When Barbara Nascimento was laid off after a corporate career of 14 years, she found the time and freedom to reinvent herself as an entrepreneur in the travel industry, operating her now-thriving tour company, The Traveller.
In spite her indirect route to entrepreneurship, Nascimento has since propelled The Traveller to prominence in the tourism landscape of Cascais, one of Portugal's most picturesque regions. The Traveller, whose mantra is "Travel Like a Local," distinguishes itself from other tour companies by stressing elements that resonate with today's authenticity-oriented travelers: informality, local authenticity and a certain gently-funky attitude (unpretentious transportation, for example, in an impeccable but understated Subaru rather than the traditional Mercedes).
Micah Solomon: Tell me what you were doing before creating The Traveller, and how you came to make the shift to starting such an entrepreneurial venture.
Barbara Nascimento: For fourteen years, I worked in a multinational company in marketing and sales, when, due to a corporate reorganization, I suddenly found myself unemployed, a situation which coincided with Portugal overall facing a difficult economic situation. I thought about what really would fulfill me professionally, and realized what I enjoyed the most was to communicate and how I needed a job surrounded by people; anything that kept me away from a closed-in office or an isolated role. So that was step one of in my thinking.
Step two was realizing what a passion I have for Cascais, this lovely part of Portugal. This is my home, and when I was laid off I suddenly had more time and spent some of it jogging on the boardwalk by the seaand stroll around Cascais, my amazing hometown, discovering spots I have never paid attention before.
Step three was mentorship/inspiration from a friend, a self-made businessman, who encouraged me to start my own business. With his encouragement, I decided to invest in training and started doing post-graduate studies in tourism, with the aim of becoming a tour company, thus creating a role where I could share my passion about Cascais, be in communication with others every day, and make new friends.
Solomon: Since you aren't one of these people who know from birth that they want to be an entrepreneur, how was that at first?
Nascimento: At the beginning I was quite apprehensive, and had trouble getting into the swim of the entrepreneurial life and business decision-making. Butinstinctively I started applying my experience of 14 years in marketing andsales, and of course a huge will to learn and work. I spent a long time working on my business plan, as well as benchmarking other companies, and of course there was the learning itself about the local region, the history and landmarks and cultural touchpoints.
Some decisions I made at the outset were and continue to be important to me: My decision to keep the company small with limited payroll and therefore limited investment, embrace an online approach and believe in growing slowly but consistently.
Solomon: What have been some of the ways you've distinguished your approach from other travel companies?
Nascimento: The Traveller is aimed to people that intend to discover more than the usual landmarks, enjoy listening to stories and legends, understand local traditions and meet local people.
We are resident guides, born or raised in this village and that makes really a difference when sharing what you love about it. Our competitors usually come from Lisbon [the capital and largest city in Portugal, about half an hour from Cascais] or fail to specialize in our region, so they can't share quite the same feeling of belonging and proprietary pride.
We stress informality. We have modest cars-no Mercedes or other flashy sedans-and our guides, for all their being highly informed and trained, give the same feeling you would get if your Portuguese friend had picked you up at the hotel or airport and then began to show you around. We try not to overload our customers with too many historical facts, instead striving to find the right mix of fun and knowledge.
Having said that, we believe it becomes a more authentic and memorable experience if you takeback from your trip more than beach, leisure or sports, also learning about the history and stories of the place you've been. Our tours are infused with storytelling. When we are telling a story, the audiences get engaged.
Solomon: What have been some challenges/difficulties you've encountered?
Nascimento: The biggest challenge is to grow and promote the business with small budget. And, especially during low season, this business so far is uneven financially. Competition is significant and it is difficult to get discovered. Hotels and other potential sources of business can be quite closed to small companies. Happily, Cascais Tourism (the local tourist bureau) has helped in this area a lot from the beginning.
Solomon: How does being an entrepreneur compare with the traditional job you had before?
Nascimento: Being proprietor of The Traveller means less financial stability and much more risk, but also less daily stress and much more joy and freedom. It becomes a personal challenge and the successes are more rewarding.