Group-tour startup WeTravel builds their company one Berkeley Haas connection at a time
Johannes Koeppel and Zaky Prabowo, MBA 15s, co-founders of WeTravel. The pair worked at SkyDeck, UC Berkeley's startup accelerator, when they were starting out and used their Haas connections to slowly build their business. Earlier this year, WeTravel raised $2 million in seed funding from sources that included Berkeley-connected investors. Photo: Thor Swift
Johannes Koeppel and Zaky Prabowo, MBA 15s, want people to see the world. Their startup, WeTravel, enables group travel by managing bookings, communications, and financial transactions for small companies and individual hosts. Adequate group payment mechanisms have stymied travel companies, and WeTravel aims to be the solution. Last year (its second full year), the startup booked $15 million in transaction revenue for customers.
But when it comes to building their company, they stick close to home.
Earlier this year, WeTravel raised $2 million in seed funding, from sources that included Berkeley-connected investors. Brett Wilson, MBA 07, led the seed round and helped facilitate backing by the Berkeley-only venture fund The House Fund, allowing WeTravel to add employees and expand internationally.
Both Koeppel, WeTravel's CEO, and Prabowo, the CMO, have numerous years of international travel and work experience (as does the third co-founder and CTO Garib Mehdiyev). But perhaps their most important attributes are, quite simply, grit and passion—qualities that have led many members of the Berkeley Haas community to offer their time, connections, and advice in service of helping WeTravel thrive.
When Johannes Koeppel and Zaky Prabowo, MBA 15s, tapped into the Berkeley Haas community, they struck gold—in the form of connections, advice, and financial backing.
VP, Advertising, Adobe
Brett Wilson, who now sits on WeTravel's board, mentored Koeppel and Prabowo when they were students in Berkeley's LAUNCH accelerator program and was an early angel investor. "It was clear from the outset that these guys were smart, scrappy, and tenacious–intangibles you need to be great entrepreneurs," Wilson says.
His guidance includes professional and personal advice. "Brett always insists that we take good care of each other," says Prabowo. "And he reminds us to push each other, to be accountable to what we promise one another."
Photo: Karl Nielsen
Haas Lecturer and Distinguished Teaching Fellow, General Partner, Avid Park Ventures
Rob Chandra, who taught Prabowo in his entrepreneurship class, has advised WeTravel since its inception and believes in the founders' determination. "Johannes and Zaky have an opportunity to build an interesting business because they are clear thinking, hard-working, and extremely scrappy," he says.
Chandra helps the pair understand the seasoned investor perspective and advises on investor offers. Says Koeppel, "Rob would say, 'You need to negotiate on this front here,' or 'This offer is actually good. I would just take it like this.'"
Product Specialist, Facebook
Eduardo Reyes, who hails from Guatemala, volunteered his time in the early days of WeTravel. Reyes pitched the product to students nationwide and provided connections to investors and schools in Latin America. "Haas has an incredible culture of helping and learning from one another that leads to communal success," Reyes says. "The experience [with WeTravel] taught me how to start a company, how to set an organizational culture, and how to take a vision and build it from the ground up."
Mariko Araya worked for Tokyo Disney Resort before attending Haas and brought her knowledge of the Japanese tourism industry to an internship with WeTravel. "Zaky and Johannes were great listeners of what I wanted to achieve through working with them and gave me the autonomy to go after new deals," she says. Araya connected WeTravel with Japanese MBA students and with one of the country's top tour operators—connections worth millions in transactions.
Managing Partner, Creative Ventures
Classmate Champ Suthipongchai's personal angel investment was WeTravel's first funding. Suthipongchai, who bonded with Koeppel on graduation night, was struck by Koeppel's authenticity and has since been impressed with the company's flexibility. "They had a grand and ambitious vision but are able to adapt themselves when they see opportunities to monetize," he says. "That demonstrates clear thinking and being grounded in reality."
Photo: Thaveechai Phongpandech