractions and destinations develop their own guide apps to solve this problem, it takes forever, costs lots of money and fails.

We wanted to give storytellers easy tools to share their stories with travellers and make visiting less popular places enriching. If more people travel independently also outside of main tourist hotspots, tourism will be more sustainable and enjoyable for all.

travelling

What’s the big aim?

We want to help tourists become travellers who don't consume but truly understand the places they visit. And we strive to get tourists outside of the crowded tourist hotspots and inspire them to authentic adventures off the beaten path.

We aim to revolutionize how people travel and experience the world! Imagine in a few years you will be able to summon a conversational augmented reality tour guide avatar anytime anywhere loaded with the best stories from locals, showing you around like a local friend.

Tons of exciting content for travel guides exists but in outdated forms. We aim to digitize and bring it onto our platform. Publishing a digital guide used to be really costly and time-consuming.

Now, anyone can publish their own tour guide in a few hours for free. You don't code a streaming server when you want to share a video. You put it on YouTube.

Similarly, storytellers don't need to reinvent the wheel - they can simply publish their travel stories on SmartGuide.

We are building the future of safe, sustainable and more authentic travel. The more people travel and truly understand other cultures, the more harmonious world we will live in.

Love that! Who has had the most impact on your life, and the decisions you make in business?

Personally, travelling has been my biggest source of inspiration. In particular, I took half a year off to go around the world in search of happiness. I was also privileged to study MBA at Harvard and solving 500 real-life cases over two years really changed the way I approach business decisions.

What is the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

I made some of the best and some of the worst decisions when hiring people. But perhaps the biggest mistake I made was not becoming an entrepreneur sooner.

Can you share any practical tips or processes to help people work remotely?

Even though we can come back to the office, we continue working about half of the time remotely, purely for efficiency. We agreed to group all key meetings where personal presence is preferable in 2 days and keep the rest for external meetings and focused work.

travellers

How do you keep your team aligned?

We use a cascade of quarterly strategy reviews, monthly town halls with OKR setting, weekly check-ins and team meetings and daily collaboration using modern cloud tools.

Do you have a share or option scheme in place for your team? 

We have dedicated 20% of founders equity to the Employee Stock Option Pool. As a result, we dont really have employees on the senior team, just a lot of people that act more like co-founders. That is awesome. When SmartGuide succeeds, I want to make sure our team members can live well.

That IS awesome. If you could resurrect any long-gone genius for advice, who would it be and why?

I would resurrect Charles Darwin, let him read all 3 books from  Yuval Noah Harari, buy a bottle of wine and discuss the future of mankind.

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or the Marvel Universe?

One Guide to guide them all.

And in the darkness bind them... Thanks for your time Jan!