Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Jamon and Akash from Backstreet Academy. Backstreet Academy is a peer-to-peer impact travel platform where impoverished local communities in developing countries who cannot speak English nor access technology are empowered to create unique travel experiences and host tourists to showcase their tradition, culture and heritage.
Jamon Mok - Co-Founder & CEO
“Ten years ago I went on a backpacking trip and felt that coming back I wanted to do something to alleviate poverty. Together with Akash I co-founded Gazaab Social Ventures to run rural business plan competitions in a bid to stimulate entrepreneurship and help communities move out of poverty through micro social venture capital. Having run over 25 such competitions and helped the creation of over 150 micro-enterprises, Backstreet Academy was founded as a more direct and scalable way to alleviate poverty through tourism & technology. Proud to say that I’m also a Tedx speaker, Lee Kuan Yew GBP Most Promising Young Entrepreneur, a speaker and panelist at numerous events as well as a Citizen Ambassador commended by the President of Singapore”.
Akash Gurung- Co-Founder & CTO
“Before I turned 11, I lived in 6 different countries which has been a remarkable experience! Each place as multicolored, multi-textured and multi-layered as another has taught me a lot about the world and my place in it. Thus, as a young boy treading out into the world, I was fortunate to be shaped by not one place or one group of people, but by many, and this has allowed me to be more perceptive about the world we live in and observe that there are more similarities between people than there are differences!
Also, early on in my childhood, since I held my first Nintendo Gameboy, I have been a keen observer of technology and its impact on the world. Growing up however, the single most defining feature of technology that has stood out is the fact that it is scalable, and thus its ability to impact the world and not be limited by boundaries. And somewhere in between visiting narrow alleyways in the slums of Asia to even narrower lines of code, I decided that if there were ever a tool to combat the world’s poverty, it was going to be with the help of technology. And I find Elon Musk to be an absolute badass!”
How did your Backstreet Academy story begin?
While thinking of new business models, we were talking to one of our beneficiaries of a micro fund we were running, who is a poor wood carver. We asked him many questions about his craft and background and he immediately offered us a crash course on the spot! We then spent the next 5 hours covered in wood shavings, learning from the master. That was a fantastic experience for us and we could only wish travel can be so intimate, offbeat and amazing everywhere we went with such genuine hospitality. The craftsman also benefited immensely from the fees they could earn from teaching tourists as well as increased sales from selling their products. More people could learn about their craft and thus preserve the traditional cultural heritage in the world. That gave us the inspiration to start Backstreet Academy where we can focus on creating micro-entrepreneurs in tourism and have a much more scalable and direct impact on communities.
What is one of your favourite experiences people can book on your platform now? Why?
Our favorite is fishing on the Mekong with local fishermen. The family is very hospitable and welcoming to open up their house-boat for fishing trips. Going out with the family, including three of their children is a great experience. They will share their tales of bad weather, good catches and times when their children would fall into the river at night. Their cooking is fabulous as well. After fishing, the host would cook from a wok underneath the floorboard of the little boat and serve up a delicious meal with the fresh catch. It's just amazing!
What makes Backstreet Academy so unique?
Backstreet Academy is unique due to our technology and our focus on communities. Our technology is built specifically for Bottom-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) communities who cannot speak English nor access smartphones. Online bookings from tourists are automatically translated into local language SMSes or automated calls with 2-way input to allow hosts to handle their own bookings. Secondly, to bridge the language barrier on the experience, we also deploy a hyper-local on-demand community translator system to allow local students from English schools, tourism colleges and orphanages to be matched to a job, allowing them to practice English, earn additional income, gain exposure to the outside world and practical experience in the tourism industry.
Next to the technology, we work very closely with local communities to ensure we showcase the tradition, skills and heritage in the best way possible. We provide trainings and even awards for our host communities to improve their service level, motivation and hospitality.
What is your dream for Backstreet Academy?
We believe that people shouldn't be disadvantaged by where they are born and hope that by providing Backstreet Academy's service to people left behind by globalization we can level the playing field a little and enable everyone to make a living doing what they love.
Tell us a bit more about the impact you make and why is it so important?
We have helped over 600 individuals to become micro-entrepreneurs in tourism, gain additional income to move out of poverty and improve their quality of life through the Backstreet Academy platform. We have collectively generated more than $200,000 in additional income for our beneficiaries and helped to make hundreds of traditions and skills much more visible, understood and accessible to travelers than ever before.
Our three key impact areas are:
- Poverty Alleviation - Create micro-entrepreneurs (as BA hosts) in tourism, provide training and a platform for them to sustainably earn a living from it, increase their income 2-3 times, subsequently moving them out of poverty.
- Quality of Life - Increase appreciation and respect for their tradition, culture and crafts, thereby helping them raise their quality of life as well as both tourists and people in the community see them as masters rather than just production line workers.
- Preserving Intangible Cultural Heritage - Preserve and keep alive traditions, crafts and intangible cultural heritage of our world by allowing travelers to experience it first-hand, be awed by it and generate interest in it. The younger generation will also be more inclined to consider taking up the skill and not let it die out.