Alumni

McIntire Alum’s New Startup Simplifies World Travel through Personalized, Optimized Vacation Plans

We spoke to Brockway about the story behind Noken and her most important McIntire lessons, and even got a few tips for the best summer travel destinations around the world.

Emily Brockway

Emily Brockway (McIntire ’13) says that the goal of attending McIntire is what originally drew her to UVA. And ultimately, McIntire may also be partially responsible for her current work: making international travel much easier.

The Boca Raton, FL, native built on what she learned from McIntire’s Global Commerce Track and concentrations in Finance and Marketing, and set out for two employment stints in New York, first as an Analyst at Goldman Sachs, then as an Associate at e-commerce startup Hukkster.

Brockway then relocated to San Francisco to serve as Chief of Staff to the CEO of a larger startup, the enterprise application Box. Intrigued by the startup process and interested in flexing her own entrepreneurial muscles, Brockway left Box and returned to the East Coast, earning her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, where she graduated in May 2018.

Now she’s back in New York and getting her own startup off the ground as Co-Founder of Noken, an end-to-end app that curates trips to explore new countries for the first time. The app aims to save its users from the counterintuitive process requiring a hefty investment of time spent planning, comparing, and booking.

We spoke to Brockway about the story behind Noken and her most important McIntire lessons, and even got a few tips for the best summer travel destinations around the world.

What led to the creation of Noken?
When I went to Harvard Business School, I knew I wanted to get involved in an early-stage startup. I definitely didn’t think that founding one was going to happen so quickly. I was at an entrepreneurship event, where my Co-Founder, Marc Escapa, spoke about this problem in the travel space that he was very interested in solving. It really resonated with me.

He was explaining the trade-off that Noken was founded on trying to solve: If you want a really good experience seeing a country for the first time, you have to plan it yourself these days—unless you’re buying an ultra-luxury, premium tour. The average traveler performs 56 searches over 43 days before they even make their first booking for a trip. That shows how many resources you have to gather, read, and synthesize in order to plan a vacation.

On the other end of the spectrum, with mass-market tour operators, you’re traveling with people you don’t really know, often in a coach bus, following an embarrassing tour guide holding an umbrella, and going to the tourist spots, and you don’t really have any choice in the matter. So we wanted to eradicate that trade-off in the market by creating a really seamless, easy way to purchase an international trip that gives you a better experience than you could even plan yourself.

Marc really piqued my interest on a personal level because I tend to throw myself into my work and end up working really long hours and really hard. Travel is the only thing that can snap me out of that cycle, give me a new perspective, and refresh me. Marc’s passion for resolving this issue really resonated with me, and that’s why I joined.

It sounds like a problem many of us have had to solve on our own. So how does Noken work?
Our product is twofold: You come to our website and adapt “Travel Blueprints” to your date and budget, and then you get a personalized app that guides your journey on a daily basis with all of your reservations housed in it.

We look at each country through the lens of a first-time visitor who might have the time for only a single city. We take the approach that it might be someone’s only chance to see that country. Our Travel Blueprints adapt to the number of days, as well as the season you’re traveling. So if someone has only three days in Japan, what should they see? Or what would they see if they have four, seven, or more days? We design it incrementally, and include more of the country, given the length of the trip.

And Noken’s plans going forward?
We just closed the seed-round of funding, which is exciting. We’re planning to grow the number of countries we support as well as promote the name and the brand. We haven’t invested much in marketing yet—it’s been more word-of-mouth referrals. So we’re investing in marketing and continuing to refine the technology on the app and the website that guides our travelers.

Can you draw any parallels between what you learned at McIntire with what you’re doing now with your startup?
Absolutely. My McIntire experience was the most formative. What McIntire did was give me my first opportunity to challenge myself with new subjects and situations: new team environments, working with real companies, and solving their actual problems. McIntire helped me develop the skill set to think on my feet, move quickly, draw conclusions with inconclusive data, and not wait to get “perfect” information.

McIntire put me in a situation where I couldn’t possibly know everything—which was great for me. For instance, I worked with a corporate sponsor that was a big, industrial B2B company that I knew nothing about, yet I was tasked with becoming an expert and presenting to its executives. And I think that’s exactly how it is every day for an entrepreneur. You never have all of the information to get to the right answer, but you still have to act. You can’t be paralyzed. McIntire prepared me for that.

Brockway’s Top Summer Vacation Destinations
“When people think of summer vacations, it conjures up some place sunny and warm, and by the beach. One of the things I’ve learned working at a travel startup is that there are so many different places around the world that you can visit at any given time of the year. Your summer vacation doesn’t always have to be limited to lying on a beach drinking a piña colada.”

Wintry road trip adventure in Iceland—Looking for beautiful landscapes? If you travel to this Nordic island nation during the United States’ warmer months, you’ll enjoy a mild temperature that feels more autumnal than summery—and a ready-made location for a perfectly navigable trip along a set of new roads. Iceland already feels like an otherworldly landscape, and by hiking glaciers and taking a trip to the Blue Lagoon, you’ll be amazed by life near the Arctic Circle.

Cultural immersion in Japan—Learn, explore, and enjoy new experiences. Japan offers so many opportunities to put yourself in new situations, from eating different foods to sleeping in traditional Japanese accommodations. There’s always more to see than you’ll have time for, but it’s a fitting destination for anyone seeking a busy, culturally enriching trip.

Colombian summer sun—Still want a beach vacation? Turn up your holiday heat in an up-and-coming destination. Colombian city Cartagena is a charming, tropical beach town right near the Caribbean that boasts a rich culture. Completely transformed, this country is new in many ways and emerging as one of the most forward-thinking; in 2013, the city of Medellin was chosen as the most innovative in the world by the Urban Land Institute. In Colombia, you can get some beach time, but also afford yourself a chance to learn about a country that has made massive strides to ensure a vibrant future.

On safari in South Africa—Go deep into nature and check a major item off your bucket list. There’s also an element of learning the history of South Africa—the country has had a tremendous amount of change and growth in the last few decades. So there’s an element of learning, but you’re also hiking and seeing the ocean as well as animals on safari.

Hiking in Peru—Sick of sitting at your desk? Peru offers hiking possibilities for all levels of expertise, but it’s particularly suited to anyone wanting to get in some serious exercise during their travels. It’s also a great choice for summer travel—right up until the rainy season starts in the fall. Spend time hiking and camping up the Inca Trail, making your trip as rugged as you’d like it to be.

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