As a freshman at Harvard University, entrepreneur Emily Bernard (IES Abroad Nantes | Fall 2005) began her career as a travel writer. She became a restaurant critic after graduation, and then went on to lead the international sales team at Foreign Policy Group (FP) in Washington, DC.
Today, she is Chief Brand Officer and Co-Founder of PlacePass.com, a tech startup that helps travelers find and book great things to do in more than 180 countries.
In our interview, Emily opens up on how study abroad equipped her with her entrepreneurial skills, and why she thinks international experience is essential for students today.
IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Nantes?
Emily Bernard: I researched many study abroad programs but found IES Abroad Nantes to be the most compelling for several reasons. First, I wanted a truly immersive language-learning experience, including the opportunity to take courses at a local university. Second, I wanted to live with a host family so that I could experience French culture first-hand. Finally, I was excited to spend time outside of Paris and get to know a more “traditional” French city with fewer expats or American students. Nantes provided all of these options, along with great recommendations from alums who had studied there previously.
IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
EB: I have so many wonderful memories from my time in Nantes. It’s hard to choose! Celebrating my birthday with my host family and several friends was a highlight. My host mom really got into the birthday spirit. She encouraged me to send out invitations and then cooked an incredible four-course meal featuring some of my favorite French specialties. My friends, my host brothers, and I spent hours at the table just laughing and telling stories in French. I was blown away by the generosity of my host parents that night, and really felt like I was part of the family.
IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from study abroad?
EB: The independence and self-confidence I gained during my time in Nantes have proven invaluable for my personal life and my career. Successfully navigating life abroad equipped me to tackle almost anything back at home.
IES Abroad: When you first arrived in Nantes, did you have any career goals in mind?
EB: Travel has long been a passion of mine. My time in Nantes crystallized my interest in the tourism and hospitality space, and reinforced my desire to pursue an international career. I didn’t necessarily envision myself as a travel entrepreneur at that time, but I did enjoy planning multiple excursions across Europe for my friends. I was always the go-to classmate for travel advice. I knew that I had a skill for learning languages, a passion for building bridges across cultures, and a keen interest in traveling the world. I knew that if I could find a way to weave together those elements I’d be pretty happy in my career.
IES Abroad: In 2016, you co-founded PlacePass.com. Tell us more about the company and the inspiration behind it.
EB: PlacePass.com is a travel tech startup that helps people find, compare, and book great local experiences in more than 180 countries. We search multiple websites simultaneously to help travelers find the best deal on things to do, from culinary tours to outdoor adventures to sightseeing passes.
My co-founder Ethan and I were inspired to build the business because we saw great potential to transform the way travelers spend their time in-destination. If you’ve ever tried to find a great local guide or hunted for the best ticket to the Eiffel Tower, you know the friction and frustration involved: phone calls, tons of web research, relying on word of mouth, even standing in line for tickets sometimes! It’s hard work (even more so when you’re traveling overseas), and it’s not always clear if you’ve gotten the best value for your money. We wanted to streamline the experience and empower travelers with a one-stop resource to compare multiple options. Vacation time is valuable and we’re proud to help our customers make the most of it. At the same time, we were very excited to help mom-and-pop operators around the world grow their businesses, and empower them to tap into the increasing demand for experiential travel.
IES Abroad: What do you love most about your job? What is a typical day like?
EB: I am fortunate to work with an outstanding team. I’ve learned so much from my PlacePass colleagues, who are brilliant but also remarkably down-to-earth. I’ve also found it very rewarding to build the PlacePass brand from the ground up. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort thinking about what we want our brand to convey and what we want the user experience to be like. It’s been exciting to take those ideas from inception to execution on the site, and see how our customers respond.
There is no ‘typical’ day for me! Early-stage entrepreneurs usually have to juggle multiple responsibilities, and that’s certainly been true in my case. In general, though, my days are very collaborative, and I spend a lot of time working side-by-side with my teammates, whether we’re reviewing designs for new features or analyzing customer data. I also try and carve out time to disconnect and recharge so that I’m better-equipped to make decisions and lead the team. That typically means long walks with my husband and puppy after dinner, or runs along the Charles River in Boston.
IES Abroad: Are there any skills you developed studying abroad that you continue to draw upon as an entrepreneur?
EB: Studying abroad strengthened my problem-solving capabilities and that’s been very useful in my role as an entrepreneur. IES Abroad provided significant support in Nantes, but there were still so many things I had to sort out on my own – and in a foreign language, no less! The ability to recognize a problem and identify potential solutions is something I rely on nearly every day at PlacePass.
IES Abroad: What’s next for PlacePass?
EB: There are several exciting developments on the horizon for PlacePass, not only in terms of new features and functionalities for the site, but also in terms of our overall growth strategy. On the product front, we’ll be rolling out more than 200 destination guides to provide our users with comprehensive information about what to do and see in some of the most popular destinations around the world.
As for the other developments…you’ll have to check back on PlacePass.com! We’ve accomplished so much in our first year and the roadmap is even more aggressive for 2017.
IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?
EB: International study or work experience is crucial to success in our globalized world, no matter what your career plans might be. We’re living in an incredibly networked era, so the ability to operate effectively across cultures and borders is essential. Your investment in an international experience will pay dividends throughout your career.
How will study abroad prepare you for your career? We can’t wait to find out. Find the best place to study abroad for you based on your interests, hobbies, major, and more.