"Pangea is for people who have money to spend, but not to waste." - Russell Kling
Russell Kling, co-founder of the Pangea Pod Hotel in Whistler, BC, knows a thing or two about the value of accommodation. A South African with a background in Wall Street finance, he met his future wife and business partner Jelena, a biochemical engineer from Belgrade, at a hostel in Prague in 2003. Jelena joined Russell in New York for a few years, but the two grew tired of the daily grind that left them little time to spend together. They decided to resign from their jobs and continue to explore the world instead.
"We each got a backpack and a one-way ticket to Rio," says Russell. Three years on the road and many adventures later, the couple noticed something that would later turn into a fruitful business idea.
"There was a huge gap in the accommodation market for a product that was well located, clean and chic, but didn't break the bank," says Russell. "You could either pay hundreds of dollars a night for a three-star hotel, or pick an affordable hostel you didn't really want to stay in - there was nothing in the middle."
Russell and Jelena knew that they wanted to start a business together when they returned from their travels. Since Jelena had family in BC, the pair decided to settle there, and Whistler turned out to be the perfect location for their joint venture.
The popular skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking destination was ripe for a centrally located, comfortable and chic place to stay that didn't eat up one's entire adventure budget, and so it became the birthplace of the very first Pangea Pod Hotel.
Halfway between hostel and hotel, Pangea Pod is the ideal accommodation for people who don't want to spend $1,000 a night on a hotel in Whistler Village during peak season, but also don't want to stay at the youth hostel 20 minutes outside of town. Instead, they get the best of both worlds in a central location with comfortable lodgings that don't break the bank.
Guests sleep in individual compartments (pods) that are not quite as private as hotel rooms, but are more secure than hostel beds, with added features like lockable cabinets, secure luggage storage, privacy curtains and electrical/USB charging points.
The Pangea Pod Hotel is also beautifully designed, with a shared living room with cafe and bar, a rooftop patio for shaken cocktails, and a secure storage area called "The Toy Box" for guests who want to safely store their mountain bikes, snowboards or other adventure gear while they sleep.
Jelena and Russell's business idea turned out to be a success. They've filled a gap in the world of travel accommodations, and have plans in the works to open other Pangea locations.
Anytime one starts a business there are lots of risks and hard work involved, and success after just one year is quite a feat. What advice would Russell give other entrepreneurs who are thinking of taking a leap and creating something new?
"I think you just need to be prepared to work 24/7/365, and you realize at the end of the day it's all about your people," he says. "Finding, hiring, training and retaining really good talent is what it's all about. The HR side of things is critical - your people are responsible for the customer experience."
Having good suppliers also helps you avoid hassles so you can focus on building your business and keeping your customers happy. That's why Russell appreciates his relationship with Grand & Toy.
"For us, it's a matter of suppliers or partners who we can rely on. We have lots of small orders for stationery and small office supplies. We needed reasonable prices and when we need our stuff, we get it in short order. It's a trouble-free relationship you don't have to think about."