In our Founder Spotlight series we ask founders from around the world how they got started and the challenges that come along with entrepreneurship. This month we’re talking to Rafi Museri, the Founder of Selina.
Travel is an important part of my personal and professional life and I’m increasingly interested in companies that make it easier to tap into local communities when you travel. Selina is the newest hospitality company on my radar.
Founded by two friends in 2014, Selina is growing quickly across Central America, recently raising $95M from WeWork founder Adam Neumann and The Abraaj Group to expand into South America, the US and Europe.
Selina also gives back to the local communities in which it operates. Their Selina Gives Back program commits 2% of labor time to volunteer activities including teaching English and improving local infrastructure.
Tell us about Selina. What were you doing prior to starting Selina and what made you decide to start it?
Prior to Selina, once I finished the army after 12 years, I decide to come to Latin America where I met Daniel to launch Dekel our now Panama based development company. For more than a decade we developed, managed and sold successfully real estate projects along the pacific coast of Panama. Daniel and I committed to a year of intense market research by traveling across the globe and lodging at more than 140 hospitality venues. We were looking for a place that could deliver a holistic experience with wide-ranging culture, opportunity to engage with new people and seamless workspace. As our trip came to an end we understood that there wasn’t a place with all these and that’s how we decide to open Selina in small fisherman town in Panama called Playa Venao, Pedasi.
What were the biggest initial hurdles you faced while building Selina and how did you overcome them?
We were building something new, we wanted to get the community involved and for them to be excited that we were coming to town. I think we have many initial hurdles that we accomplish to overcome like cultural change, try to define who we are. We overcome this by working closely to the communities around Selina, making sure local people feel comfortable with us and that they feel part of Selina as much as Selina is part of them. Today we can say that we have more than 25 locations in more than 7 countries and this year we open in Europe and North America.
What has been your biggest success?
Selina and all that comes with it. Selina is not just a hospitality brand. Selina is community, is family, disruptive, environmentally conscious. We are all very happy entrepreneurs trying to build the right product for a new generation. We have created a platform for travelers and locals where they can meet and share experiences, where they can connect to people all over the world and fulfill their needs to have a happy and meaningful life. All this deeply connected with the communities around us, to keep ourselves grounded.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
To never give up, really.
As you expand globally, how do you create a positive work environment and effectively manage a remote team?
They key is communication, Selina is a really open work environment. A lot of our employees are nomads that are traveling the world. This is the new way, the Selina way. All of our employees have the opportunity to go and work from any location in the world, we want to help them fulfill their dreams too.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known before starting your company?
As I said before, we were building something new, there’s a lot of things we wish we knew before starting our company but something really valuable that has helped us shape the company today is that we are not afraid to fail, just follow your gut and even though the path will be sometimes uncertain, bumpy and you will fall sometimes (or many) those failures are what help you understand what works or not for your business.
What inspires you to keep going?
I wake up every morning with the thrill and commitment for what we are building with Selina, it’s a platform for this generation of travelers, this movement that’s growing, and the people that’s helping build this dream also inspires me because they care as much as I do about this project.
What three books do you recommend every entrepreneur read?
If I’m honest I don’t recommend any books to entrepreneurs, I encourage them to travel. There are so many valuable lessons from traveling, from solving problems, to think outside the box. It opens your mind to other cultures to new teachings that any entrepreneur can apply to their projects.