Written by the Podstel Co-Founders (Daniel, Jason & Sam), 29th January 2018
5 years. 5 continents. 50 countries.
In 2012, fresh out of university and unsure what to do next, we (Daniel & Sam) booked a one way flight to Australia for a working holiday with plans to travel and explore the world afterwards.
Following a friend’s advice, we headed straight to a small farmer’s town in the outback with a mission to work the grain harvest, save some cash, then use that cash to travel the world.
After some of the most difficult 6 months of our lives working day in day out in the baking sun, we finished the harvest and spontaneously decided to buy an old 1989 Ford Falcon for $1,000. We named her Felicity, packed the boot with enough supplies for a month, and headed on a road trip down the East coast. We camped and lived out the back of Felicity, picking up hitchhikers and going on adventures together.
One night by chance in the Blue Mountains, worn out, dirty and in need of a comfy place to rest our heads, we got chatting to a local who felt pity on us and invited us to stay in his hostel. We hadn’t stayed in many hostels before, and didn’t really know what to expect.
Our minds were blown! We met people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures who wanted to share their story. Best of all, each of the people we met had different skills, passions, and views on life. We loved it, but we felt something was missing. All these great people were sharing the space, but the hostel didn’t provide the means or the platform for travellers to share their stories, passions, and skills. In that moment, we realised we wanted to add purpose to our travels. We wanted to create a place where travellers and locals could come together and easily share, belong and grow.
Research & Building the Concept
After a memorable trip down the coast with a new outlook on life, we scrapped Felicity, and radically revised our plans.
For the next 3 years, we embarked on a journey to build our own hospitality concept as we travelled around the world. We adventured 50 countries on 5 continents, interviewing hundreds of travellers and visiting over 400 hostels, working out how to offer great hospitality, build a community and create a memorable place where travellers can belong and grow.
About 2 months into our trip and without a name for our brand, we had our “a-ha” moment and came up with the name Podstel (derived from a word play on ‘pod’ and ‘hostel’) at a pod capsule hostel in Singapore. We loved the idea of using pod capsules in our concept, as a means of giving people an opportunity to have both privacy and community at the same time. However, as the years rolled on, the ‘Pod’ in Podstel has taken on a new meaning - Point of Direction - a place that prides itself on bringing travellers and locals together, giving them the means and the platform to share their stories, and pursue their skills and passions.
During our journey, we filled dozens of journals with notes, ideas and observations from the people we met and the hostels we visited. We took on opportunities to volunteer at hostels in Canada, USA, Serbia, Romania and Albania, developing skills in hospitality, while learning what it took to run a hostel.
The 3 year journey was full of adventure: While learning the ropes of hospitality, we also hitchhiked 20,000kms across North America, trekked the Himalayas, rode motorbikes across the entire length of Vietnam, and hitchhiked 7,500kms across 12 countries in Europe, to Germany, where we took base in Leipzig to put everything that we’d learned so far into practice.
To top off a great journey, during the last leg of our hitchhiking journey through Europe, we were introduced to Jason through a good mutual friend. We eventually met him in Munich, Germany, and although we’d had different life and travel experiences, we instantly hit it off, shared a similar vision for the future, and decided that he’d join the Podstel project.
Testing the Concept - Podstel Beta
In the middle of 2015, our research phase was complete and we’d built a strong skill set in hospitality, so we rented a 3 bedroom apartment in Leipzig, Germany so that we could test our concept, secure investment and find a location for the first Podstel.
We transformed our apartment into what we coined Podstel Beta: An office for our team to work by day, and a small hostel/events space in the evening.
With all 3 of us crammed in one room, we rented our spare room on Airbnb to cover our monthly living costs. We hosted hundreds of friends and CouchSurfers in our living room on the couch and camping mats, sometimes up to 10 people a night. In the evenings, we’d invite friends over for community meals, host jam sessions, and even created the “Podstel Wall of Fame” for guests to leave a message when they left.
During our time in Leipzig we developed a solid plan for the first Podstel, while refining our hospitality skills, and building a community.
In the Summer of 2016, Paulo came and stayed with us, a couchsurfer from Brazil who had read about our project online. Spirits were high at Podstel Beta! It was a memorable 3 days, giving Paulo the opportunity to experience first hand what Podstel was all about, and more importantly, what Podstel could become. Resonating strongly with our vision, values, and work ethic, Paulo offered to become Podstel’s first investor. Now that we had the experience, finances, team, and plan in place, all that was missing was a property.
Jumping in - Podstel Bucharest
We began our search for suitable locations in Europe, following leads in Portugal, Germany, England, and Romania. In August 2016, we travelled to Bucharest to check out a potential opportunity to take over a hostel. The opportunity wasn’t what we were looking for, and the trip looked as if it was going to be a disappointment, but on our last day, on a spontaneous walk around the city, we stumbled upon a beautiful 100-year old family house. It was available immediately, and we fell in love the moment we stepped foot in the garden.
Although the place needed a lot of work, it had everything we envisioned for the first Podstel - big communal areas to chill and socialise, a stage for performances, and all the comforts of a home. We were sold, and despite knowing almost nothing about Bucharest or Romania, we decided to take on the challenge.
Things moved surprisingly fast, and by September, we’d settled on a deal, moved into a room at the top of the building, and began getting the place ready for operations. By November 1st, 2016, all preparations were complete, and we were ready to open and host our first guests at Podstel Bucharest. Although we didn’t have any systems or processes in place to begin with, we knew that we would learn and adapt as we go, Kaizen style. We also decided that the best way to learn our business was to start from the bottom up, living on-site to experience all four seasons, becoming travellers in our own place, and understanding Podstel from the perspective of a guest.
To say our first year was hectic is an understatement. We were all involved in every single aspect of the business - daily operations like cleaning, making beds, cooking meals, all the way up to marketing and securing deals with suppliers. We made sure to document it all, especially the hundreds of valuable mistakes we made along the way, and how we corrected them, always with the intention of transforming everything we learned into the systems and processes that Podstel runs on today.
Over the course of our first year, we hosted thousands of guests, going above and beyond to give each of them a memorable experience. Slowly but surely, we built a solid reputation, and after receiving over 400 positive reviews, we’re thrilled to have been recognised for our hard work with the Best Hostel in Romania 2018 award from Hostelworld.
To celebrate and top off a successful first year of operations, we decided to run the first ever Podstel Annual Gathering - a yearly tradition where we invite our favourite guests and our closest friends & family to Podstel for a week of socialising, fun activities and workshops. The Podstel Annual Gathering was one of the most memorable weeks of 2017, and a great turn out with 50+ friends attending from 20 countries!
Expansion - Building the Podstel Blueprint
That’s our story so far! Now that operations are running smoothly at Podstel Bucharest and the team has grown, we’re spending our time building the Podstel blueprint and a franchise programme that we’ll use to open more locations around the world.
As a result, we are on the lookout for the following people who share our vision and want to:
- Start their own Podstel.
- Invest in Podstel.
- Work at Podstel.
If our story resonates with you and you’d like to be involved in Podstel’s future, check out Our Vision and our Get Involved page to see how you can help, or contact us here if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading, and we look forward to hearing from you!
The Podstel Family