How a trip to Marbella sparked the idea that led to Neil Waller and James Street setting up global travel advice franchise My Destination.
Started as a two-man mission to provide from-the-source travel advice to visitors of Marbella, My Destination has since grown into a global franchise. The site provides more than 18 million users every year with the opportunity to read unparalleled travel advice, carefully crafted by the local experts best placed to offer it.
Since launching in 2006, the business partners have continued to build on their empire. Partnering with more than 250 local travel advisors across 124 international destinations, Neil and James have grown a business out of their passion for travel that continues to inspire other like-minded explorers.
Where were you when you got the idea?
We were on a business course at the University of Bath and during the course you have two six-month placements in industry to help you find out what you want to do in life. For one of these placements we were working in London and using good sites to find out what to do in the evenings and weekends.
We had a planned holiday in Marbella, Spain that summer and when looking for similar information online for Marbella, we discovered it just wasn’t there, so we very quickly set out to make a website for the destination.
While we were out there we stayed at my grandparents’ apartment, began to sell advertising on the site and never went back to university. After six months of operating in Marbella we got itchy feet and wanted to expand, doing some searches online we realised there were a lot of destinations (major destinations) without a good online travel guide and we set out to fill this gap, which is one hell of a mountain to climb but one step at a time we will get there.
Why were you so inspired?
We love travel, had a passion for finding out about new places to see and things to do and so creating new sites for destinations around the world was very satisfying. In the early years we travelled a lot with the job which was a lot of fun but exhausting so I’m glad we now have a London office and a bit of stability but the itchy feet are still there.
Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?
We are both entrepreneurs at heart and were always going to try something out on our own – we actually considered two ideas before this. I think the reason the travel industry is very saturated is that it’s a fun space to be in, so while it might be tougher to differentiate ourselves, we are in an industry we both love.
How easy was it to start the business on your return?
We were very gung-ho which I think is the attitude you need to start a business. So many people will over-think and talk themselves out of an opportunity. You have to take a risk to start a business as nothing is guaranteed. So in that sense it was easy – we just went for it.
What research did you have to carry out to learn more about the sector and the market opportunity?
We didn’t really do any market research in the beginning, as we literally saw the gap in the market – a market that we were part of as travellers and we trusted our gut that it would work. I think you can take those risks when you are younger as you don’t know what you are letting yourself in for.
How did you replicate what you’d seen overseas or use your experience there?
We did the opposite: we used London-based websites as a benchmark and thought if we can replicate that around the world then it would be great.
How much did you invest in getting started?
Nothing really, we lived rent free for a summer and had some beer money but we had a friend build the site (who was originally a partner) and we were out selling advertising on the site from day one. We did however borrow £30,000 to take it to the next level when we began expanding and once our technical friend left the business to go back to the real world. At one moment it was two non-technical people operating an online business so something had to be done!
How quickly after starting did you experience what you’d describe as ‘success’?
I still wouldn’t see it as a success story yet, which normally surprises a lot of people. Yes we have proven the concept and grown to be quite a large company now, but we are constantly striving to be better and to grow further. Hopefully one day I will look at the product and go, yes I love it, but I still have my eye on a lot of changes and opportunities!
Where did you go for advice?
One thing I would say is to have a support network in place from an early stage. I don’t know whether it was because we were travelling so much in the early days but we never had someone who we could turn to who had been there and done it all before. I think that was a mistake and we perhaps could have avoided a number of pitfalls along the way.
What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?
Always keep your eyes peeled for new ideas. So many businesses have come from finding something that works well in one destination and bringing it home, you just have to get out there and travel in the first place to find them.
What are your future plans?
Keep growing, build an awesome members’ area so our users can interact with each other and generally offer inspiring travel information.