Sept. 15, 2022

Combining financial services, data-driven insights, and travel APIs to help people afford global travel with Alejandra Fernandez

Combining financial services, data-driven insights, and travel APIs to help people afford global travel with Alejandra Fernandez

I chatted with French startup founder Alejandra Fernandez of Flywallet. Flywallet is an all-in-one digital wallet and flight aggregation tool that makes it easy for users to save monthly for future travel. But the platform does more than that. It keeps track of flights within your budget, and can help offset travel related carbon emissions when you book a flight. Alejandra is from the Dominican Republic, but relocated to France after being accepted into Station F.

In this conversation we learn:

  • What is the average savings that someone can expect by booking through Flywallet instead of another travel booking site
  • How FlyWallet helps offset carbon emissions
  • What users really like about the platform
  • What was one of the hardest obstacles Alejandra had to overcome
  • Projected revenue and employee count
  • Best advice that her mom ever gave her

 

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Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.

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Transcript

Hi everyone today, we're chatting with French startup founder Alejandra Fernandez, co-founder of fly wallet. Fly wallet is an all in one digital wallet and flight aggregation tool that makes it easy for users to save monthly for future travel. But the platform does more than that. It keeps track of flights within your budget and can help offset travel related carbon emission.

When you book a flight Alejandra is from the Dominican Republic, but relocated to France after being accepted into station F let's dive. Hey Alejandra, how you doing? Welcome to the show. Hi Eric. Thanks so much for having absolutely. So this past July, my son and I, we traveled to Texas to visit family. And we went last year and our tickets were about a thousand dollars a piece.

But this year they were $1,500 a piece. What are your thoughts on the recent prize jumps when it comes to traveling? Yeah, it's, it's a lot, it's a lot. It's a lot to, to handle, especially for frequent travelers. Like. But unfortunately, I think it's gonna stay that way if not continue to get higher, just because the pandemic put the airlines through a lot that they kind of have to compensate for.

And then there's inflation and like rising oil prices. You know, people are still, I think there's a lot of revenge pent up travel happening, but there's still a lot of people that are still easing into going on holiday internationally, and airlines really need to. To make up for that by increasing those prices.

So it's unfortunate, but that's what solutions like fly wallet are now what are, what is like the average savings that somebody can expect from booking through fly wallet instead of another, a travel booking site? Yeah, the thing about regular travel booking sites is like, you go. When either you just wanna get an idea of what the prices are and then you drop, or you go when you're certain that you have all the money and you really need to finally book.

So a lot of times when people actually have all the money and they're ready to book, it's not the most convenient time to book or, you know, they're putting themselves kind of in a tough financial spot by dropping you. $1,500 at one. So the interesting thing about fly wallet is that it's like a dedicated and targeted savings account, separate from the rest of your money that you can go growing, like gradually over time and integrated with it.

It has like a predictive budget calculator that tells you. Okay. Like, if you wanna afford this trip that you, that you said that you wanna take early next year, You know, you're gonna have to save $30 a month to be able to afford it when it's at its lowest, because booking a flight the month that you're gonna take it or the month before is when it's most expensive.

But if you're booking that flight. You know, three, four months in advance, you're, you're saving hundreds of dollars. So fly wall really gets you in the financial position to be able to do that with all of your travels. And when you book, a lot of our customers have said, wow, I booked on fly wall. And it felt like the flight was free because I had that money.

Separate from the rest of my money. Yeah. Okay. This is really cool. So kind of just take me back, walk me through the customer experience aspect of this. If you create an account, you have the option of linking your bank account. I'm assuming to fly wallet and then you can go and say, okay, I'm planning to go to maybe a Granada in six months, right.

I'm based. Right. And you enter where you're, where you're at, where, where the destination you wanna go. And so fly wallet on the back end is going to calculate the estimated price that you need. And then based on that, is it going to, to suggest the average amount of money that you should be saving per month or would it automatically pull some money every month?

So that way you can afford that ticket? Yeah. So like you said, you. Decide the itinerary that you're planning to take, and it doesn't have to be just one. You can, you know, set four, five trips that are in the future that you wanna take and fly wallet will take into account all of those. And just like you said, it will tell you how much you should save.

But that doesn't mean that that's what you need to save. So. If it's saying, okay, if you wanna take these five trips that you, that you've planned here on your fly wall dashboard, you know, you need to save a hundred dollars a month, but if you can only afford to save $20 and go ahead and do that or discard some of the, the trips that you were hoping to take, it's really like your fi your financial travel coach, but fly wall has always been, you know, flexible, do whatever you're comfortable with all the money in your fly wall is yours.

So you, you book when you're ready, even if you've saved up the total. You book when you're ready, it doesn't mean that we'll automatically book for you. And like you said, you can link, you can link your debit card or you can link crypto wallet because we wanna be globally accessible. So for example, if you're Nigerian or you're from a country that normally doesn't have access to all these.

Financial tools that Europeans and Americans get where fly wall is accessible for you as well. Very, very cool. Very cool. Okay. I also read on the website that when you book through fly wallet, you help offset carbon emissions. How does that work? Yeah, so we work with several partners that are a hundred percent.

Their business is all about offsetting carbon and doing. On the blockchain, which means that it can actually be verified by everyone. It's not just, oh, they're promising that the money goes to these projects. Like, no, you can see, you know, that movement of funds on the blockchain itself. So we were all about transparency and making a real impact, especially since the travel industry kind of has that bad reputation of being not good for the environment.

So we. Well, if you fly with fly wallet, you can fly in a carbon neutral way that every flight that you book is. You know, part of the part of the profits are going towards offsetting your footprint. So if the flight is a bit longer or maybe the funds that go towards the carbon offsetting projects is larger.

If the flight is a short flight from like Paris to London, you know, maybe you're only putting three, $4 towards offsetting that carbon because we want it to be, you know, upsetting your trip, not just like. A fixed amount. And so the way that, that works, these projects that we collaborate with, they work with projects and, and people all around the world that are in charge of like planting trees or, or, you know, preserving rainforest or different ways that you can offset carbon.

They make sure that tho those funds get streamlined directly to those projects without intermediaries kind of taking their cut. and, or maybe you know, taking a long time for the funds to get into their possession with our partners, the money goes to them directly so that they can. Get to work and, and do what they do best.

Got got you. Okay. Now what happened in, in the past? I mean, why did you discover that there was a need for this? When was that light bulb moment that said I need to create something like fly wallet. Yeah, that was me. that was me in university, like taking trips. I couldn't afford like putting it on a credit card, putting myself in very D.

Financial situations just to take the trip that I wanted to take or needed to take. And I think with travel, there's a small tangent, you know, I think with travel, there's this misconception that it's always for like, oh, I wanna go to a resort and like, relax on the beach. But like a lot of people travel because of big opportunities that could change their life or to see their family that they're separated from.

Yeah. You know, so I realized like a. There were so many people like me that wanted to travel or needed to travel and money was a big obstacle. And I said, it really shouldn't be, there should be alternative ways of financing your trips and of making this opportunity more accessible to people. And so I taught myself a little bit of code.

I was in my last year of medical school at the time. And I built like a prototype version of fly wallet, kind of for myself and, and my friends around me. And then word just kind of kept spreading people, kept recommending it to their relatives and their friends. And I realized that I had something. Okay.

So when you say code, like what types of languages were you, were you using? Oh, I was doing like really basic, cuz I'm not a technical founder. So I was like using web flow and a bit of CSS and like integrating PayPal into my, into the flow website and doing, you know, things like that, but nothing super.

Super technical. That's when I started hiring after that. Okay. But you and your last year in medical school was, was the medical, like, you know, that journey, was it sort of like, I'm still gonna do that and this is a hobby on the side? Or when did you decide I'm going to be an entrepreneur and put the medical.

You know, career on hold. Yeah, I kind of was just doing both at the same time. And around me, I realized, oh, there's a pitch competition. Like, you know, let, after my rotation, you know, at the hospital, let me go and, and pitch, fly wallet at this pitch competition. And then when I would win first place, I'd win first place here and there.

And I'd have people say, wow, I really need this. Like this, this product you've built is like changing my life, you know? I said, okay, well, let me graduate and like double down on this. And if it doesn't work out, like I can always go like, continue my medical studies. That's not going anywhere, but this is kind of like something I can only do now, the opportunities now.

So might as well seize it. Okay. So what's been the biggest challenge so far. And in growing this so many, so many challenges. I'd say fundraising is hard as like two first time founders of color, one female founder. It's a bit more. Difficult to navigate that landscape of things. Also, you know, hiring can be difficult, the right, you know, finding the right people that you share values with and who believe in your, in the mission and are not just, you know, with you to get paid.

So finding synergy in, in those obstacles is tough, but I'm a big believer. You know, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Like it's the struggles that make you a stronger, better founder that make you grow through the process and make everything worth it in the end. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Now you mentioned that you were telling friends about it and they were telling their friends about it.

And so you kind of got some traction organically. Are you still just using organic word of mouth methods or have you tried any other tactics to, to increase the awareness for fly wallet? Yeah, so we. Do continue to grow mostly organically. But the alternate method that we have been using to grow is through collaborations and partnerships.

So for example, maybe there's another startup or another company that has their following and their mission. But for some reason, there's a way that we resonate or that we can work together. Create like a win-win opportunity for both of us. We're, we're really big on, on those types of synergies. Okay. And all the markets that you currently serve, you mentioned Africa, Europe, the us north America is this, can you book a ticket anywhere globally through fly wild or in general through fly wallet?

You can you, as long as you can connect either a debit card or a crypto wallet, you can book a flight with us no matter where you're from, no matter, you know, what type of financial tools you have available to you, that's kind of really the foundation of. A fly wallet is to be a financially inclusive tool.

Okay. Now, now pref fly wallet here. You mentioned you're from the Dominican. Like when did you get to, to France? How did you, did you go there for school or studies? Like how did you get there? Yeah, actually right after graduate. Yeah. Right after graduating medical school, I was accepted into station. Which is like the world's largest startup campus and it's here in Paris.

And so our company was selected for the founders program, which was like a year long kind of accelerator incubator program. So all of the founders of fly wallet, we were all living across the world in different countries at the time, said, okay, well, let's all meet up and relocate in Paris and, and work on this from the station F headquarters.

And see like what we can really do here now. We're all gonna that's when we all decided to really be full time is when we moved here. okay. Okay. So there's been a lot of talk recently about global warming. Is there anything that you are seeing from the large airlines and how they're addressing carbon offsetting or sustainability?

Yeah, I've seen it in a few airline. And it's mostly done through partnerships like they'll partner with a third party that may or may not be credible that will somehow offer some sort of carbon offsetting or I've seen not even actually. Not from many airlines, but from like third party travel agencies, online travel agencies, I've seen that you can filter the itineraries to see which is the most eco-friendly route or the greenest route, you know, cuz different airlines have maybe different routes or different planes or, you know, And those little differences in how many carbon emissions are produced, you can kind of rank and then choose itinerary based on that.

I still think it's very early in terms of, you know, real impacts that the travel industry can make, but I think it's going to be a very large priority. For them in the near future. Okay. Have you read anything lately that has blown your mind or changed your perspective around travel? Yeah. Read anything lately?

I don't know. I don't know if my mind's been blown cuz I feel like. A lot of it is kind of just validating what I already knew. Like for example, when COVID hit, everyone was like, oh no, fly wall is gonna, is dead now. Like, like the travel, industry's not gonna recover for 10 years. And that's what all the experts were saying.

That's what all the media was saying. Mm-hmm is that travels dead? And I said, I don't think so. I think give it like a year or two tops and people are gonna be like desperate to be traveling again. And that's what's happening as well as I'm reading a lot now about. The synergies between FinTech and the travel industry.

That's becoming like a very new trend that people are starting to explore. But again, like I've been working on fly wall for years, which is the perfect bridge between yeah. FinTech and travel. So I like, I like to see, you know, things coming out that are like, oh yeah, I'm on the right path. You know, I'm I, my intuition is good.

So yeah, so far I've, I've had some good predictions for the industry. What's your vision for fly wall? Where, where do you want it to be in the next five years? I just want the product to be more, even more accessible, more user friendly. I just want more people to be. Aware of the benefits, because I think something that's heavily marketed right now in the travel industry or two travelers is like this book now pay later, you know, mm-hmm, pay over time, which is kind of like credit in disguise.

And I want this like save now pay later to be. Something people are more aware, like actually exists. Yes. I think it's so new that people aren't aware of it. So I would want more global awareness and also just bigger global partnerships. Like my dream is like, you know, every Uber driver I've ever spoken to, I'm like, where are you from?

And it's a different country. And I say, well, how often do you go back to your home country? And it's, you know, oh, I'm going in six months. Like they're always having to travel back home to see their loved one. and I'm like, well, you know, a partnership with Uber where every, you know, all their tips go straight into their fly wallet or something like that would be amazing.

So I wanna, yeah, just continue with more global awareness, more, you know, inclusion worldwide. So continue on our kind of web three roadmap to facilitate that and bigger and bigger partnerships. All right. Fantastic. All right, I'm gonna ask you a few fun questions just to get to know your personality a little bit better.

First question is, is what's the best advice. That either your mom or dad or somebody close to you ever give you my mom's advice was always good. It was, she always told me, you can, if you think you can, you know, so if you say I can't, if you say I can you're right. Both times. So it really is about how your mindset.

Is everything. And your perspective is everything. So I've really applied that a lot in my life. And my dad, my dad's advice was, you know, if you, if you love what you do, like you'll never work a day in your life. So find your passion and, and do what you love. And, and that's a great life. So I've kind of always told myself, you know, I can do anything and if I can do anything, like let's do.

What brings me joy and that's how I've decided to live my life. All right. All right. Second question for you. Does corn belong on pizza Alejandra no, I don't eat like corn. I don't like corn at all or on anything. So that's a hard, okay. I love your reaction by the way, for those who can't see this, I'll create a clip but pineapple does belong on pizza.

Okay. That's a big. But I would say pineapple. Yeah. Okay. Last question for you. What is a favorite TV show that you can watch again and again, I like TV shows. There's so many. I was really into Vikings. I thought that was a really good show that, but only like the first three, four seasons of it, that one I could rewatch all the time.

What was another there's so many, I was a big fan of Smallville growing up, which was like the early days of, of Superman. Yeah. That was like my, that was like my childhood show. So I could always rewatch that for like nostalgic purposes, but yeah. There's a, there's a lot of shows I could recommend. I really liked black mirror, but I can't rewatch it over and over because it's very, you know, it has a very intense effect on, on one.

So yeah, that's a one, a one time show. I saw somebody on Twitter say, you know, when COVID happened, things got so bad that they stopped making black mirror yeah. That's so true. I didn't even think of it that way, but it's been a while since they put out a new season. Yeah. That's hilarious. okay. Where is our really helpful?

Yeah, I know. I know. It's one of those shows. It's like, when you, when you, when you watch it, you feel like you need to take a, a shower afterwards because it's just kind of, I don't know something about it is dirty, but it, it makes you feel yeah, it makes you feel icky. It makes feel Oky. Alejandra. I thank you so much for being on innovators can laugh.

Yeah, everybody. O see Eric. Thank you. Fan my pleasure for everybody listening. This is Alejandro Fernandez co-founder of fly wallet. I will put all the links in the, in the show notes. And if you enjoy this, tell others about it. Give us, a star rating and dent until next week. Keep puzzling out there.

This is Eric signing off. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it. If you could give us a review and star rating, also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO newsletter at innovators, laugh.com, where you can get the bio and details of each guest. Thanks.