STORY AND PHOTO BY SARAH TALAAT
“It’s a dream come true to be able to work with JetBlue.”
Localeur CEO Joah Spearman announced in February, ahead of SXSW, that the company will partner with JetBlue Airways to combine the application’s locally sourced reviews and travel suggestions with JetBlue’s most popular destinations.
“There were five companies I dreamed of partnering with when we first started Localeur, and JetBlue was No. 1. They’re very young so they’ve grown up with millennials and they’ve grown up with social media and young people,” Spearman says. “Their destinations are places that are millennial-forward.”
Although this dream came true this year, Spearman achieved his childhood dream of becoming a businessman long ago.
“A lot of times when you hear stories of start-up founders or entrepreneurs their story starts when they’re young students or teenagers and they’re trying to take apart a computer,” Spearman says. “For me, my story starts around the same age, but not because I had access to that type of stuff, but in spite of it.”
Spearman grew up in South Carolina and the family struggled financially for many years after his father left. After the family was unable to afford a class trip for Spearman, he realized the importance of access, which to Spearman means having the money and tools to succeed.
“I began by cutting grass for neighbors, raking leaves in the fall and then selling candy at school. That was really my introduction to business,” Spearman says. “When my grandma would ask me what I wanted to be I always said ‘businessman.’ I wanted to create opportunities.”
Spearman’s family moved to Killeen, Texas when he was in high school and he earned over a dozen scholarships to attend the University of Texas at Austin. After graduation and a short stint in Washington D.C. he returned to Austin knowing that entrepreneurship was in his future.
Sneak Attack, Spearman’s first venture in 2009, was designed as a pop-up store for people who wanted the latest styles in the thriving sneaker industry.
“Running Sneak Attack taught me that I needed to ask myself if this is something I can see myself doing for five years. I was passionate about sneakers, but not about being in that industry. Retail is a hard business. I needed to find a business that was constantly finding me access,” Spearman says.
Spearman then teamed up with Chase White, president and co-founder of Localeur, in 2012 to launch the platform, a product designed to share locals’ recommendations with travelers or other locals. The focus, Spearman says, is on authentic and enduring support for local and independent businesses.
“It’s not just about recommending that one coffee shop you love; it’s not just that one cool sushi place. It’s about supporting dreams and trying to bring a new perspective to an industry dominated by corporate chains,” Spearman says. “By supporting local businesses, you are supporting and fostering the environment that makes them what they are.”
Authenticity is a trait that Spearman has fought hard to encourage in life and in his product.
“You have to be yourself, find people who accept you for who you are and go after what your own authentic voice has been saying. How do I want to spend my own time and build my own network? In today’s age [authenticity] has more value than ever,” Spearman says. “I hope that we’re able to continue finding users who see a product that fills a need for them but also see a company that is very tenaciously trying to change a space that doesn’t have a lot of authenticity due to the abundance of corporate chains.”
But even more important to Spearman than authenticity is the idea of building up Localeur by going back to the founding pillars of many successful businesses: storytelling and building communities.
“Marketing and all these other words people toss around—none of these words existed 150 years ago. What it comes down to is storytelling and community-building: Can you inform people of what you’re doing and why that’s of value to them, and can you get people to make that story their own and want to join you in making that happen?” Spearman says.
Localeur has made steady waves with national attention from media outlets such as Time and Forbes, but expansion takes time, Spearman says.
“There aren’t many products in Austin like us. There aren’t many African-American CEOs in tech like me. It’s due to people’s fear of the unknown, but we just have to keep pushing boundaries and jumping hurdles.”