Krissa Curran has one really clear memory from a business class she took with DJ Singh in high school.
“We were doing a chapter on entrepreneurship, and I remember saying, ‘God, I would never do a startup, it just sounds like there is so much risk and no stability!'” Krissa said. “But here I am doing one.”
Krissa and DJ met nearly 10 years ago at high school in Hong Kong, and today, these best friends are chasing their dreams by working together on FOF Travel, a startup co-founded by Krissa and Mark Strickland.
“Life just kind of takes you wherever it wants to,” Krissa said. “When an idea like this falls into your head and you really really believe in it, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it to life because you believe in it so much.”
Both Krissa and DJ attribute FOF Travel to their TCK upbringing. Krissa, who is FOF Travel’s CEO, was born in San Francisco to Filipino and Scottish parents, and has lived in The Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK. DJ, who is the Head of Marketing, was born in Singapore and has lived in New Zealand, Brunei, Hong Kong, Australia and the UK. FOF Travel launched last year and is an online marketplace and social network that allows friends, and friends of friends, to exchange travel services like accommodation, storage facilities, travel tips and advice for free.
What made you want to start FOF Travel?
Krissa: DJ and I met in Hong Kong at international school, and once we graduated, we moved to different sides of the world. I went to London, he went to Australia, and all of our friends spread out. Every time we met in Hong Kong, we saw what a great bond Third Culture Kids share.
TCKs just get one another, and we wanted to find a way to work together and share this TCK experience with other people. The best thing about being a TCK is having this international network. How can we share this lifestyle? How can we enable people to latch onto these international networks, so that they can travel like a Third Culture Kid?
DJ: Krissa and I have been thinking of some way to work together for a long time, and we always wanted to do something with TCKness. When I heard this idea, I was like, “Well of course!”
What makes FOF Travel different from other sites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing?
Krissa: Airbnb, Couchsurfing, we are all in the travel community sharing space. The key product offering difference is that with Couchsurfing and they might be free and public, but they do have a safety issues because you are opening your door to anyone and everyone. And with Airbnb, it’s safe but it’s not free. With FOF travel, we’re trying to say to users that it is safe, and it is for free.
Have you always wanted to work for a startup?
Krissa: I knew from a young age that I wanted to be in advertising and marketing because I like telling stories, and for me it was about communicating well and getting a message out there. Before FOF, I was an account manager at a digital agency in London, working on online marketing and advertising for 2 years. Because it was online, it was advertising on speed. You were putting in a lot of hours for the firm, which was a small boutique started up by my boss. We were putting in extra time to make his dreams come true, and I thought, If I spent this much time on something I actually believed in, I might actually get somewhere.
DJ, Krissa, and Mark
What’s the hardest part about working on a startup?
DJ: The first year, because I was working in Melbourne and Krissa and Mark were in London and I was literally on the other side of the world. The time difference was impossible and one of the hardest parts for me.
Krissa: The work-life balance. It might be easier to have a work-life balance when you’re an employee of someone else. You can clock off at 6 and do whatever you want. But when you’re working at your own company, especially one with your best friend, your brain is constantly ticking.
DJ: I have to keep reminding Krissa to each lunch! [laughs]
What about the best part?
Krissa: The freedom. There is a freedom you get when you’re doing your own thing. I might be putting in way more hours than any job before but it doesn’t feel like work. And it doesn’t feel like anything is a waste of time. You learn so much as an entrepreneur and as a startup founder – I’ve never felt my brain so alive in my life
DJ: The best part is working to my own schedule. I set my own hours and I’m motivated to do stuff I’m passionate about, because I’m growing something that’s mine.
What’s a typical day like?
DJ: A typical day at a startup? [laughs] I don’t know…
Krissa: I think a day to day schedule is a bit hard to say but we definitely have seasons where we spend 2-4 weeks in planning mode, and then all the campaigns go live – then it’s in cruise mode. Then it’s back to planning mode – definitely keeps you on your toes.
DJ: It’s experimental. We experiment to see what’s working and what’s not, we get feedback on what people need or want, and we tailor our work according those objectives.
How has being a Third Culture Kid helped your career?
Krissa: Our TCK background has enabled us to build out a startup and manage our own lives and future. For me, being a TCK means you’re forced to be exposed to different people, places and culture at a young age, and you’re more tolerant and easygoing at an early age. At networking events, common feedback we get is that we seem very approachable.
How has being a Third Culture Kid hurt your career?
DJ: It’s meant that I’ve never really been settled on one thing – it gives you itchy feet being a TCK. You’re always looking for something new after about 5 years, and that can be damaging if you’re looking for a long term career.
Krissa: Do you know how painful it is setting up a travel company, where you’re sitting in an office trying to make it happen while you’re encouraging people to do otherwise? At work we constantly look at travel pictures, travel websites, travel blogs…
At FOF Travel, are you looking to hire Third Culture Kids?
DJ: We’re looking to hire in the next year, and when we do, being a TCK will be a big plus point on a CV. We’re drafting up mock job descriptions, and one of the requirements is that you must have a love of travel, and with TCKs that’s pretty much inevitable.
What advice would you give to a Third Culture Kid who wants to start their own company?
DJ: Planning is very important, but it shouldn’t dictate what you do. If there’s one thing I’ve learned – plans can change from day to day. All of the plans I had a year ago are just completely different now – so while plans are important, you should make sure you are also flexible.
Krissa: Follow your bliss. If you just stay true to yourself and believe in an idea or a passion or a skill, just trust that you’re on the right path. As long as you believe in it and have a passion for it – passion will drive you forward.
Also for TCKs, just take a step back and realize how fortunate and lucky you are because you’ve grown up with a enormous amount of exposure to the world, and gives you an advantage over everybody – so this is your chance to do something with that.