The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team.
Charles Odom is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Charles Odom -- I’m a traveler, and I founded Painted Circle so it’s possible for each of us to make a positive impact with the way we explore. Having worked in the tourism industry since 2008 I’ve experienced many of the challenges facing the industry, as well as the positive and negative impacts that tourism can have on communities. I’m excited to be part of the solution by working towards a forward-looking, regenerative industry that is poised for innovation.
What did it take / how did you get started?
Most people I talk to are usually shocked to hear that when they book their travel activities through popular travel websites that the actual guides and local businesses have to pay 20-30% commissions back to those websites. Having worked as a bike tour operator in Berlin, Germany for more than a decade I have seen first hand how much money “leaks out” from local businesses in the form of these commissions, usually being paid to overseas tech companies. So I set out to fix this so that more value could stay between travelers and the local tour operators and communities they visit - the idea of “the circle” was born.
There were other challenges to address, too. We face issues with inclusion in travel on multiple fronts, and we are challenged to find meaningful ways to address sustainability as well as social and environmental impact. The resulting design of the Painted Circle business model is guided by these challenges, as well as several of the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN.
I took the opportunity in 2020 to start working full time on building the Painted Circle platform. Wanting to stay true to the vision, I decided to self-fund the initial development and avoid investor entanglements. It’s been a slow, iterative process but I’m glad the project has started out this way. I’ve already been able to launch a beta site to start building the travel portfolio, and the direct conversations and feedback I am getting from the businesses participating has been crucial to refining the platform.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle?
Some have said it will be hard to compete against larger travel brands with deep pockets, but I’m not here to compete at the same traditional game. Painted Circle is designed to be a new, unique approach to connecting more stakeholders to tourism, and the platform is ready to grow. I’m motivated by all the travelers who want the industry to be more ethical, and I’m not alone. I’m happy to say there are many others also starting wonderful travel businesses, not only as guest-facing operators but travel vendors and suppliers, too. I’m excited to be at the stage where I’m able to work with these folks as collaborators and partners.
What drives / motivates you?
People who are passionate about travel care deeply about the experiences shared between guests and hosts. For those of us who call ourselves “travel enthusiasts,” travel is more than just an industry - it’s a way of life. I’m driven to support those creating unique travel experiences and to help travelers connect to them in a more ethical way. By building a travel ecosystem where we keep travel money local and avoid extraction I think we are making a huge leap forward in creating a more regenerative industry.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Be ready for the long haul. Work sprints are great, but introducing new concepts to an established industry takes time, so be ready to move at a pace that is not totally up to your control. And along the way, keep learning - and that includes learning to know when it’s time to ask others for help. I’m actually enjoying getting feedback from partners as I am learning a great deal from them so that I can better refine my platform.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
Pitching to business partners has been tough. The challenge has been convincing businesses that I don’t charge a commission. The traditional commission model is so entrenched that it’s taking some effort to explain that there is another way! And with many travel business owners really pressured to meet demand with lower levels of staffing, it’s been a challenge getting time to pitch that new platform.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
Company of One by Paul Jarvis is a great book about balance and vision-setting with your business.
Podcasts are great for taking a step back - Hidden Brain is a good place to start.
Take a free personality analysis at 16Personalities.com - it’s a great way to learn about yourself and who you will need to compliment your uniqueness.
I love YouTube. I’m typically using it to find inspiration and how-to tips. Just know where to draw the line between falling down a DIY rabbit hole and when you should be reaching out to experts.
Side or full-time hustle?
List the founders
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
# of Employees?
When did you start?
How much did it cost to launch?
$25,000 (cash plus sweat equity)
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
Any call to action?
Have you participated in a great travel activity or experience? Tell your guide or operator to check out Painted Circle! I’m also always on the lookout for those interested in collaborating, so reach out!