Currently viewing the tag: "Class of 2013"
If you’ve had your eye on the news about travel technology startups in the Boston area, you’ve already heard of Emily Bernard, a 2013 MALD graduate, who is the co-founder and chief brand officer of PlacePass.com, a travel technology startup based in Cambridge. Emily describes PlacePass as a “metasearch engine that enables travelers to instantly compare hundreds of tour and activity websites simultaneously,” and says that, with PlacePass, “travelers can find high-quality local experiences in more than 180 destinations, and save money and time by booking online.” You can read more about PlacePass and the local travel startup scene in the Boston Globe and on BostInno (an online resource for the local tech and startup community). Today, Emily tells us how Fletcher prepared her for her current work.
Five Ways Fletcher Prepared Me to Be a Travel Entrepreneur
Aspiring entrepreneurs often ask me about my path to PlacePass. “What inspired you to establish a travel technology startup?” “How did you decide this was the right opportunity?” “What gave you the confidence to lead a startup organization?” These are excellent, welcome questions — and not always easy to answer.
The truth is, like that of many entrepreneurs, my journey to PlacePass has been a winding one. I’m still discovering how the narrative fits together. I’m delighted and surprised by the ways my past experiences have aligned to bring me here. But one thing is for certain: Fletcher is a key part of the story.
There are countless ways in which Fletcher prepared me for PlacePass. I’ve gathered a few of them here, and am hopeful they will be useful for prospective Fletcher students interested in the wild, wonderful experience of entrepreneurship.
- Global Perspective
A global perspective is the hallmark of a Fletcher education. From the diversity of the student body to the course offerings to international internships, Fletcher is constantly looking outwards. This perspective has been essential in my role at PlacePass. Though based in Cambridge, we are a global company, already serving more than 180 destinations. Our strategic vision must take into account global trends, global tastes, and global risks. We must consider how our brand and product offerings will be perceived in various markets and in diverse cultural settings. I feel well-equipped to tackle these tough decisions because of my Fletcher education.
- Commitment to Sustainable, Inclusive Business Practices
From the start, my co-founder Ethan and I have been committed to sustainable, inclusive business practices. We believe the travel industry has a key role to play in building more prosperous communities around the world. My Fletcher education has given me the inspiration and tools I need to develop a comprehensive CSR strategy that contributes to the community in a meaningful way and sets us up for long-term success. I’m very proud to share that, for every tour booked on PlacePass, we donate $1 to EGBOK, a non-profit in Cambodia that provides vocational training in hospitality for at-risk youth. It’s a wonderful partnership and we look forward to expanding this initiative to other countries as PlacePass continues to grow.
- Industry Expertise
Fletcher’s highly flexible curriculum gives students the space to explore the industries, topics, and issues of interest to them. For me, that was travel and hospitality, and during my Fletcher tenure I found many ways to strengthen my expertise in this area. For example, I spent my summer internship at the U.S. Mission to UNESCO in Paris, where I explored the economic and environmental impacts of World Heritage site designation. In my thesis, advised by Professor Carolyn Gideon, I evaluated how Brand USA (the U.S. tourism promotion agency) markets our country to international visitors. For a course on risk management, I studied how Arctic tour companies de-risk their voyages and work to ensure the safety of their passengers while preserving the perception of a high-adrenaline adventure. In a course on leadership, I studied how managers of the Marriott Islamabad responded to a terrorist attack on the hotel. And finally, in an entrepreneurship marketing class, I developed a marketing strategy for a culinary travel start-up.
- Project Management Capabilities
It’s all about execution for early-stage startups. Founders must work with limited resources and limited time to bring their idea to fruition. At PlacePass, that means I’m focused aggressively on good project management. Whether we’re planning out a marketing campaign or developing a roadmap for the next iteration of our website, it’s essential that we plan and execute well. At Fletcher I was able to develop very strong project management capabilities through group projects and by completing my thesis.
- The Fletcher Network
The strength of Fletcher’s alumni network is unparalleled. It still amazes me how the Fletcher community comes together to provide answers, questions, connections, ideas, and inspiration. This has been crucial for me at PlacePass on a number of fronts. When I face a question or issue I can’t solve internally, I have an entire network of Fletcher colleagues ready to help point me in the right direction. Traveling for work, I know that there will always be Fletcher friends or Fletcher connections willing to meet me and help me navigate a new city or culture. Most importantly, my Fletcher classmates provide much-needed personal support as I pursue this venture. It’s not easy starting a business, and I am grateful for and humbled by the encouragement and enthusiasm my classmates have demonstrated.
More and more Class of 2013 alumni are feeling settled in their new lives, opening (I hope) the door for me to feature more of their stories. For now, I’m happy to introduce Margot Shorey. Margot, a two-year veteran of the Admissions Committee, visited the office a month ago, and I asked if I could persuade her to write for the blog. Happily, I could. So here’s her story.
Before Fletcher, I was living and working in Washington, DC — a city I have always been drawn to — with some medium-term stints in Africa. While at Fletcher, I struggled to figure out if I wanted to take a position in the field, finding a way to implement projects related to my interest in African security, or to return to DC to focus on U.S. policy in Africa. This decision was not easy for me, as some of the best experiences in my short pre-Fletcher career occurred while working with project teams in Chad and Senegal. On the other hand, I was sometimes very lonely abroad, missing my friends and community back in DC. I had learned a lot about the challenges of implementing USAID projects, but wanted a broader perspective to ask why the U.S. was even running such programs in Africa. Particularly with everything I learned at Fletcher, I sought an active role in shaping U.S. policy in such a critical region. I really wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in.
Whew! These were hard questions that stressed me out even more than a three-hour, all-you-can-write, grade-determining Role of Force exam. (In December 2011 I didn’t think anything could stress me out more than that.) Luckily, all my classmates and friends were struggling with the same decisions and were there to talk them out with me. From conversations in the Hall of Flags, to advice from our senior military fellows, to Togo-New York-Cambodia gchats during summer internships, I aired my anxieties and listened to how my friends were thinking about their post-Fletcher lives.
For now, I’ve decided to return to DC, where I’m working for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), one of five regional centers of the Department of Defense. I support academic outreach programs with members of the African security sector on civil-military relations, respect of democratic values, and other U.S. security priorities on the continent. Recently, for example, we held a three-week program in DC for 60 rising African security sector leaders. I conducted research and prepared background materials for the participants on ethical leadership, served as the point of contact for over 30 guest speakers, and got to interact with some amazing participants. Recently, while discussing guest speakers with colleagues for an upcoming program, I kept saying, “Oh, I know her, she went to Fletcher and is awesome,” or “She went to Fletcher. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve heard Professor Shultz rave endlessly about her, so she must be great.” After hearing quite a bit of this, my coworker turned to me and asked if we could populate the guest speaker list exclusively with the Fletcher network. Yep — I’m pretty sure we could.
Through my job, I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding of the security challenges in Africa, as well as the U.S. policy structure, and I’ve started to build a network within the Africa security community here in DC. But I’ve also learned a lot about what it means to work for the U.S. government, which has been at times a bit frustrating. Although I certainly enjoyed my time with Netflix during my brief paid vacation in early October, the government shutdown presented a serious planning challenge and threatened to cancel our program altogether.
Living in DC is not all about work, of course. Fortunately, many of my friends from before Fletcher are still here, but there is also a large Fletcher crowd from my class, who I see often. The best part is that everyone is always up for a new adventure, even if it doesn’t involve leaving DC. We’ve splurged on an après-ski event at a fancy hotel bar, just because it seemed fun, tried some of the hundreds of new restaurants in the city, hosted birthday/holiday/just-because parties, and will be delivering holiday meals to seniors together. I run into Fletcher people on the Metro, at work programs, at networking events, and at social gatherings where I didn’t know anyone from Fletcher would be. It’s true — Fletcher is everywhere in DC.
So, I know I made the right post-Fletcher decision for me. But do I get a tinge of envy when I hear about my friends who are currently traveling the world? Of course I do — I wouldn’t be a Fletcher grad if I didn’t.
Last month I needed to contact our volunteer interviewers and I used an email list that included recent grads. Though I apologized for including them in the email, I also invited them to write about their post-Fletcher lives for the blog. Instant success! In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing reports from several of our newest alumni. The first report comes from Ana Garcia, who reflects on her current work and provides some thoughts for our new students or applicants.
My first memory of Fletcher goes back to the day I entered the Hall of Flags. I walked in, looked up, and there it was, the Fletcher flag! I had finally made it: after all the effort, the paper work, and…a “suggestion” to take an English language course during the summer. Two years and two months later, I find myself here, writing about my activities, now as a Fletcher graduate.
I belong to the amazing Class of 2013 MALD group, which included many like me who wondered how we were going to make it all the way to graduation day. And like many of my classmates, I thought that I would fly out into the world right after getting my diploma. Instead, Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston are still my home. I currently work at Conflict Dynamics International, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on preventing and resolving violent conflicts. My work here is linked to two extremely interesting projects: one that aims to identify the main constraints for humanitarian access in countries in conflict; the other one focused on violations of children’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings. It sounds like a Fletcher type of job 🙂 and it is! (Given, also, that most of my coworkers are former classmates. Yep, the Fletcher alumni community starts close to campus.)
Staying in Boston, while many of my friends have left the city for Washington, DC, New York, or their home countries, was the first surprise of my life as a Fletcher grad. The second surprise of my postgraduate life was realizing how intense being a Fletcher student was. Suddenly, I have found myself with TIME: time to be by myself or with my friends, to walk, to watch endless t.v. shows. Despite those feelings, I would never have missed all the all-nighters with my study groups (yes, you will have those), all those coffee refills, cultural nights, and house parties. Fletcher is a place to learn, but also to live, to fail, and to challenge yourself.
Fletcher gave me the chance to do things and meet some of the most important people in my life, often not in class. Organizing cultural nights, dancing the waltz, participating in debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or painting the cannon in pj’s are all things I encourage current students to do. You may not know it yet, but you gain skills from those experiences that are as valuable in a work environment as any class you can take.
My summer has been extraordinarily fun, but also professionally rewarding. I had the opportunity to collaborate in different interesting projects on negotiations and humanitarian aid while I also brushed up on my Arabic skills. Boston has been, and currently is, the place where I will continue the transition toward that job for which I came to Fletcher, and this will happen during this Fall. In the meantime, I have learned the most important lesson of all: Don’t rush, take your time, don’t be hard on yourself. At Fletcher, we are all overachievers, smart and creative people. We will do great things. For now, I’ll be ready and open to the uncertainty, the world of opportunities and options that is out there.
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