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At 20 years old, entrepreneur Davis Handler noticed a problem. Finding cheap travel can be an overwhelming and difficult process. After seeing students try and fail to find flights, Handler took it upon himself to build a better way to book affordable travel. As a result, in 2019, he launched Washington D.C.-based startup, We Yalla, a platform where people could search for cheap travel without the stress of hidden fees and the lack of support from other sites.
As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur Series, which explores how young leaders are revolutionizing the way business is conducted and how they build social impact into their missions, we spoke with Handler, a Colorado native, about his experiences running a startup and his perspective on the future of business. Here is what he had to say:
Q: Tell us a bit about your business and why you started it.
A: We Yalla was born out of my deep-rooted love for travel and a change in scenery. I have traveled to over 30 countries across six different continents, and there's nothing I love more than sharing my experiences with fellow travelers. After watching many of my fellow George Washington University students book travel, I saw they were often taking too long searching multiple websites for the best deal. I had the idea to build my website while sitting in my economic development class while watching a student booking a flight to Paris. The process was painful to watch. She had multiple tabs open with different airlines; she was looking at a range of online travel agencies and typing in Google search questions, trying to pull it all together without much success. I remembered, as I sat behind her, that I was able to find the same flight for much cheaper.
I started to become curious if all students struggled like this. Strangely in the very next class, I encountered the exact same thing. Another student tried and failed to book affordable travel. At this point, I realized that people demanded more than what was available in the marketplace. I started doing research by talking to fellow students about how they book travel, and then I decided to embark on this journey of building something that I knew could fill this void in the market. I decided to name the company ‘We Yalla’ because ‘Yalla’ means ‘let’s go’ in Arabic, which was inspired by my time studying abroad in Amman, Jordan. I felt it was the perfect name to symbolize the collective and group element of the business.
Q: What does We Yalla do?
A: Weyalla.com is a travel tech startup that looks to revolutionize student travel with the most convenient and affordable experience to date. There are two elements to the site that make it so unique and effective. First, a powerful meta search engine (similar to Kayak or Skyscanner), which searches thousands of travel websites and distributors globally, including Airbnb and others to discover the best possible travel deals from around the globe. The second aspect is a hosted group student travel agency that works with student societies, clubs, and organizations to provide holistic, group travel solutions to save everyone time, cash, and frustrations when booking. With Weyalla.com there are no fees, no upfront costs and zero hidden charges, so students and millennials can rest assured the deal they see is what they are getting. We Yalla also has Exclusive We Yalla Bespoke Trip's for travelers looking to have a unique, elevated experience. These trips include safaris, private heli-golf, Alaskan summer trips, and more, all of which are not available anywhere else.
Q: Did you ever picture yourself running your own company?
A: Yes, I envision myself as an entrepreneur, and I always have. I come from a long line of business owners and I have learned the importance of work ethic. If you work long and you work hard, good things happen
Q: Have you had any mentorship or access to a business network to help you start your company?
A: My father has always been there for me. He has helped me refine my vision and execute a lean business strategy that will lead me to success. I have received no financial assistance from my parents on this venture.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to starting a business at a younger age?
A: I think one challenge is managing all of the different variables not only within the business, but also in my personal life. I think this process has taught me how to manage my time much more effectively. Specifically regarding the business, adapting to the marketplace has been challenging. Most traffic to my site is not college students, although that was the target audience the site was built for. A challenge that I am facing right now is making the website more attractive to the average consumer, not just millennials or students. I think the secret sauce is providing lots of options, using powerful technology, and providing impeccable customer service.
Q: How familiar with business were you prior to starting your company?
A: I have always loved business -- especially anything travel related. I worked in the travel business for two years prior to We Yalla. Travel is my niche. I would never try to start a business outside of the travel industry. I love what I do and I think that's why I have had success so far. I love coming to work and getting to solve user pain points and trying to make the overall experience better for my customers.
Q: Were there any new skills you had to learn?
A: Yes, I had to learn new skills, but the most important thing I had to learn was expressing confidence. To be successful in business you have to be bold and take risks.
Q: How do you balance academics and running your business? What impact has running your own business had on your life thus far?
A: This is hard as there are just not enough hours in the day. I usually put more effort into my business as I have learned more from building it than from school. That being said, school is very important, and I still work hard studying. Running my business has allowed me to build something that I am proud of. I have never been very happy at school; I always thought it was a very one dimensional way to learn, but with creating a business you learn so much about yourself and about the world. This is something that I could not have learned in a classroom, and I am so happy that I embarked on this journey.
Q: What are the long-term goals you have for your company? Where do you hope to see the business grow?
A: I want the business to grow and become a real player in the travel market. I am still in phase one of the business, and I am excited to see where the next phases take me.
Q: What advice would you give to any other younger entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own business?
A: Think lean and try to utilize as much open source technology as possible. Starting from the ground up is really hard and often expensive.
Q: How do you perceive small business in our generation today? And how do you think others our age think of businesses?
A: Small businesses are the backbone of our nation, and I think they play an important role in society. I think people are less entrepreneurial than they were previously. This is because it’s really difficult to start a new company and people are scared of failure.
Q: In your experience, what do you think the future of business looks like for the next generation?
A: I think most things will stay the same. Of course, business will have to adapt to new technology and innovations, but I think the biggest change will be college degrees. I think in 20-30 years, depending on the field, a college degree will not be a requirement as it is today. You can learn almost anything online and I think employers are starting to understand the value of that.
Through We Yalla, Handler has utilized his passions to solve problems that have made travel unaffordable and inaccessible to other young individuals. The U.S. Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur Series will continue to highlight businesses, like We Yalla, that are harnessing creative solutions to solve our problems and forging new pathways to innovate our world. Check out other young entrepreneurs in the series, here.