Featured Founder: Kevin Thurman of Turto
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Kevin Thurman of Turto, which offers personalized trips by a team of locals.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
I worked at the intersection of technology and political movements. I was an early employee at Blue State Digital, which helped develop the technology products and marketing playbooks that powered the digital organizations of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Kennedy. Later I was an advisor to non-profits and campaigns in 43 states.
After I left politics, I worked as a marketing and market research consultant for mobility companies throughout Europe and helped All for Transportation. My co-founders, Christina Barker, Tyler Hudson, Brian Willis, Rena Friazer, and I decided to do something about it. We developed a solution, raised funds, hired a great team, brought together 75,000 people to put it on the ballot, and passed a $16 billion plan by a considerable margin.
I was proud of my local work, but my years in Tampa and mobility created a desire to build a global movement around a critical industry: travel. So I moved to Berlin to incubate the idea and get my MBA, selected as the first city in London to start Turto.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
I never saw a match at Highbury, Arsenal's historic home, before it was torn down.
I have been an Arsenal supporter since I was a kid. So, right after I graduated college, I thought about taking a trip to London. I never did. It was too overwhelming. I went when I was 30, thanks to the help of my better-traveled wife.
Most people who start thinking about their vacation abandon a dream trip to somewhere new and go someplace they’ve already been. It is overwhelming and cluttered with inauthentic advice geared toward the masses -- making going to a new place difficult. Most travelers abandon the idea of going someplace new within 40 minutes of scrolling.
But what makes me even more excited is how we solve this problem: by connecting people to locals in the places they are to co-create custom trips.
The Turto app makes it fun and easy to create our own trip with help and helps make tourism pay better for locals and businesses. We believe we can help our travelers take trips that keep 25% more of the money they spend in their communities and help them do so in communities they may never have visited without Turto.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
Find the right place to start: It was hard to narrow a global industry to a customer with an acute problem that could also impact the industry for the better. Then we needed to find the right places to test and iterate the idea so it could expand. When you start out, you want to find a problem that is painful to many people, but then you need to find the right place to start. But no problem sitting out there unsolved is easy. There are tons of travel planning start-ups that tried and failed. The only way is to talk to customers; with over 410 interviews and counting, I am passionate about getting to know our customers very well.
Where do you see your company headed next?
We want to be able to connect people globally, and that starts somewhere, and for us: it’s Tampa and London.
Tampa is our home base to reach out to American customers. After helping several travelers early testers create unique trips, we are launching our beta product for Americans traveling to London this fall. Next year we will expand to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, and dozens of European cities.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
Take your own path. It is your company. There are massive amounts of good and bad advice that won't apply to your company.
For example, I decided to get my MBA before starting Turto. Many people say it’s a terrible idea to get your MBA to start a company -- just start one. They are likely right most of the time. But for me, it was perfect. I was in Berlin with classmates from 34 countries at ESMT Berlin as a global sounding board, I learned accounting and finance, and most importantly, it gave me time to start experimenting and talking to customers.
So soak up all the great advice and help, but remember you are in the driver's seat and may need something different.
Why Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay is diverse and dynamic. I moved to downtown Tampa in 2010 and used to walk through empty lots covered in weeds. Now that entire area is home to hundreds of people and is right near Embarc. The fantastic people I met through my years here have been critical to helping start Turto -- from gaining a perspective, and solving problems, to investment. I have seen the same for many other founders.
Plus, are also two direct flights to London -- which makes it easier to get back and forth right now.