Go Anywhr!

A surprise trip planner, Anywhr runs an organised operation with few surprises thanks to its partnership with Xero

THE best things in life aren't planned - they simply just happen!

If you believe that, and are generally a receptive and spontaneous person, you might want to take a chance with Anywhr, Asia's first and only "surprise trip planner".

A Singapore startup, Anywhr lets users sign up online for a trip (adventure, getaway or experience) and state their budget and preferences. The catch? Users have no idea where they are travelling to or staying. They simply show up at the airport, open an envelope for instructions, and go!

What Anywhr essentially does is curate a trip for you. It will offer you three things: flights, accommodation and a list of suggested activities. Can you choose your destination? No, says Anywhr, as this will take all the fun out of the surprise. But you can list places you have already visited or don't want to visit, and Anywhr will make sure not to send you there.

The startup claims it takes people to only "places less travelled". Popular destinations such as Bangkok, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur will automatically be removed. Anywhr's destinations span Asia and beyond, depending on the theme and length of trip users choose. It will accept bookings up to two weeks in advance of the intended departure date.

When it comes to flights, the good news is that you can select to fly on either a budget or regular airline, and indicate your preferred flight dates or timings. The bad news? You can't use your frequent flyer miles, as this would allow you to login and check your destination, thus spoiling the surprise!

Anywhr will put you up at an Airbnb or hotel that is "not grubby" and has good reviews. While the startup will provide you with a curated travelogue that is thoughtfully created based on your stated preferences, it's entirely up to you to plan your actual travel activities.

A popular question among users is whether they are better off booking a trip on their own. Anywhr's reply is an easy no! "The experience of a surprise trip, together with your specially-curated destination and personalised travelogue, will ensure that your Anywhr trip gives you more bang for your buck."

This novel idea has been a hit with Singaporeans. Since its 2017 founding, Anywhr has designed "thousands" of trips, said a company spokeswoman. Within a year, the Anywhr team has grown from two to some 20 employees.

Co-founder Felix Tan says that a regular day at work involves him staying attuned with every aspect of operations, which range from keeping track of new customers to planning the trips and analysing post-trip feedback. He also sets aside time each day to think about the "next cool thing" Anywhr can do for its customers.

An organised operation

Up till now, your impression (yes, you the reader) of Anywhr is likely to be a free-spirited, trendy company that delights in surprising people.

Behind the scenes, however, is an organised operation with few surprises! To keep up with its growing number of transactions, Anywhr turned to Xero - a New Zealand accounting software company - this year to help it manage its finances.

Mr Tan says: "I was so excited to finally get rid of all the manual data entry and get my time back. Seeing the transactions synced in real-time with DBS (Anywhr's banking partner, to which Xero's platform is connected) is like watching beer pour out of a tap - beautiful."

Xero's cloud-based system allows Mr Tan and his team to access the company's accounts from anywhere in the world, even on mobile. This has led to time savings of two to three days a month on data entry.

Kevin Fitzgerald, Xero's regional director for Asia, says: "Anywhr's unique business model thrives on the premise that customers should relinquish control as they're taken on a surprise trip. But encouraging customers to 'let go' means Anywhr needs to do a great deal of planning and coordination with multiple suppliers and is often dealing with multiple currencies.

"Xero gives them full, up-to-date visibility of their financial status so they maintain a sense of control at all times. With a handle on their business, they can scale with ease and continue delivering wonderful holiday experiences to customers."

Zelia Leong, the startup's other co-founder, says that Anywhr travellers - mostly city dwellers - have shared stories about exploring places they never knew existed, befriending strangers they never thought would help them, and discovering they are stronger than they believed.

"This is the purpose of Anywhr: to be the catalyst in creating authentic, personal journeys of discovery for our travellers. Their experiences and stories, and knowing what we do has value and is changing the way people connect with themselves and the world, make it satisfying for us."

Personally, Anywhr's business evokes many quotes about taking the leap into the unknown, such as "growth begins at the end of your comfort zone", or "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

Despite the cliches, there is truth in the idea that man cannot discover new oceans unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore. It's the same for businesses. If overly fixated on what has worked or the day-to-day, businesses will never learn and progress. Here's a last cliche to wrap this column up: Always keep learning, it keeps you young.