Written by Andrew Seale
While an exchange student in Barcelona, Ben Futoriansky often found himself organizing the weekend jaunts to Paris or London or whichever European city caught the attention of his new group of friends. But there was always someone who’d missed the trip’s itinerary shared in a Facebook message, WhatsApp or Google Sheets.
“One of the friends of mine, constantly before leaving on the trip, wouldn't know where we were going – he’d ask ‘what’s the itinerary, what hotel are we staying in’ – (always) complaining that he missed the message or didn't know where to look,” says Futoriansky. “We realized there were so many different platforms we were using all the time that information would constantly get lost.”
After coming back to Toronto, the challenge lingered – friends wanted recommendations of where to go in Barcelona or other places Futoriansky had travelled. He’d stayed in touch with Gregory Benhaim, an exchange student he’d met in Barcelona, who was now set up in Quebec, and the two began asking other exchange students if they had the same pain points.
“We found a lot of people wanted a centralized platform,” says Futoriansky.
So in July 2016, they began working on the idea for DestaPlan – a travel social network where users can visually see where their friends are going, add to their itinerary, and share their trips. They brought on Yoni Philosophe, a roommate of Benhaim’s based in Boston. Futoriansky also did a stint in Birthright Israel Excel, a professional development stream of the Birthright program, where he had a chance to familiarize himself with the startup scene in Israel.
By June 2017, the trio launched the earliest iteration of DestaPlan in Toronto, followed by a launch party in Boston.
Working cross-border from three different cities – Montreal, Boston or Toronto – has its challenges but Futoriansky and his co-founders are confident it’s the right approach. They try to meet up once a month in one of the cities and usually host an event or take meetings as a trio.
“We want to grow slowly, organically, but (build) a strong foundation of people that love our product and really understand where we come from before we release it to the world,” explains Futoriansky. For the launch parties they’ve take a Tinder-like approach where users have to sign up for the app and create a trip beforehand. “It’s a form of admission,” he explains.
They’ve also been strategically partnering with university exchange programs to pilot the platform.
“We spoke at the Schulich information session for exchanges where there were 200 students and we told them our story and about our product, they were very excited,” says Futoriansky, who received an MBA from the Schulich School of Business. “We're speaking Bentley University in Boston and trying to get McGill (in Montreal).”
Starting in Toronto has been a strategic choice for the company. Sure, the budding startup scene is impressive, but it’s the universities, and their exchange students, that DestaPlan has their eyes on.
“Our ambition is to be the platform that university exchange programs use and we see Toronto as somewhere we want to stay and grow,” he says.
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)