2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Mapo Tapo, INSEAD

Mapo Tapo


Industry: Sport / Travel

Founding Student Name(s): Alessia Fontanari (INSEAD MBA 20J); Daniele Packard (INSEAD MBA 20J); Anuj Karkare (INSEAD MBA 20J); Daniele Calvo Pollino (external)

Brief Description of Solution: Mapo Tapo is the extreme sports travel platform, where users can plan and book authentic experiences off-the-beaten-track, handled by local guides and hosts. We aim to fuel sustainable growth in underdeveloped areas by re-investing part of the revenues in the local community. We start focusing on rock-climbing and aim to become the point of reference for all extreme sports (ski-touring, surfing, mountain biking, kitesurfing, …).

Funding Dollars: Winner of the INSEAD Venture Competition Thomas C. Barry Prize (1st prize) and bootstrapping.

What led you to launch this venture? We are four passionate climbers and, in general, extreme sports lovers. Our mission is to develop extreme sport tourism in remote locations as a way to bring economic growth in a responsible manner, respecting the environment and making local communities thrive

Moreover, we believe there is a massive opportunity to unlock the potential of travel for extreme sports. Extreme sports enthusiasts want to travel off-the-beaten-track but often settle for crowded places because they are the only ones with information that is accurate, reliable, and easy-to-find. We enter the travel industry with a Blue Ocean approach, reaching users through the sports community, which already exists and is very active, instead of fighting within the competitive travel industry.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the venture? Our first trip: Western Sicily for 21 climbers! Connecting a group of climbers from all over the world to locals, using climbing to break communication barriers and to explore the hidden gems of Sicily, was incredibly rewarding. It was the result of 3 months of efforts in sourcing local partners, designing authentic experiences, and marketing them, all while juggling MBA classes and Covid19 craziness.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The MBA program was the springboard that convinced us to take the leap into entrepreneurship. The best thing about doing an MBA is the feeling that any career path is possible. This provides the open-mindedness to reach out to people with the most disparate background, listen to their stories, and be humble enough to ask for help. We talked to over 50 Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and alumni with entrepreneurial experience, went to multiple startup treks and participated, and won, the INSEAD Venture Competition. In this process, we found role models, mentors, and advisors with the most exciting and different stories. Our key takeaway: many people go from corporate to entrepreneurship, but nobody goes back to the corporate world; there must be a reason for it, no?

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Yves Warnant (serial entrepreneur, MBA 2010). Before INSEAD, many of us had the stereotype of the classic “Silicon Valley-style” entrepreneur, always juggling VCs and pitch decks and for whom success was a black-and-white concept: unicorn or nothing. We met Yves at the start of our MBA: a successful and happy serial entrepreneur, disrupting old industries and creating new businesses around his hometown in Belgium and leaving a mark on society in doing so. His pragmatic, and yet very inspiring, way of balancing entrepreneurship with other priorities in life, opened our eyes to the fact that the essence of entrepreneurship is about tackling problems as exciting challenges, regardless of the valuation of your company and how complex is your cap table.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Digital Transformation of Society by Annet Arris. DTS is a course about how digitization is fundamentally changing society and business. The biggest takeaway for Mapo Tapo is that revenue distribution across companies went from the normal curve to a power curve in the digital world. The big difference is that digital goods are not scarce: digital goods don’t deteriorate. They can be copied endlessly and can be distributed around the globe at almost no cost. The consequence of this is that whenever a digital good or service is slightly better than its competitor, consumers flock to this product. We end up in the world of power curves where the best performer gets the lion’s share of the revenues. There is no place for being the second- or third-best in the digital world, and this is something we keep in mind from the very start.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why?

Raomal Perera, Professor of the course Startup Booster for Entrepreneurs” (SBE). It was 4 months into the MBA program and, as the initial step of the course, we booked an appointment in his office. The goal of the meeting was to walk him through the idea we had in mind and that we wanted to develop along the SBE course. Once we finished pitching him what the very first rudimental idea of Mapo Tapo was, he looked ecstatic. He probably loved the passion in our eyes rather than the idea itself, but that was enough: he truly believed that Mapo Tapo could work. That was the initial encouragement we needed, and along with the countless feedback sessions within the course, he was a key contribution to the first achievements of Mapo Tapo.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? The pandemic impacted our journey in 3 main ways.

First, as probably happened to many startups out there, it required us to drastically change the locations we wanted to list on our website initially. We wanted to start global: Thailand, Alaska and Jordan in our minds. We ended up very much “local” in Italy: Sicily, Tuscany, and Lombardy.

Second, if it weren’t for the pandemic, many of the alpine guides with whom we successfully closed partnerships, would have probably been climbing outside instead of at home in front of their PCs.

Third, the lockdown unconsciously brought us to work 12 hours a day on the startup, drastically lowering all the opportunity costs of “not working.”

What is your long-term goal with your startup? There are millions of extreme sports lovers who want to travel off-the-beaten-path and discover the world while practicing their favorite extreme sport. We would be honored to drastically simplify all the logistics to get them there and to put them in contact with the local extreme sports community. We will work tirelessly (and we dream big) to become the one port of call for all the extreme sports enthusiasts.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.