houston innovators podcast episode 104
Innovative travel adviser talks Houston tech and advice for female founders
When the pandemic hit, it's safe to say that everyone in the travel industry panicked. Sarah Groen, who founded her company Bell and Bly Travel in 2017, caters her expertise to planning luxury travel experiences, and she didn't want her clients to forget about her expertise as the uncertainty of the pandemic continued. So, she got creative.
"Every single client who had a trip canceled, we sent them a digital package to help them feel like they were traveling," Groen says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. For example, if a client's trip to Italy canceled, Groen and her staff provided links to recipes of Italian dishes, virtual museum tours, and more.
"We didn't make money on that," Groen says. "We spent money to be able to have the bandwidth to be able to do that for our clients."
It's during this time thar Groen also launched her podcast, Luxury Travel Insider, where she gathers experts to discuss destinations.
It's these innovative endeavors that put Groen and Bell and Bly Travel on the map for Virtuoso's award — which Groen describes as the Oscars of the travel industry. She took home the title of "most innovative travel advisor" at the 2021 awards.
"During COVID, a lot of businesses either shutdown or took a pause, but we accelerated," Groen says.
The award is incredibly special to Groen she says especially to her background in tech. A native Houstonian, Groen went to the West Coast for her education. Despite loving her hometown, she says she returned kicking and screaming because she wanted to do something entrepreneurial, and Houston didn't yet have much to speak of in terms of a startup ecosystem.
So, like any good entrepreneur who sees a need in the market, she did it herself and co-founded Surge, an energy-focused accelerator. But it was a struggle to get momentum.
"But at that time, we couldn't even get the mayor to pay attention to us. We had people applying to our program and moving their companies from other cities and countries in some cases," Groen says. "But I think Surge starting was a big turning point."
Surge — which was co-founded by Kirk Coburn, who now is the investment director for Shell Ventures — officially shut down in 2016.
But things have changed within the Houston innovation ecosystem, and Groen discusses the transformation as she's observed it on the show. She also gives some strategic advice for founders — like trusting your gut and reading the signs when it comes to product-market fit — on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.