Have you ever been caught in a language stand-off? You're traveling through a foreign country and don't speak a lick of the language. You need to communicate something simple but can't find the words…
That's the exact scenario that inspired travelers Florian Nast, George Horn, and Stefan Streit to come up with Icon Speak – an essential set of icons that you wear on your shirt so that you can just point to whatever you need, and people will understand.
IconSpeak.World launched in 2016 and in just over a year of business, their shirts have helped thousands of travelers communicate all over the world. I've personally seen travelers sporting these shirts in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Philippines. So when Florian contacted me about setting up their Brand Ambassador program, a new way for people to rep their brand and get paid while they travel, my response was, “I love your products! I just saw someone wearing one of your shirts on Boracay Philippines last week!”
Here at Travel is Life, we're committed to discovering solutions to travel problems. And so I'm happy to profile Icon Speak, a product that solves a universal language barrier that all international travelers have experienced at least a few times in their adventures. And best of all, no batteries or Internet signal required!
They started with the original World Edition Icon Speak T-shirt and now have expanded to a whole line of shirts, tote bags, hats, cell phone cases, and accessories.
The products speak for themselves, and so instead of profiling the products, I wanted to learn more about the travelers behind the company. I digitally sat down with Florian Nast for an interview, and here's what he shared with me about the past, present, and future of Icon Speak.
What were your backgrounds before launching Icon Speak? Were you previously entrepreneurs or is this your first venture?
We both had many ideas and also realised some of them but none in the scope of ICONSPEAK.
Tell us about your journey and process of taking Icon Speak from an idea to an actual product for sale.
When we were driving through Vietnam on our old Honda Win's, we weren't able to speak to the locals due to a language barrier. Hence we draw some icons which we needed on a paper and showed it to the locals whenever needed. After I got back from another trip one year letter, I called Georg and told him that we should give it a try. After brain-storming and researching how to do it, we decided to start it as a Print-On-Demand business and all of a sudden we were mentioned on CNN.com.
There has to be a limit on the number of icons on a shirt. What was the most difficult icon for you to leave off the original World Editions that didn't' make the cut?
We had loads of options but tried to focus on the most important (or funny) ones. Now, we even omitted the phone icon and exchanged it by the ice cream. The options were a laundry and a shopping cart icon. Ice cream is definitely more important than those though…
What have been your biggest challenges growing the business to this point?
All of a sudden we were mentioned on CNN.com and over 2'000 other channels and we had loads of B2C and B2B requests in our inbox. That meant that we had to work a lot to get everything done besides our other duties. But somehow we managed it and were very happy about the publicity.
How would you compare the challenges you face as travelers to those you deal with as business owners?
Get in touch with the right people and trust them. Some potential business partners aroused great expectations, the same can happen on your travels. For instance, you might want to go to a place and your expectations are not met.
What advice would you give other travelers who want to launch a business?
Identify YOUR problems and challenges while you travel and it is very likely that like-minded travellers might face the same. Do not overthink if your solution and keep it simple and just get going…
Using just icons, tell us what the future of Icon Speak looks like.
Thanks for the interview Florian! Afterwards he set us up in their Icon Speak Ambassador Program, which means that if you use our links to purchase your Icon Speak apparel, we'll earn a commission on the sale, and it doesn't cost you anything additional. Our commission on your purchase goes towards the Travel is Life Study Abroad Scholarship which helps offset the cost for students to study abroad. So we love your clicks!
Here's our affiliate link: Shop Icon Speak w/ Travel is Life
What icon would you add to their collection? Let us know in the comments section what icon would come in handy for you during your travels.