The best travel moments usually happen off-the-beaten path, when you stumble upon a hidden gem or visit a cool spot based on a local’s tip. But with limited time or connections in the city, how do you escape the tourist traps and find these authentic experiences?
This was a challenge that Waterloo student Danny Eng encountered on a trip to Hong Kong last year. He had researched cool places, but had a hard time finding reasonable routes to get there or guides to take him. When he returned, he and a team of others set out to tackle the problem through LUQL.
LUQL helps travellers tap into the local knowledge through an app that connects them with local tour guides who know the city inside and out. These tour guides create and lead their own custom itineraries based on their experience, areas of interest, and knowledge of the city.
What started as a side project has grown, and this term, Danny is working on the business full-time through Conrad’s Enterprise Co-op program. So far, it’s off to a good start: LUQL launched last month and is active in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver.
We caught up with Danny to hear more about his journey building LUQL so far.
Q: So the idea for LUQL came out of your own travel experience. How did you validate the idea, to find out if this solution would work for other people?
When I came back from Hong Kong, I already had a few side projects in the works with friends so we were reluctant to start something new. But I couldn't stop thinking about it.
We decided to put together a team to start exploring the possibility of a prototype, but before we dove deep into development, we created some mock ups and shipped out a quick landing page to get emails. We launched a $50 Facebook ad campaign just to see if there was any interest. We got an overwhelming response in just a few days, so we decided to give it a shot.
Q: When you were building LUQL, you had to keep two different users in mind—the guides and the tour-seekers. How did your team get a good understanding of your users and their needs?
When we decided to look into the minds of the guides and the minds of a travellers, we began looking at ourselves, our habits, and our intuitions. After that, we began talking to a variety of experienced tour guides in North America and Asia. It was pretty weird at first, but we learned a ton.
I actually flew my family over to San Francisco so I could experiment giving them a tour of the city. Gary, a LUQL team member who was also doing his internship there brought his car. Fun fact: he drove all the way from Oakville, Ontario to San Francisco. The first full day my family was here, I actually tried taking an Uber to some touristy destinations like the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh man, that was both expensive and inconvenient. For two days straight, we followed the itinerary we created and took notes of the pain points in the process. We learned a ton which ultimately lead us to some design changes.
Q: You and your team spent a long time working on LUQL in your spare time. How did you stay motivated while balancing other commitments of school and work?
Great question. I don’t think there’s enough discussion around this topic.
We are currently a team of 13 made up of computer science, software and computer engineering students and alum, and an incredibly talented product designer. That might sound amazing (and it is), but everyone is working on LUQL part-time which is not easy. The team only works on LUQL after work/school with the time they could use sleeping or doing something more fun. Everyone is on sweat equity.
Motivation is actually incredibly important. Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, once said that start-ups don’t die, they just fade away—and that rings even more true with student start-ups.
For LUQL, we built an exceptionally motivated and talented team by holding true to two standards. One is that everyone must be obsessed with the mission of building a more explored and cultured world. A team that doesn't believe in the vision is similar to a vegan chef cooking steak: it just doesn't make sense.
Two is that every person we bring on to the team is someone that not only excels in their work and has proven the ability to learn, but most importantly, is someone who I can honestly and objectively say I wouldn't mind working under if the situation was switched around. I think that is key. Everyone on the team is motivated largely due to the fact that they are working with people they look up to and are learning a lot from. When you put a bunch of really smart people together, a lot of it becomes self-policing. My team motivates me. (Shout out to Gary Lin, Tim Pham, Vicki Chow, Dennis Ye, Raymond Wan, and the rest of the LUQL team!)
I am learning a lot from this whole process—how to get rid of the stuff that doesn't matter and focus on what does. Empathy and sacrifice is significant in this game. The whole team had to sacrifice a ton to get to where we are and being the "guy," I must do that and more to do them and the vision justice.
I have this saying that I try to live by every day: "be content but not comfortable." To me it means to always be happy for what you have and where you are at, but never stop pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. It has worked... so far!
Q: Now that you’re working full-time on E Co-op, what’s a day in your life like?
I split my day into two: manager’s schedule and maker’s schedule. From morning to late afternoon, I spend most of my time replying to emails, user support, interviewing guides, and all the business-y side of things. After that, I spend most of my time on the product side. This is because I focus better at night, and most of my engineers are three hours behind in the Pacific time zone.
We’re growing pretty fast so my schedule changes quite frequently which is also pretty common with other E Co-ops. It’s quite flexible. You work on the things that matter most at that given time.
It’s also good to mention that rest is important. One of the main reasons that I chose to do E Co-op this term was the fact that I found myself pulling too many all-nighters during my previous co-op terms. It took a toll on me. Now that I work on LUQL full-time, I can focus a ton more on the business and alleviate a lot of the pressure. There’s no point in building something awesome if you're not going to live long enough to see it blossom (cheesy I know).
Q: What are you most looking forward to about the rest of the E Co-op term?
I am most looking forward to the workshops. I know—that’s surprising to me too. During orientation, I learned a ton of stuff about sales and marketing, and I loved it. It helped me view things in a different perspective so I’m looking to forward to more.
Another thing I’m looking forward to is the Startup Showcase event happening on November 1. We’re going to be hosting our first booth so that’s pretty exciting. Come visit—and try LUQL for yourself by downloading the app!
Interested in Enterprise Co-op? Attend an upcoming info session.