Interview with Dan Swygart, CEO of Alpacr

| Hannah Skingle

CEO and founder of adventure app Alpacr, Dan Swygart, was recently named as one of our top 10 founders under the age of 25. At 24 years old, Dan has raised £185k in funding and achieved a £1.85m pre-money valuation for Alpacr, which runs a social network for travel enthusiasts.

He is currently leading his Cardiff-based business through its fifth funding round, which will help finance further international expansion. The Alpacr team have already launched the app across South East Asia, Europe and America, and are looking to expand their presence globally. We sat down with Dan to find out how he’s grown such a successful business, what his funding journey has been like and where the company is headed in the future. 

What was the inspiration behind Alpacr and what drove you to build a business upon it?

I’ve been entrepreneurial since a young age, and have always wanted to grow a business of my own; from the age of 15 I sold biscuits in my local tourist town. The idea for Alpacr came from travelling around the US and Europe in my final year of university. I ended up using over 10 different platforms to find the best activities and to communicate with other backpackers, but none of them were good enough. This gap in the market was the initial inspiration behind the app, and what drove me to get a really good team together in Cardiff to tackle the problem.

What was your vision for Alpacr at its inception, and how has it changed since?

Our vision for Alpacr has changed massively over the past two years. At the start we were very much backpacker oriented, with about 10 different features. We carried out a lot of market research and launched a little over a year ago across South East Asia and Europe, with around 20 promoters in both locations at the time. We spoke to tens of thousands of people using the platform, and got a comprehensive, external view of the market. We then worked with our core users to better understand their needs, and took the time to analyse all of our data on how people use the app. Since then, we’ve pivoted twice to get closer and closer to market fit, and really hone in on what the market wants and needs.

At the moment, we’re branding ourselves as the Travel and Adventure Blogging Platform. In the long term, we’re looking to build an aggregate platform for all travel an adventure content across all kinds of niche areas, with the aim of making Alpacr the number one place for everything to do with travel and adventure.

Alpacr app

Was there ever any question about where you should set Alpacr up and run the business from, or was Cardiff an obvious choice for you?

I set up Alpacr whilst I was still studying at Cardiff University, so it was a no-brainer to stay based in the city.

How has your location in Cardiff affected your growth as a company?

Cardiff has lots of good support systems for entrepreneurs, from government-run initiatives to NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator, which has always been the biggest support system for us. Before the programme I had just recently graduated, and learnt a massive amount from being mixed in with other entrepreneurs. The bank offered us lots of support and advice, but the most valuable aspect of the programme was the community of like-minded entrepreneurs I met there. So in this way, Cardiff has been an excellent location for us. 

 

Having said that, we’ve found it really difficult to raise investment here. As is the case with lots of startups, our business model is focussed on growing now and making money later, which many investors in Wales and the UK more widely aren’t willing to back, especially in the face of Brexit. So whilst our last round of funding was predominantly made up of UK investors, our current round is almost entirely supported by foreign funders.

Alpacr is located in Cardiff

Tyler Droll, founder of Yik Yak is on your board of Directors, how did you meet him and get him on board?

When I was in my first year of university, Yik Yak was one of the best apps out there, and reached a $400m valuation after one year. I always admired the company’s approach to consumer engagement, so reached out to Tyler on linkedin to introduce myself. We had a couple of video calls, and then I asked if he would like to join our team as a Non-Executive Director. He now advises us on the development of the platform so that it can scale rapidly, as well as on our marketing strategies.

You’ve raised 4 rounds of equity funding totalling £185k, what’s been your approach to fundraising, and how has it changed since your first raise?

We originally focussed on getting a lot of angels to invest, whereas we’re now interested in getting more hands-on investors involved. The most important characteristics we’re looking for in investors now are that they have lots of international knowledge and experience in the travel and consumer tech industries.

Finding investors in Silicon Valley, Alpacr

You’ve spent a lot of time out in Silicon Valley to bring on new investors, why have you chosen to look to the US for this round of funding?

We had a bad experience last year with an investor who committed to a large some of funding, only to mess us around and never deliver. In the end, we ran out of money and had to let off some of our employees as a result. We originally had to look to Silicon Valley in order to get money on board quickly, but it’s also somewhere that I knew I could learn a lot personally and needed to grow connections, which has been massively helpful. It’s an environment that’s helped form my business perspective, and allowed us to excel as a company.

What’s the best piece of advice another entrepreneur has given you?

Tricky question! I’m not sure that there’s one single piece of advice, but generally entrepreneurs are extremely optimistic people and don’t give up. The best will work quickly and efficiently to solve any problems that come their way, so there’s a lot to learn from that kind of attitude.

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