Don’t be fooled by the headline and not for one minute think that it’s as easy as dropping out of university, starting a business and in a couple years turning over $10 million. Or maybe I’m to blame and should have included the fact that it took them 7 years to get there and 4 years to come up with the My Destination brand. As Neil explains during our interview when I asked him how the early days were – his response infers how difficult it is building a start-up.
I invited Neil onto YHP to share his story.
Hi Neil, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
My pleasure, I’m great thanks….it’s a crazy time for us at My Destination having just launched our first ever global marketing campaign in the form of our travel contest The Biggest, Baddest, Bucket List (www.mydestination.com/bbb). We put all our focus into really trying to punch above our weight and do something amazing, it took 7 months of planning and now it’s all paying off…just shows what you can do if you keep your focus. I’ve been doing radio interviews all around the world these last few days….mad!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m 28 years old and grew up in Guildford, UK. I went to study Business at the University of Bath and it was there were I met my business co-founder James Street. I’m a keen tennis player, golfer and am obsessed with F1.
When did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
Ironically we first met when doing a ‘mock’ interview where the university was trying to prepare us for job interviews. We were in a group with 2 others and when asked the question of where do you see yourself in 5 years? We both answered that we would really love to be running our own businesses. It was in our second year of a four year degree and from that day we became friends and started hatching plans to start a business.
How did the idea for My Destination come about?
It took us another year from meeting up to come up with the idea for My Destination. Although, if I’m honest it was not a completed concept when we started the business…all we had was one website for the resort of Marbella in the South of Spain and a belief that it could grow into something much bigger and cover more destinations. We actually started the business in Marbella while on university summer holiday before our final year and ended up dropping out of University to pursue the business. It was then not until 9 months later we developed the franchise concept which now underpins our entire business and it was not until 4 years later that we managed to get the brand of My Destination….so it’s been a long and rollercoaster like journey to get to where we are today.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
I would say the early years….not days. The hardest part is definitely just finding the strength to keep pushing forwards and overcoming all the challenges which will no doubt come your way. Certainly for us it was very helpful to have each other to just talk things through. I think the hardest part is the fact that you are going to make loads of mistakes and actually you must learn as you progress….and that means you should always be willing to adapt and improve the way you do things. It’s a journey and you know where you are starting from with Point A and you know where you are aiming to get to with Point B….but you need to accept that you really don’t know what the journey between those points is going to be like. That takes a big leap of faith and for sure the hardest part of starting is literally to take that initial leap of faith to start.
What is My Destination? And what are you trying to solve with it?
My Destination is a global travel resource that is powered by a diverse community of hundreds of local experts. Passionate about providing the best value for money, we work closely with the global partners whilst supporting local businesses. Our aim is to make travel experiences inspired, more enriched, and quite simply, better.
In the social media and super connected era we now live in there is an expectation of information online to be multimedia rich and up-to-date. The very definition of up-to-date has changed so dramatically. We saw this being a problem in our industry, the travel guide books which get updated by an author every couple of years are not able to keep up and so it’s also not a case of just publishing this information online as it will still be out of date. With My Destination we have dedicated on the teams in each of our locations, which currently spans 45 countries and means we have 250+ local experts on the ground who are dedicated to publishing the latest travel information every day.
What advices can you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise investments for their start-ups?
The single biggest bit of advice I would give to people is to get some advisors and have a group of people you can talk to. This does not have to be anything formal or cost you any money….in fact, entrepreneurs tend to be a group of people that are very generous with their time and willing to help others when they can. It really does make the world of difference to just have some experienced people to bounce your ideas off of and help you think things through. It’s not about them telling you what to do or trying to make decisions for you…it’s simply being there to help you get the best out of your ideas. This will not only help you develop your business plans, but they are also something that investors like to see. Look for successful entrepreneurs who would have experience in your field and then you can use something like Linkedin to try and reach out to them.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was mad, there are no two ways about it…..that moment when you first start and you are pretty much having to take the philosophy of ‘fake it until you make it’ because you just don’t have the experience. It’s amazing though, challenging as every day can be a bit of a fight to prove what you are trying to do….i think we had a bit of added pressure having dropped out of university.
How did you initially get traction?
I suspect this might be something that’s only typical of a business like ours….but our initial traction all came by really trying to impress upon people what we were going to achieve and getting them on our side to believe that we were going to achieve that and want to support us in that. Certainly in our industry for the first year we achieved success based more on the relationships we built up with people and getting them to believe in us…more than in the product itself. It was then our mission to make sure the product would then deliver and live up to that.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow it?
Without a shadow of a doubt it was when we developed our franchise model. It has underpinned our entire business. It’s an incredibly scalable model that allowed us to expand our business on a global scale and even avoid raising any capital for 4 years….and when we did want to raise capital we did from our franchisees and closed within 1 month of offering. I think this is a classic example of the entrepreneur’s journey….we did not start even knowing anything about a franchise model….and it was 9 months in we developed it. We could never have known at the start it was the way to go and it was just a process of evolution to get to that.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
James and I have been very fortunate to travel the world with our business. There were a couple of years where we travelled for 250+ days a year. It’s been an incredible experience which has been a huge education and has exposed us to so many different business ideas that we pick up along the way.
What should we be expecting from My Destination in the coming months?
With the Biggest, Baddest, Bucket List campaign we have really put our name out there for the first time. We’ve been getting global coverage on TV, Radio, Print and Online. We’re expecting a year of incredible growth and already have a further 30 destinations in the pipeline to open up. We’ve also got some exciting developments planned for a free members area to give people tools to help plan and get the most out of their travels.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Just do it – if you believe in your idea and have the passion for it then don’t wait around…you risk missing the opportunity and the more you think about something the easier it is to talk yourself out of it.
2) Don’t over plan – it’s important to note that I don’t mean you should under-plan….but I simply mean don’t develop a massive business plan where you think you have all the answers and then become too focused on sticking to the plan. You will learn so much as you go and the good entrepreneurs use that experience and learning’s to adapt and better their plans.
3) Don’t give up – every entrepreneur would probably say that it took a little bit of luck for them to get to where they are and that there is a very fine line between success and failure. Never give up, because you never know what is around the corner and persistence to achieve really is key. The below is a diagram we always kept in mind: