An Interview with Sophia Hyder

Sophia Hyder Interview

Sophia Hyder is the Founder/CEO of Papilia, a boutique travel concierge service that provides business and leisure travelers with personalized tools and itineraries to maximize their trip experience.

Prior to creating Papilia, Sophia was an international development professional dedicated to working on economic development, gender, and sustainability issues around the world. Her curious-love for travel and culture began at the age of 10 when she lived in Sri Lanka.

Since then, she has had the privilege of traveling to over 30 countries and counting. In addition to inspiring people to travel, she enjoys cooking, writing, yoga, and spending time with family and friends. Sophia received her BA from the University of Virginia and a Masters from Duke University.

In this interview with Startup Savant, Sophia shares how she started her travel assistance business, her mission behind helping people travel, her interest in different cultures and many more! We learned that when starting a business, test your idea first to see if there’s demand.

Her advice to entrepreneurs starting a business in North Carolina:

Your mindset is key. Believe in yourself, and transform challenges into opportunities. Everything is a learning opportunity and you will be stronger for overcoming your challenges.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Sophia, and how you got the idea for Papilia?

The idea for Papilia originated when I planned to go to a friend’s wedding in Argentina in 2014. I didn’t have enough time to research cultural nuances, what to check out, or how to pack for my trip, so I was looking for an app that could help me pack, provide tips, and shop without spending the time gathering the data myself. There wasn’t an app for that, and at the time I thought it would be a cool idea if someone created it.

My interest for travel, culture, and international development work began when I was 10. My family moved to Sri Lanka from California for two years. This experience had a huge impact upon my life. I witnessed a culture rich in history and beauty, alongside poverty. I also had the privilege of going to work with my Dad who is also in the same field of development work. These unfiltered experiences changed my life forever.

In 2003, I started my career in international development. I have worked on issues pertaining to economic development, gender, and sustainability. But the most rewarding part of this career was being able to connect with people of various cultures on a basic human level, and to help make a difference in another person’s life. I will always be interested in development work, and I am in the process of incorporating elements of local sustainability through Papilia.

When did you know that you had a business on your hands and not just a ‘good idea’? (The ‘Aha!’ moment)

I remember my ‘Aha!’ moment like it was yesterday. I thought I needed some pitching practice, so I decided to pitch the concept for Papilia at Triangle Startup Weekend for Women at HQ Raleigh in October 2014. Papilia ended up winning overall crowd favorite and second place. I thought it was pretty cool, and thought nothing of it other than the weekend being a fun learning experience.

Over the next three months, I had people coming up to me and asking me when this service would be available. I told them it was just an idea I had pitched for fun. It wasn’t until a few months later in February 2015, where I had that light bulb moment. If so many people are asking me when Papilia will be available, why am I not turning this idea into reality?

In your experience, what is the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?

The best way to find Papilia’s ideal customer is by talking to people about the services we offer. I ask thoughtful, open ended questions to gather information about my ideal customer’s needs, habits, likes, and dislikes about their travel experiences.

Any response is a helpful response in determining Papilia’s ideal customer. In my first startup, I was reluctant to ask questions that I did not want to hear the answer to in fear of people not liking my idea.

My advice: Take your ego out of the mix. Ask people (family, friends, and strangers) about your idea BEFORE spending money. You are better off gauging whether there is interest and demand first before investing a lot of time and money.

As a business owner, what is your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?

My fear is not living up to my true expectations of myself and Papilia’s vision. To control outside noise and feeling overwhelmed, I meditate every morning, do lots of yoga, and I recently started a personal blog to allow me to write about experiences that I’m dealing with on a professional or personal level. These three things keep me grounded and remind me that life is precious and should be a fun explorative journey.

Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Papilia?

My parents have been my greatest influencers. They have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams however outlandish they seem. They instilled the confidence I needed to persevere through the good and rough times. They helped shape the direction of Papilia by listening to my ideas, offering suggestions, and advising me to be patient, be fearless, and to take things one day at a time.

Have you faced any failures with Papilia? How did you overcome it?

Initially, I wanted Papilia to be an app. I was fixated on the idea that I had to build an app. I kept telling people Papilia was going to be an app, and they were waiting for it to be released. The fact that I don’t have a software development background was hindering the development of Papilia.

To overcome this issue, I went back to the drawing board. I worked within my technical capabilities and turned Papilia into an online web service which allows me to create a more personalized experience for clients.

I do not see this other issue as a failure, but a deeply personal issue I am working to overcome. Earlier this year, my Mom passed away unexpectedly. I was not able to meet goals I had set for Papilia for obvious reasons. But, I have learned to take each day as it comes, to embrace the challenges and to act upon what my Mom always advised me to do: work hard, stay focused, and to be fearless.

Your days no doubt can be pretty crazy. What one thing would you say motivates you to keep pushing forward?

There are so many beautiful things to experience in this world, and there are so many opportunities to support the development of local economies. I strongly believe that the more people travel, the more they will realize that we are all very similar. Papilia’s vision to help people ‘never feel like a tourist again’ while getting a chance to support the sustainability of local economies excites me every day.

What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten from another business owner or someone you admired?

Jeff Hoffman Co-Founder of Priceline outlined his recipe for success at a talk in Raleigh, and it completely resonated with me. First, write down your ultimate goal. Then, set your road map. To do this, ask yourself how you would accomplish that goal each time until you’ve reached your current state. At the end of this exercise, you will have mapped out your goals with a proper road map to reach your ultimate goal.

The sky’s the limit and anything is possible.

Where do you see Papilia in the next 5 years? Any new products in development?

I envision the Papilia brand to transform the way people travel for business and leisure through a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural nuances.

First, impressions make or break a deal. We are working on several products for companies to develop successful partnerships and a robust client base in the US and around the globe.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in North Carolina who have a business idea but don’t know where to get started?

First off, that is awesome!

  • Do Your Homework: Take time to do your research online, and talk to people about your idea to see if there is demand. Depending on where you live in North Carolina, visit a co-working space, go to entrepreneurial networking events, and contact your local Small Business Administration (SBA) chapter.
  • Financial Planning: Do not quit your day job. Build your savings to make sure you can pay your bills and pursue your dreams responsibly (after you have discovered that there is demand for your idea).
  • Time Commitment: Schedule your days to be efficient with your time. Starting a business is a lot of work, and involves constant research, networking, and innovation. Spend time blocking your schedule so you do not get overwhelmed.
  • Perseverance & Positivity: Your mindset is key. Believe in yourself, and transform challenges into opportunities. Everything is a learning opportunity and you will be stronger for overcoming your challenges. Also, take time to celebrate small successes or discoveries.


Looking to speak with Sophia about your business/leisure trips? Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.