Raj Patel – Founder of Explora

Hard work. It’s a cliche but it seems to be the thing that gives you the best chance for success.

Raj Patel founded Explora, a smartphone rental service for travellers visiting the United States. He is a lifelong travel enthusiast, former lawyer, investment banker and die hard rugby fan.

Recently launched, Explora delivers a convenient and cost-effective communication and travel guide solution that eliminates the complexities and high costs associated with international roaming, all for a flat-rate of $8 per day.

The company provides travellers with the latest generation smartphones, unlimited nationwide calling, text messaging and 4G data, along with special travel offers and benefits from more than 40 pre-loaded applications that make-up Explora’s “Ultimate Travel Companion” service.

Raj Patel graduated from the University of Sydney with degrees in finance and law. Follow Raj on Twitter at @monsterid and Explora at @ExploraPhones.

Where did the idea for Explora come from?

The concept behind Explora came from my own personal experience. I love to travel – and as anyone who has ever done any extended traveling knows the two biggest problems to overcome is staying connected and navigation. I was literally sitting at my desk one day reflecting on a recent overseas trip (and my huge phone bill) and thinking “there has to be a better way.”

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

One of the greatest (and worst!) things about Explora is that we get orders and customer enquiries from all over the world (and at all times of day and night). I’ve master the sound notifications settings on my phone and trained my brain to ignore emails. I manage to wake-up for calls and my morning alarm. In all I guess it makes my mornings very busy, responding to overnight orders and user requests. I tend to set my meetings for the afternoon so I can focus on one thing at a time. It seems to make me more productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Hard work. It’s a cliche but it seems to be the thing that gives you the best chance for success. I’ve found that hard work solves more problems than money (and at a much higher ROI as well!).

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Information consumption. Specifically in Explora’s industry the level of growth in mobile data consumption. In 2013 the global telecommunication industry generated $57 billion from global roaming fees. That’s forecast to be greater than $90 billion by 2018. And data is making up an increasing proportion of that, from ~30% last year to ~50% in 2018. It’s driven by a smaller world – more people travelling, more people communicating and of course richer content being consumed.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My previous life as an Investment Banker created the habit of being glued to my phone – and while it is a terrible social habit – it makes me very responsive.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a tax paralegal for a short period during Law School and while I definitely learned a lot about stamp duty, the monotony of government filings and reproducing precedent letters left me with a pretty good feeling that I needed to do something more dynamic.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Freelancers. It’s something that’s thrown around a lot now as an affordable way to get access to different skill sets and increase your capability, but early on we seemed to run into one failed freelancer after another which set our launch date back months. Finding trustworthy and proficient staffing is in my opinion the biggest challenge in starting a business. I’d try to keep a lot more of our critical workflows in house next time, at least in the first few months.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Find perspective. The list of “to do’s” is always going to be longer than the page you have to write them down on. If you don’t prioritise you’ll drown. Sometimes its impossible to prioritise effectively yourself, self managing is the hardest form of management. Having a board & company advisors has given me amazing perspective. A start-up CEO has to be all over the detail its very easy to lose track of the overall strategy.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

A simple and clear value proposition. We operate in an industry that has a lot of noise and a very complex technology and pricing structures. By simplifying our value proposition down to one line we’ve been able to cut through the noise, and get our users to the “I get it” moment quickly.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Finding the right people to hire was my biggest challenge and failure. Having moved to the United States recently my personal network was small, making the first few hires difficult. Networking was the solution, but took much longer than expected and resulting in some lost time waiting to find the right resources to get the business going.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The phrase “time is money” has never been more true. A service or app which allows you to electronically book and manage your appointments for everyday things like the doctor, car mechanic or parent/teacher meeting could save people significant time over the course of a week, month or year and has some pretty compelling commercialisation opportunities. The big challenge is to get enough vendor uptake to make the service ubiquitous.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m an introvert.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Google Apps. Affordable, scalable and ubiqitous – everything Explora is trying to achieve in travel & telecommunications, Google has done for collaborative working.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Freakonomics. It is an interesting and entertaining read no doubt, but its the way of thinking that’s the real lesson. Asking the unfashionable questions about conventional wisdom is how to truly create things are discovered, or great business ideas are formed.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

There are a bunch of great resources out there in the startup world that blog regularly on generic topics. But I’ve found the best advice is specific and timely. So my key influences are people that I know personally that have served as mentors. Michael Flood and Chris Cunningham. Despite coming from telecommunication and advertising backgrounds respectively they both have an amazing general business sense.