Swimming in the Shark Tank...

What would you do for $10,000?

I had never really thought about it, because - honestly - how often do you get the chance to win Ten Grand?

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was selected as one of three candidates for the Entrepreneur of the Year from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)! 

Read: As Global Conference Nears, ASTA Announces Award Nominees

On Monday, August 28th, I'll be on-stage in front of a thousand people and competing in a Shark Tank-style competition for the $10,000 grand prize and recipient of the Entrepreneur of the Year award.

As an introvert, the format is slightly terrifying! But I am so stinkin' passionate about my small business with a big idea, that I can't help but get (nervously) excited to present! 

And, as the saying goes, it truly is an honor just to be nominated!

Watch my 5-minute application video below:

Video Transcript:

Hi, I'm Jacob Marek and I'm the Founder and Chief Explorer at IntroverTravels. In the next few minutes, I’d like to share my small business with a BIG idea and show how - as a creative entrepreneur - I grow my travel business in a highly-specialized niche, as well as support other travel professionals in their own entrepreneurial ventures.

As a Travel Advisor, my concept is catered toward introverts. I understand this type of clientele, because I am one. When I was hiking in the high desert of southern Utah several years ago, I had an “ah ha!” epiphany that sparked the idea for IntroverTravels.

I realized what I had known all along: that introverts travel differently.

I know that sometimes the trip itinerary needs to include the balance of alone time and some epic adventure along the way. As introverts, we prefer more remote, off-the-beaten-path destinations that incorporate elements of nature, culture, and history.

So clearly, I have a tightly-defined niche. And you may wonder how I’m able to make a living through this sort of business model. The truth is, my business model isn’t an entirely new concept - it’s no secret that having a niche is “in.” Through IntroverTraveIs, I hone in on my ideal client with marketing that speaks directly to them. In fact, I’m humbled to have been featured in the Boston Globe and several news outlets talking about this unique concept.

You HAVE to be able to differentiate yourself from the crowded self-service booking systems out there. You have to be willing to take risks and experiment in order to bring in new clients. And you have to be motivated to spread the word through the media and through the industry, to show travelers around the world what the new travel advisor is.

I recently spoke at the flagship chapter of 1 Million Cups, a nationwide community of local entrepreneurs. During the Q&A, one audience member in a wheelchair asked me if I was the person who could plan an accessible-focused trip. I smiled, appreciated his interest, and said, “no.” In fact, accessible travel isn’t something that I’m particularly knowledgeable about. BUT! I do know just the person to talk to.

After the presentation, I handed him my card and gave him the information of Nicole Thibault, owner of Magical Storybook Travels, a travel boutique that does specialize in accessible travel.

In fact, Nicole and I know each other virtually, through my Facebook Group, Travel Agent Awareness - a community I created that has grown into an interactive network of over 2,500 North American “travel agents.”

We share marketing ideas, tips, and strategies on ways to promote to the traveling public the value in hiring a skilled travel professional.

Being an entrepreneur involves many challenges, frustrations, successes, and failures, and I enjoy sharing those moments with members in the Travel Agent Awareness community. I pull back the curtains of IntroverTravels in order to share what’s working, something I may have recently learned or been inspired by.

When I first started in the travel industry over 10 years ago, I was a member of ASTA, thinking then, as a 22-year-old, that the association wasn’t keeping up with the evolving trends of travel agents becoming trusted travel advisors.

This year, I re-joined ASTA because I was impressed by their enthusiastic embrace of a new way of building a travel business and of generating more consumer awareness. I’m so excited to be a part of the *new* ASTA, which welcomes a new style of travel business, like my own.

As a true, measurable testament to the results of ASTA’s efforts, I can trace 2 large sales just last month to my professional listing on the ASTA consumer facing website, TravelSense.org!

The enthusiasm of my travel professional tribe in Travel Agent Awareness, the continued growth of IntroverTravels, and my increasing engagement with ASTA leave me thinking a lot about the future of the travel industry and my role in it.  

The legacy I’d like to leave, personally, is to be a part of a changing and evolving industry, one in which we can help people travel better. I am passionate about supporting new forward-thinking, and creative entrepreneurs in this industry - whether a recent college graduate or an experienced professional’s new career venture!

Earning the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from ASTA would be a huge honor, and the $10,000 grand prize would not only help me continue to grow my business, but it would help me continue to support and inspire niche travel specialists across the globe.  

If selected as one of the nominees for this award, I look forward to sharing with you (and the judges) exactly how I plan to use the money to take IntroverTravels to the next level.

Until then, I’m Jacob Marek from IntroverTravels, and I thank you for your consideration and vote, and for letting me share my small business with a BIG idea.