Mercedes Martínez Villar of Dothegap.com tells us about the student exchange program.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Dothegap.com.
Mercedes Martínez Villar: I was born 55 years ago in a small town in Castile, Spain, in a town that offered few opportunities. I always wanted to travel and get to know new cultures, so I decided to study English Philology, the perfect excuse to spend my summers abroad 🙂
I started my professional career in a multinational environment specializing in online marketing and e-commerce. I launched the first B2B in the pharmaceutical industry at a time when having e-commerce was something exceptional. It wasn’t easy, but I made it happen.
Despite all that a multinational environment brings to professional development, I have always been an entrepreneur. I was very excited to launch my own project that aims to cover an important “GAP” in education. Of course, it has to do with “cultural immersion.” I was able to combine my digital knowledge and my passion for travel.
It is surprising that, to this day, cultural exchange is still managed as it was more than 40 years ago, a study abroad program with several intermediaries and an excessively high cost, with the result that out of 600 MILL of secondary school students worldwide, only 6 MILL (1%) go on a cultural exchange.
This is the origin of my startup https://www.dothegap.com/en, a platform that facilitates contact between people with the same interest in living a real and safe immersion in another culture at minimum cost.
A community marketplace aimed at both schools and families to create their own community and network of contacts and organize all kinds of cross-cultural activities without intermediaries, at no extra cost.
This is our B2C explained in 1 min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iddy4nAjHWY
And our B2B
Aimed at multinationals interested in taking advantage of their global environment by facilitating contact between all their employees and opening access to cultural exchange. An innovative social benefit that is being very well received.
Check out our video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiboPT1zr20&t
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: The experience helps me a lot to undertake consciously, that is, to be able to manage uncertainty and risk in a bearable way. Entrepreneurship requires effort and perseverance and to be shielded from discouragement. It helps me a lot to do sports every day “mens sana in corpore sano.” I also walk along the beach and get good ideas by looking at the sea. I surround myself with people who contribute to me, and it is essential to work toward good networking. I continue to enjoy other interests that have nothing to do with the project, which helps me to put a bit of distance from time to time. Relativise, neither the good is so extremely good, nor the bad is so disastrous. You have to reward yourself, love yourself, and value yourself because it is better to fail than not to have tried.
How does Dothegap.com market its product/services online?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: Dothegap.com is a community marketplace. An international platform that facilitates contact between people interested in living cultural exchange experiences. Our dashboard and support content facilitate the organization of the trip.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: We used Cocorico to develop the front and backend.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: The team is autonomous, that is, external, and thanks to this management model, very much in line with how a startup is run, we have been able to move the project forward, despite the two years of covid during which we have not been able to travel. We are driven by enthusiasm and the willingness to make things happen. We are a multidisciplinary and diverse team that complements each other perfectly, which is why we provide a quality service to our customers.
How are you funding your growth?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: Through sponsors and partnerships. More than 38 companies and associations have joined dothegap.com and support us in the purpose of “opening access to cultural exchange to all young people around the world to build a better world based on respect and tolerance for cultural diversity” because living a cultural immersion is not a “luxury” but a necessity. Do you agree?
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: Our biggest competitors are the indirect, the organizations and agencies that organize programs abroad because that is what we are used to. We have been doing this way for more than 40 years.
Therefore, we have to do a lot of educational work to make people understand that cultural exchange can be organized one-to-one, without the need for an intermediary. Thanks to dothegap.com, you can connect with people from all over the world with the same interests as you and establish a relationship of trust that will enable you to have a successful experience.
You will be able to live a cultural immersion anywhere in the world, at any time of the year, rate your stay, tell us what you have learned, and become a person of the world.
Your final thoughts?
Mercedes Martínez Villar: Making cultural exchange a regular and inclusive activity. Promote real and safe immersion with minimal impact anywhere in the world at any time of the year. To develop youth into people who are open and tolerant of cultural diversity and responsible for the environment. All of this is what drives me every day, and anyone who wants to join us is welcome!