ARRVL’s Conception Story, and why you shouldn’t use unsecured wifi networks at the airport

I’m supposed to be whizzing through these airports like a hare but now I was feeling like a typical “tour-toise”.

I traveled a lot for work during the last 3 years. Business trips to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan were a quarterly occurrence and I thought I was getting pretty good at navigating these (foreign) lands. I had gotten myself global entry, the APEC business card, and a credit card that included access to priority pass lounges. My superiority complex was elevated by my beautiful Rimowa suitcase and perfectly sized travel backpack. I felt like a prince among these airport peasants and travel rookies.

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All that changed in November 2017 when I went to Kuala Lumpur for the very first time. It was the last leg of just another multi-country work trip. After clumsily losing my dual sim travel phone in Singapore, I simply bought a new device in Singapore’s Changi airport. Setting up all my apps on this new device pre-departure, I was prepared to tackle the road ahead.

Once I landed in Kuala Lumpur, things took a turn for the worst. Right after landing, I beelined straight to the SIM card kiosks to get a local SIM card only to find that it was packed with tourists and flag carrying guides. Having forgone a global roaming plan, I patiently waited 30 minutes for my turn at the counter. I eventually handed my phone over to the attendant. 10 minutes went by, then 20, then 30 — she finally came back to me and said that her SIM cards weren’t going to work with my phone. Now I was getting frustrated. I’m supposed to be whizzing through these airports like a hare but now I was feeling like a typical “tour-toise”.

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I left the line feeling frustrated but took a deep breath and thought “what’s plan B?” Since I had Uber and Grab Taxi installed on my phone, why not hop on the wifi? There were a number of open wifi networks, so I just jumped on one and headed for the exits. Since Grab Taxi was cheaper, I opted for that and called my ride — 6 minutes away. Perfect! I’m going to be able to take a hot shower soon!

While I wait, I answer some emails and even send an invoice to one of my prospects (more on this later). I see that my driver is a minute away so I go outside and head to the designated waiting area. The moment I step out into the humid air, the wifi cuts out. But, I know his license plate number and the color of his car, how hard could it be to find him. Turns out, VERY hard. For the next 45 minutes, my driver and I play the worst version of hide and seek around the pickup area. I make multiple trips back into the terminal to get wifi — but after so many logins, I get kicked off. “What a freaking nightmare!” I try my best to remember breathing techniques from my mindfulness app and just remember that this will end, eventually.

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Long story short, we do finally find each other. My driver tells me that he drove around through the pickup area SEVEN times before we finally found each other.

In the passenger seat of his car, filled with relief and gratitude, it hits me. “Why isn’t there a solution for this?” If I, as an experienced business traveler, can run into so many problems arriving in a new city, there must be other people who need this pain point solved. Over the next few weeks, I marinated on this idea — asking for feedback, brainstorming with colleagues, and creating mockups of what it would look like. It started out as a Birch Box for destinations but eventually, I realized we needed to distill ARRVL into its most basic form. In the end, we decided to build our travel packs with 4 essentials — SIM card, transit pass, pocket money, and a perfect day itinerary to get your trip started.

And that’s it. A terrible trip to (what I later discovered to be) a wonderful city led me to quit my tech sales job to pursue ARRVL full time. In the process, I…

  • started working part-time as a baggage handler at United in order spend more time at the airport to be around my customers (I’m currently sitting in at the Starbucks in the international terminal of SFO) — more on this later.
  • found an amazing co-founder on Tinder — it’s possible :)
  • took a leadership role with Travel Massive San Francisco and have organized three events for the professional travel community in San Francisco.
  • hired two freelance writers to help develop our content marketing strategy
  • continue to find the beauty in building something from scratch. The exhilaration, terror, and challenge make this the hardest thing I’ve done, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. For me, this is the most important.

You might be wondering, why didn’t you just get some cash from the ATM and get a taxi? Taxis in Kuala Lumpur are notorious for gauging tourists on taxi fares. I despise being taken advantage of and played for a fool.

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Lastly, here’s why you should be very careful never to use open wifi networks. As I mentioned, I picked an open wifi network to get online in the Kuala Lumpur airport and sent a client invoice. Six weeks later, my accounting department reached out to the client to check in about the payment. They responded that they had paid but we had no record of receiving the funds. They sent us a copy of the invoice they paid and it was forged with our information but the funds were sent to a bank in Hong Kong and we use Bank of America. Turns out that the emailed invoice was intercepted while using that open wifi network. The people behind it then blocked my email from going out, created a version of the $12,000 invoice with their bank details and sent it to my client using my email address. Yea, that happened. Luckily the bank was able to reverse the wire due to fraud but the entire experience made me very suspicious of any open wifi networks. Stay vigilant out there.

Edward Hu