Today we meet Erika Takeuchi, co-founder of “vacation in a box” travel experience company TROVE. As passionate travelers, Erika and her business partner Emilie were not only concerned about the lack of cultural exchanges occurring in the age of COVID-19, but also the many artisans whose livelihoods are threatened by a massive downturn in visitors. To help address this, they’ve used their business expertise to bring the experience of traveling to a new city directly into people’s homes, offering a special ‘box’ that introduces cultural activities, cooking classes, and other goodies from iconic cities across the world.
Hi everyone! I’m Erika Takeuchi, one of the founders of TROVE. I’ve been lucky enough to work for three of the tech giants, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. I always find this ironic, because I’m a total tech jinx, but I’ve loved being surrounded by incredibly smart people, being a part of mega global launches like Windows 8 and Fire TV, and fast-paced, ever-evolving industries.
TROVE is the first business I’ve created with my best friend, Emilie Bridon. We’re both juggling TROVE and our full-time gigs, and our running joke is that we’ll sleep in another lifetime. I’m the Head of Global Brand and Integrated Marketing for Fire TV at Amazon, and Emilie is the Director of Marketing Campaigns & GTM at Microsoft. Our nights and weekends are dedicated to TROVE, and it’s gotten to the point, where I’m having work dreams about TROVE as well!
TROVE is a new way to travel the world from the safety of your home. TROVE curates the perfect weekend in-home getaway to an international city, including a LIVE cooking class and a LIVE cultural activity with local chefs and artisans. We also send you a kit of special ingredients for your cooking class, supplies for your cultural activity, snacks, and other goodies from the featured city right to your doorstep. You can subscribe and “travel” with us every quarter, or buy a box as a date night or as a great gift for a friend.
TROVE is a quarantine brainchild and true passion project. Emilie and I have traveled the world together (we’ve been to over 78 cities together!), and when travel was suspended, we were devastated. Like many of you, we canceled the big trip we had planned this summer to Japan. After taking up arm knitting, many baking fails and watching everything on Disney+, we couldn’t take it anymore. We knew we had to do something and were determined to find a way to feed our wanderlust while we were homebound.
When we looked around, we found that no one else was offering a hands-on, immersive way to experience cities around the world from home. We started talking to artisans and chefs in France, Japan, and Italy and heard a common fear: with the abrupt stop of tourism and the uncertainty of when it would start again, many of them worried they would have to close their businesses. This was a wake-up call for us. What started as a way to scratch a travel itch, turned into a mission to help save these one-of-a-kind small businesses and support the local experts around the world who dedicate their lives to sharing their culture, history, and expertise with us. That is why we are committed to doing our part, and 20% of all profits go directly to the featured artisan and chef.
Our first box launched in September and featured Florence, Italy, one of the last places we ventured together before the world shut down. There were many pilot boxes we had in the works and lots of friends and family testing, and we had a lot to learn. We knew nothing about subscription boxes, how to run virtual classes, or setting up an ecommerce site, but that didn’t stop us from marching forward and launching our idea. In talking to friends and family, we knew we were on to something and needed to get it out fast. We debated whether to do both a cooking class and cultural activity, but ultimately decided you needed both to have an immersive experience with a new city.
Our Summer Box included a LIVE Cooking Class with our Florence Chef Patrizia Steccato, who teaches you how to make 3 delicious recipes for an authentic Italian feast along with special ingredients from Italy that are in the box (olive oil and Pomodori Pelati tomatoes), a LIVE Watercolor Workshop with Artist Betty Ritschel who teaches you the fundamentals of watercolor painting while you paint il Duomo and watercolor kit, and other snacks and goodies (e.g. champagne flutes, chocolate espresso filled bon bons). We’ve just launched our new destination (Kyoto, Japan!!), and can’t wait to bring more amazing cities to TROVE travelers.
We’re still in the early days for TROVE, and are learning, testing, and evolving every day. It’s been so thrilling to see customers rave about their TROVE experiences and so fulfilling to know that we’ve found a way to help support chefs and artisans around the world. A couple of weeks ago we announced our new destination, Kyoto, Japan!! We are beyond excited to share this majestic and captivating city with TROVE travelers.
Right now, it’s just the two of us while we work to grow TROVE.
We’re currently working on all of the above! We are heads down on our Fall Box that features Kyoto, Japan right now, and have another surprise we’ll be launching before the end of the year. We’re very focused on getting the word out about TROVE and reaching other people out there who are missing travel like crazy as much as we are.
We hope to build a really unique community of expert hosts and passionate travelers, help people learn something new and stretch their perspective, and inspire travel to our featured cities when the world opens back up again.
Our biggest challenge is introducing something that hasn’t ever been done before. We’re not like other subscription boxes that send you stuff every month, and we’re also not quite like the typical virtual classes out there. TROVE is a “vacation in a box,” which pairs virtual experiences with the physical products together to introduce and celebrate a featured city and support small businesses around the world.
The other big challenge we’re facing is the cold start problem. When people do hear about TROVE, it really resonates with them, and they love this unique way to still travel from home. Nowadays though, it’s really hard to break through cluttered inboxes and packed social feeds, and build a brand organically.
Personally, I welcome the challenges. My brain starts firing away at potential solutions, and we have a mile-long list of tests we want to do. I also find motivation in hearing from other entrepreneurs. It helps to remind myself that it is very rare to be an instant success, and that persistence, passion, and conviction can be the difference between something that could have been and a home run.
We are always looking for ways to delight our customer. The very first box we delivered was by hand two weeks before we were ready, so it could make it in time for a special birthday party. We stayed up all night finishing our in-box printed materials and had to run out and buy a full-priced watercolor kit because our shipment hadn’t arrived yet. We’ve also had some of these special requests turn into great ideas. When a group of friends found out that our Florence chef, who they loved and had taken a class with before was being featured, they reached out about a private class for them to virtually get together. We now offer these private classes for family reunions, friend get-togethers, team-building events, and more.
We’ve done a lot of learning through podcasts. We’re both big fans of NPR’s How I Built This – nothing is more inspiring than hearing the journey, failures, and successes behind some of the brands and companies we love like Rent the Runway and LARABAR. I also love TED Talks Daily, Entrepreneurs on Fire, and I’ve been taking a crash course in subscription box do’s and don’ts.
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