Austin tech entrepreneur carves his own path

Joah Spearman, creator of Austin-based startup Localeur, talks about how the path to success can be a winding one.

AUSTIN - The tech industry continues to grow in Austin as many businesses have been able to find their footing in Central Texas -- including one company that has a creator who never seems to give up.

Joah Spearman has never had the luxury of knowing what lies ahead. As a kid, he grew up with two brothers and a single mother in Killeen, Texas as his family needed to use food stamps to get by. As a preteen, he said he needed to step up to help his family.

"When I was 11, I was like, 'Well, I need to find a way to pay for school clothes and things to help my mom,'" Spearman said.

Spearman said he went to one of his older brothers for inspiration.

"He and his friend were cutting grass for their neighbors," Spearman said. "They were doing it for $20. I was like, 'Well, I can cut grass for the same people for $15.' Within a couple months, I kind of put them out of business. It sounds like a harsh entrepreneur story, but I think that's just me being a natural hustler."

However, Spearman's story had only just started as he wanted to continue his education beyond high school.

"No one in my family had graduated from college before, but it was something I knew I wanted to do," Spearman said. "My exposure to higher education just wasn't there."

It wouldn't be easy -- but Spearman was determined to carve his own path. As a high school senior, he started applying for multiple scholarships. Out of more than 100 applications, he found a way to land about 30 of them.

"I understood that I had to work really hard in order to pay for college and get scholarships to do so," Spearman said. "That was how I was able to piecemeal the scholarship funds to pay for college."

Spearman attended and graduated from the University of Texas in Austin. While he was in school, he started to fall in love with traveling and being exposed to new cities and cultures.

"When I got to college, travel wasn't something I was used to, but it was something that I knew that I wanted to do," Spearman said.

After college, a now older Joah just couldn't escape that younger, grass-cutting Joah.

"That entrepreneurial hustle has stayed in me since I was a kid," Spearman said. "I still rely on some of that grit and hustle today."

So after working in a couple fields unrelated to entrepreneurism after college, he eventually moved back to Austin in 2009. Spearman said he found himself wanting to take more risks.

"Eventually, that entrepreneurial hustle kind of called back at me and moved me back to Austin," Spearman said. "I kind of just said I'm going to start a new business every year for 10 years until one of them sticks."

He stuck to the plan for years, even as each plan and vision struggled to come to fruition. His bank account shrunk in the process.

"That's me kind of clawing the business to that next level," Spearman said. "I was betting on myself and betting on the ideas that I had."

At one point, Joah started selling his CDs, his clothes and even his car to fund his dreams.

"At those moments, to me, I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep going," Spearman said. "This isn't always going to be a sprint. If you hit a wall, you have to find a way to push through that wall."

Spearman found himself in one of the toughest stretches of his career a couple of years ago. With only $150 to his name, a different car about to be repossed and an eviction notice on his apartment's door, Spearman said he needed to come up with a solution for success.

"I was really on our last penny, you could say," Spearman said.

The only problem during this stretch in time was the fact that one of his best friends was getting married. This friend asked Spearman to be his groomsman in the wedding, and he just couldn't bring himself to reject the offer. He decided to pay the $148 for the tuxedo to be in the wedding party.

"I know a lot of people wouldn't do that. They'd pay the bill or something like that," Spearman said. "For me, it was more important that -- even though I was going to get evicted or lose my car -- I still be a good friend. I still remain myself."

That wedding, though, ended up being the best place Spearman could have been that night. At that wedding, in that tux and with only $2 left to his name, Spearman saw a light at the end of the tunnel -- an investor.

"God works in mysterious ways or karma or whatever you want to believe in," Spearman said. "I think it all worked in that moment."

All the roadblocks Spearman had been dealing with for years started to clear at that moment as he took his first step in creating what is now his thriving business. Localeur is an Austin-based startup that provides travelers with tips and suggestions of where to go and what to see from local residents. When it was launched four years ago – it only served Austin. As of may 2017, Spearman just expanded to his 50th city in Maui. His business has also now raised more than $3 million in investment capital and has more than 100,000 people from around the world utilizing his business every month.

"It's by far the best business I've ever touched," Spearman said. "I've never viewed failure as just failure outright. I've always viewed failure as an opportunity to learn. And I'm still learning today."

Ane Lowe is a travel advisor who uses the Localeur application and said she frequently tells people visiting certain cities to take advantage of these resources.

"There is a sense of authenticity with Localeur," Lowe said. "People don't only want to experience local in the domestic front. They want to do it globally, especially those that want to travel internationally."

Matt Wolski is also an entrepreneur in Austin, and as someone who knows Spearman, he said Localeur has been successful due to its founder.

"There have been a million times where people would have given up or not gotten the funding that they needed to keep going," Wolski said. "He just figures it out. Whether it's selling his own clothes or anything like that, he has pushed on to get to where he is today. He has earned every inch of his business."

Spearman recently went to a conference that several other Austin business leaders also attended, and he said he was one of only two African Americans of more than 100 people there. He said there is a lack of exposure and existence of African American leaders in the tech industry.

"Even when I was growing up, the only black business owner that I know was a guy that went to my church who franchised two dozen Pizza Huts in South Carolina," Spearman said. "On the African American side of things, you don't see that many examples.

That is why Spearman hopes to be one of those examples as time moves on and show people that you can do anything you want with the right mindset and motivation.

"I take pride to hopefully be one of those examples," Spearman said.

While Localeur just recently hit its 50th city, Spearman said he plans to reach 100 cities by the end of the year by expanding into Latin America, Europe and Australia.

To learn more about Spearman or Localeur, you can visit localeur.com.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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