How to create a fantastic work culture, with Travis Pittman and Chaya Weiner

A happy workforce is everything. If you don’t have your employees truly living your brand and excited about coming into work each day, you’re not going to be successful as a company. I think a happy workforce has a tremendous effect on company profitability. As a part of my series about about how leaders can […]

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A happy workforce is everything. If you don’t have your employees truly living your brand and excited about coming into work each day, you’re not going to be successful as a company. I think a happy workforce has a tremendous effect on company profitability.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Travis Pittman, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of TourRadar and is responsible for the company’s overall business strategy and long-term vision. Travis co-founded TourRadar with his brother Shawn Pittman in 2010 with a mission to connect people to life-enriching travel experiences. Under his leadership, TourRadar has grown into the largest online travel agency for multi-day tours in the world, with tour offerings in over 200 countries and office locations across Europe, North America and Australia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Back in the summer of 2005, my brother Shawn and I were on a working holiday visa in London while traveling for fun every spare moment we had. Those personal travel trips were often through these amazing multi-day tours around Europe, Africa and Asia.

On one particular trip, we collected cash from a group of 12 friends from all over the world and booked a one-week sailing tour in Croatia online through a U.S. based company. We wired over all our money and got really excited about our upcoming adventure. We flew into Trieste to meet everyone then figure out how we would meet the tour operator. Then the next several hours were a travel nightmare.

The tour operator was in Zadar and there was no shuttle bus or car waiting for us (and no mobile internet connection at the time), so we had to either pay $1k for a one-way rental car or take a 12-hour overnight bus ride. Short on money, we decided to grab a taxi to zip over to the bus station to catch the imminently leaving bus to Zadar.

Exhausted and weary, we made it to Zadar and started wondering around the marinas, searching for the tour company that we started to think didn’t exist. We finally stumbled across a small office with one person at the front desk who spritely said, “yes of course, Pittman, we’ve been expecting you!”

We didn’t realize it at the time, but this incident was the trigger for Shawn and me to begin our long and seemingly impossible journey to digitizing the world of touring.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It’s been a wild ride. Before TourRadar, Shawn and I founded a startup called (i.e. you have been bitten by the travel bug!). It was essentially a social media platform for sharing your travel photos. This was well before Facebook was a household name. As you can imagine, when Facebook started to dominate the world, we were looking for a pivot. A social media platform to multi-day tour platform isn’t the first pivot you would probably think of but that’s what we did.

Once we decided to move into multi-day tour booking, we sort of left BugBitten to the side for a while. Then the server that it was running on suddenly expired and we lost over 4 million photos. So that was fun. Thank god we had already moved our business focus at that point. It was still kind of heartbreaking as that was our baby for a while. But hey, you live and you learn. We’re in a good place now.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We launched the biggest marketing campaign that we ever have as a company, called Tour the World. Tour the World is a campaign where we’re searching for two complete strangers willing to travel across the world together for free. The winners will go on multiple travel tours in five different countries across five different continents in 50 days.

We have been really excited about the response so far. I think how it helps people is that we’re hoping to prove to travelers of all levels how easy it is to get out and experience the world. A life-changing travel experience can literally be booked today.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think a lot of people in the U.S. job force are searching for what truly makes them happy. We just opened a new office location in New York and we have seen this in our recruitment for new U.S. roles. In our case, we’re a travel company and we’re really searching hard for candidates that live and breath travel as our customers do.

The U.S. is much different than other countries around the world when it comes to travel. I think a lot of U.S. companies might see a job candidate that travels the world for a year after college and be turned off by him or her. At TourRadar, that’s who we want because that shows the candidate is enthusiastic about life and about travel. We think that person is more than likely be a happy, cultured and productive member of our team.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

A happy workforce is everything. If you don’t have your employees truly living your brand and excited about coming into work each day, you’re not going to be successful as a company. I think a happy workforce has a tremendous effect on company profitability.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. A diverse workforce breeds creativity: our workforce represents 40 different nationalities, 57% of which are women. I can’t tell you how many amazing creative ideas come to me simply because all of our employees are coming from unique perspectives.
  2. Recruit your brand: at TourRadar we like candidates who travel all the time. I don’t ever want my employees to be afraid to take time off work to enjoy travel.
  3. Live your product: we offer employees up to $1,800 per year in TourRadar travel credits to use our product and go touring around the world. If your employees don’t use your product, how you can expect them to sell it?
  4. Foster an open door policy: any employee at our company can shoot me a Slack message or set up a 1:1 call with me at any time. This shows that we’re truly invested in their time and their career.
  5. Celebrate wins: every Friday at 4pm all of our offices across the world gather to enjoy drinks and showcase their wins for that week.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

The U.S. needs to work to live and not the other way around and I think that starts with startups and small businesses. It’s not just a cultural issue anymore, it’s a business decision. If U.S. companies’ truly want to be successful, they need to foster an environment where their employees feel encouraged to live their lives to the fullest. I think this will brings out your workforce’s best potential.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I focus a lot on hiring the right people that I can implicitly trust, then I give them the room they need to excel at what they do and be there to help when they hit inevitable roadblocks. I also try to be an effective listener. I avoid listening just to respond. I listen to what people say and, even more importantly, what they don’t say. Overall, I try to be humble, lead by example and inspire my team through words that are backed up with actions on things that deeply matter to the business, culture and team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One person that has had a profound impact on both my success and TourRadar’s success is Erik Blachford. Erik was on the founding team of Expedia and is a prominent online travel industry veteran. He invested and believed in TourRadar early on. Erik’s advice, connections and friendship have added more to the success of TourRadar than I think he will ever give himself credit for!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope TourRadar has inspired people to get out and experience new things and other cultures. Our goal is to make it easy for travelers of all levels to experience the world. It probably sounds cheesy but it’s true: a lot of the world’s problems are solved when people step into other people’s shoes and actually experience their lives through their eyes and culture.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Get comfortable outside your comfort zone”

This epitomizes what travel is all about and it’s just as important to remember in the business world and everyday life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone should be required to leave their country and experience a new culture for at least two weeks before they are allowed to graduate and enter the job force.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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