Laurens Van Lieshout, 30-year-old Antwerp, Belgium local, wanted to create something different. That was his motivation when he built his startup, Antwerp Port Tours, a unique travel and tours business.
Antwerp Port Tours differs from its competition because of the multimedia experience they offer their customers. Most European tours offer either a live guide or small handy tablets that are used to view the tour’s destinations. Laurens joined both aspects. His tours provide customers with an iPad accompanied by a live guide who controls the flow of the tour.
“The essential setup is quite straightforward: we carry out the tour with a bus/coach and a live guide provides information. This is a classic concept which exists all over the world since the invention of coaches, but over time it has become quite dull and wearisome. We want to make it a better experience by adding multimedia,” Laurens said.
Numerous clients of his have left their testimonials on his website, all of which are testaments to his successful business. Although he is experiencing so much success today, building the business was not a walk in the park. He needed to invest a lot of time, effort and money to get the ball rolling.
To get his business started, Laurens needed to develop an iPad application that could sweep his customers off of their feet, and so he did. Since his tours concentrated on the storytelling element, he ensured that the app was controlled. Only the live guide has the power to move content. A “master” app controls the content which is only available to the live guide.
“We wanted to bring a story with a beginning and an ending, so what we needed was an app that was controlled by the live guide. This brings along some technical and practical challenges. First of all, we provide the tablets so we can be sure of the quality of the hardware and how our content is displayed on it. Secondly, all client tablets should listen to one master app, needing a network for communication. In a port and city full of interfering networks and magnetic fields, a stable and 100% fail proof wifi network turned out to be impossible,” Laurens mentioned.
He hired local app developers to get the job done. However, the local developers caused Laurens dismay when he received an app he was not pleased with at all. What’s worse is that he needed to shell out a pretty large sum for it to be produced. He needed something of great quality, something that was fail-proof.
“The app had to be network fail and error proof, as the show always has to go on. A crash or hiccup of client’s iPad or the ‘master app’ cannot interfere with the experience of other users. The interface has to be user-friendly too, as we have groups as well as guides who have never used a computer. Apart from all that, we should be able to edit the content of the app quickly,” he added.
A friend of Laurens’ who resides in Canada suggested that he turn to Freelancer.com for solutions. Laurens’ was surprised to hear of the site. Not a single member of his social entourage know about the site. He signed up and got to work.
“A minute after I posted the job I received several offers from freelancers. After a few more days, more intriguing offers came. I created a shortlist of three names coming from Argentina, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan. I eventually chose Rob Dixon from the UK. He is a great developer. In fact, better than I had ever hoped for,” Laurens shared.
Rob created a fully-functional app that is being used in the day-to-day operations of Antwerp Port Tours. The product he created was very much commended by Laurens’ customers. The most rewarding part of his business, according to Laurens, is the satisfaction his clients feel during and after the tour.
In order to achieve even more than what was present, Laurens decided to add even more features to the program. Without any hesitation, Rob followed Laurens’ lead. One fun feature Antwerp Port Tours offers is when customers can take snapshots of their epic moments on the tour. The iPads provided for the tour may also be used for selfie-taking. Pictures taken with the iPads are then uploaded to Antwerp Port Tour’s Facebook page.
A Role Model
Like most successful businesses, Laurens plays a huge role in the company’s operations. He isn’t just the manager, but also, the live guide, the multimedia designer, and even the bus driver.
“This stage is of the most importance. I need to be directly involved with every aspect of the project. I have to know what works and what doesn't so I can adjust when and where necessary. Specifically, concerning the app. This was very important. One to 80 people use it at the same time during every tour. I have to be there when something goes wrong, so I can see for myself what happened and what caused it. This phase is temporary. I'm passionate about creating a tour business, secondly is guiding it. I am currently training other guides to work with the app and the content of my tours, so I can focus on new projects,” he uttered.
When asked about his success, Laurens had a few words, “The concept of my new business has been awarded the title of 'Startup of the Year' for the region of Flanders, Belgium by a well-known local organization. The fact that we have a well-working app today means that we can focus on expanding.”
Elevate your business, hire a freelancer!