Ask any parent and they'll tell you that travelling with children is never quite the same as travelling without them. But while many may struggle to muster much enthusiasm for the prospect of swapping cocktail-fuelled city breaks for holidays with the kids, former media executive Andrew Dent spotted a business opportunity. His website Family Traveller now offers inspiration, advice, and offers about the best ways to spend precious family time together, as well as ratcheting up £1.2m in revenues in just three years.
He tells me why success is all about keeping your team a part of the journey, making it hard for funders to say no and understanding that the wolf is nothing without its pack...
Where did you get the idea for your business and why did you think there would be demand?
It all started with me observing my boss at The Times. He was early 40s, earning well and had two kids. I noticed that he took a variety of holidays - ranging from expensive two-week skiing or Florida trips, to going camping in France. He'd also invariably take one week in the UK, sharing a house with another family in Devon, Cornwall or the Lake District.
It struck me that when you're travelling with kids, it is different. There are more interests that need to be catered for and things can and do go wrong.
After a little research, I realised that there was no dedicated, professional media platform dedicated to this area. I then examined the size of the family centric market and saw it was 28% of the entire travel industry - worth $500 billion annually.
When we discovered that, we went for it. We are now the only dedicated, professional outfit serving our customers and advertisers in the UK.
How have you grown so far? How many staff do you have, what's the turnover and give us some idea of how your customer base has developed?
We launched three years ago and have posted 100%+ YoY revenue growth each year. We are on track to post £1.2m of revenue in 2016.
Our readership is expanding too. Our digital traffic grew by 268% last year. Our newsletter database is 70,000, our monthly traffic is well over 100,000 and we serve over 1.5m impressions per month. In addition, our headcount has grown from three to nearly 20.
Is there a big opportunity and what do you hope to achieve in future?
There is a massive opportunity. Family Centric travel is growing at 5.8% per annum - driven by the rise in multi-generational travel and experiential travel. Family Travel is a global concept and we are looking at launching in Germany and US by the end of 2016. Our ability to scale is phenomenal.
What have been the major bumps in the road and how have you overcome them?
As a start-up, we hit bumps in the road every day! The development of our digital platforms have been the biggest challenge. We are on our 3.0 itineration of our website. There is no right or wrong, no beginning or end - it is a constant challenge keeping on top of it. We are always hiring better people in this area. Recently, having tried overseas and London agency outsourcing, we have brought our development in house. You need to be able to control your own technology.
How have you marketed the business? How important has this been and what successes have you had?
It's been so important to get early traction, we are a consumer brand so we have to be innovative and cool with our marketing. I've found that what is key is having a great brand, communicating it effectively and working with brilliant partners.
For example, we recently worked with the WWF on an Ocean's Special. Whilst no money changed hands, the endorsement of WWF helped to raise our profile. Working with ocado.com, then Boden and now The White Company [as partners], has also helped to generate huge credibility for a start-up brand like ours.
What the hardest thing about running your own business?
I am a sole founder, so doing it all on your own is tough. It would have been good to have had a joint founder (perhaps from a coding back ground) to share the burdens with. Working at a start-up is all or nothing. You're awake 18 hours a day and working, and the other six hours you are asleep and working! It's been worth it though, I'm very proud of creating something from nothing, for creating careers for 15 -20 talented people and helping tens of thousands of families have better holiday experiences.
What is your staffing model?
It is hard to find and retain staff. We have many who are poached by other brands but most don't leave, because they believe in the journey we are on.
I like to take an open approach. I tell my employees all about the cash flow and about the targets. When they can see you trust them with that, they can then work out how their part of the puzzle delivers the big goals. In the early stages we liked working with freelancers, it kept the business agile and allowed us to tap into top talent as and when we needed to. More recently, four freelancers have joined our permanent team.
Have you raised funds? How important has this been? What advice would you give people starting out on the fund raising journey?
Yes, we have raised over £1.5m of funding since the launch. With every raise we have used the funds and improved our performance. This is key - you must keep showing progress.
Fundraising is all consuming -often at the expense of your own immediate business figures - and you need a good team back at base. I use the phrase 'the wolf is nothing without the pack, and the pack is nothing without the wolf'. My team know I am doing it for them and they need to do their bit to help get investors across the line. We are in together.
In terms of advice, I'd say don't take rejection to heart. You will kiss many frogs, just keep going. Be clear what metrics your investors are looking for. I now ask investors who pass on us what we need to show before we should talk to them again. This gives you something to work towards, and when you hit those numbers, they struggle to turn you down as you did what they asked!
We also are currently raising investment on Crowdcube. This activity is as much about building awareness as it is fundraising. We are offering investors rewards of huge discounts via our holiday partners at the same time as them becoming equity shareholders and subscribers to our magazine. The Crowdcube audience has similar demographic to our own and if we can broaden our base of advocates at the same time as raising capital it really is a win-win for everyone.
What are your top three tips for people starting a business today?
There's more than three! You need grit, determination, hard work, networking, resilience, total belief, a good product you are proud of and to always try and 'keep doing cool'.