THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

55 posts categorized "Growth"

14 October 2019

Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Strategy 1:1 Part 2

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about financial management 1:1, product innovation 1:1intellectual property 1:1marketingbrandingintellectual propertyfinancial managementproduct innovationmarketing strategybranding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his final diary entry, Haroun has his second session on strategy...

Japanese train in station
Photo courtesy of JRPass

Well, here we are at the end of three months, 15 sessions and countless follow-ups. It’s come and gone ever so quickly, so this final strategy one-to-one session gives us a good time to take stock. We went through the findings from the branding, marketing, finance and innovation sessions. The main takeaways were that we have so much scope for growth that I need support, so I will be hiring to capitalise on those opportunities, especially in the areas of marketing and business development. Our expansion plans are pretty clear and we must make sure that we execute properly and as rapidly as is possible. We also need to invest time into research and skills acquisition for our new growth areas.

I have found the scale-up course very useful, especially as a way of giving me the head-space to concentrate on issues that I knew needed to be tackled, but have been too busy for day-to-day. Here are my personal take-aways for anyone considering the course:

  • We are all very busy in the day-to-day running of our businesses but to take full benefit you do need to make time for both the sessions and any follow up tasks to take full benefit. This maybe a truism, but you will only get out as much as you put in.
  • The advisers are exactly that, people to advise you on your current status and next steps. They aren’t there to provide a detailed step-by-step plan. They will vary in how much they know about your industry. You, yourself, ultimately should be the arbiter of what is best for yourself. You’ve done well getting this far in your business, so trust your instincts and use the advisers as neutral external interrogators of your business. This will be where the best value lays.
  • The pace of sessions can be overwhelming at times especially with the day job, so pace yourself, prioritise and plan effectively.
  • Before attending, have a deep think about what you want to get out of the sessions. There will be nagging concerns that you may have about your business and this would be a good opportunity to have those addressed.
  • Enjoy meeting new people, there are lots of fascinating people that attend!

Well, that’s it for me, it’s been fun sharing my experiences. Also, I hope that if you consider a trip to Japan that you’ll consider us! I’ll leave you with our ten top tips for first time travellers.

Thanks, Haroun

 

Visit our website for more information about Innovating for Growth and how to register your interest for the next application round.

09 October 2019

Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Financial management 1:1 Part 2

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about product innovation 1:1, intellectual property 1:1marketingbrandingintellectual propertyfinancial managementproduct innovationmarketing strategybranding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun has his second session on financial management...

Japan Rail Pass Guide
Photo courtesy of JRPass

If you have been following the blog you will know that at JRPass we are in the midst of planning another website offering new services. Over the past few months we have used the sessions on branding, marketing and product innovation to develop this further. This time, the second of the finance sessions, was really helpful as we dived in-depth into modelling with the adviser from Metavalue.

We have a couple of options on new partnerships for the website, so the main focus of the discussion was which of these would be the most viable option. The conversation involved our margin, potential site visitors, conversion rate, payment costs, staffing costs, average basket size and advertising/marketing budget. After we got grip of all these numbers and worked out a financial template, we agreed that the following assumptions and points would have to be further investigated:

  • Before any additional mark-up the initial business could be low-margin so it will be important to control costs.
  • We made assumptions on support costs and UK vs Japan-based staff. These would have to be validated.
  • It is important to test all the inputted data and update them as we start trading, for example average order sizes and conversion rates. Pirate analytics (yes, I said ‘Pirate’) will help as these allow you to track data on visitors, post per acquisition etc. A useful guide on start-up metrics can be found here.
  • Briefly, we also touched on a previous conversation about potential exit routes. Pitchbook news and Crunchbase were mentioned as good sources of news and information.

There's only one more session left and on in my final blog, for the benefit of prospective applicants, I will talk about how I feel you can get the best out of the scale-up course. Also, whilst we are talking about budgeting, inspired by all these spreadsheets and finance chat, we wrote a blog on budgeting for a trip to Japan.


Visit our website for more information about Innovating for Growth and how to register your interest for the next application round.

01 October 2019

Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Product Innovation 1:1 Part 2

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about intellectual property 1:1, marketingbrandingintellectual propertyfinancial managementproduct innovationmarketing strategybranding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun has his second session on product innovation...

HelloKitty train
Photo courtesy of JRPass

I can’t believe there are only a couple of sessions left until the end of the programme. The three months have gone like a blur, so I’m happy to have these follow ups to reinforce what we have previously explored. This week we had the second product innovation one-to-one and as part of that we had talked about optimising the payments workflow, since then the PSD2 SCA deadline for European payments passed on September 14thYou can read about how this affects JRPass customers payments on our own blog here. As we were ready and had successfully updated our systems it meant we are also one of the first UK companies to allow payment via UK Open Banking. This enables our UK customers to pay directly from their bank account with immediate payment and not have to use a debit or credit card. It may take a while for UK customers to get used to paying in this way but it is popular in many other countries and it is good to offer our customers as many payment options as possible and be ahead of the technology curve.

We also discussed our new affiliate marketing service and I was happy to inform them that I am currently hiring for this role to push this forward. We are also looking to staff roles for developing relationships with regional tourism boards in Japan. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics next year there is a big opportunity to encourage travellers to discover lesser known parts of the country. We are already investing in site content to support these first time travellers, for example a recent blog on tips for first time travellers to Japan

 

Visit our website for more information about Innovating for Growth and how to register your interest for the next application round.

20 September 2019

Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Maximising Your Intellectual Property 1:1 Part 2

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about marketing, brandingintellectual propertyfinancial managementproduct innovationmarketing strategybranding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun has his second session on intellectual property with Briffa...

In the previous session we chatted about IP and Data Protection issues in general (you can see what I got out of the session in my previous blog on IP) and since then I have ensured that our agreements with third-parties and employee contracts reflect the IP and data considerations that were raised. This week we concentrated fully on trademark registration as we have been trading a while across many territories and it is something we have dipped our toe into, but only in the UK.

Kagoshima-Chuo station
Photo courtesy of JRPass

For the UK we covered the steps needed to successfully pass an UKIPO examiner and which classes we should be considering (you can see more guidance on trade marks on the .Gov website). We then talked about international trademarks as the market for JRPass is worldwide, with customers across the US, EU and Asia, so this is a logical step for us. The requirements vary widely according to national authority and some may be prohibitive cost-wise so you need to pick and choose carefully. The most cost-effective way of seeking protection in a number of territories (more than one or two) is to go through the World Intellectual Property Office or WIPO, which offers international trade mark protection. To do so you need an existing trade mark application in any one jurisdiction (EU or UK for example) to use as a ‘base filing’, you then pay a fixed fee to WIPO to access their system, and you can then choose to ‘designate’ any of the WIPO signatory states. Your base filing will then effectively be duplicated in these territories. 

The adviser told me that going through WIPO allows you to save considerable fees if you are filing in a large number of territories, as it is often cheaper than applying directly to the relevant IPO, and instructing local counsel. A WIPO mark can be filed here in the UK, which means that you do not have only have to deal with offices for each individual territory. If you only need one or two foreign registrations then it may be best to apply directly. Most IP firms work with foreign filing agents who can act as representatives in that case.

Not related to the session, but still talking about logos... I have been using the design marketplace 99designs recently and had a good experience, so would recommend giving it a go if anyone is in the market for new branding. Also, as I write this, it is the eve of the Rugby World Cup with Japan vs Russia kicking off the opening game! It is already an incredibly busy time for us in the office. Hoping it will be a great tournament for all. To find out more about how JRPass can help with travel during the World Cup, you can visit our website for more information.

 

Visit our website for more information about Innovating for Growth and how to register your interest for the next application round.

04 September 2019

Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Financial Management

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about product innovation, marketing strategy, branding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun discusses what he learnt in his one-on-one session on financial management, a new module on the programme...

This week I had my financial management session with an adviser from MetaValue, a well-established business consulting firm. The adviser was very helpful and ever so patient as I peppered her with questions to the point that we overran our allotted session time. We covered a lot, including areas such as price sensitivity analysis and company structure. But the three main takeaways I had from our session were:

New Opportunity Margins

As I’m sure you can understand, I can’t go into detail about this element of our discussion, but there is a good opportunity for an ambitious expansion for JRPass into a new area. In my one-on-one we looked at modelling the potential income, factoring in our suppositions and working out potential profit. This was useful in guiding us on how we test and tweak the model to help us achieve profitability. We have previously done some price sensitivity testing with services such as our meet and greet service.

Financial Plan

I actually laughed when this was mentioned as we have grown organically and haven’t spent a lot of time on developing an actual plan for growth, however given that the business is now entering a new area we agreed that we should put together a strategy around the investment and costs required e.g. covering new hires and forecasts for pricing and volumes. I was provided with some example spreadsheets with pre-built formulae to do this as well as for the financial modelling that I previously mentioned. You can see one of these below. 

Financial management

Exit Strategy

Our priority has always been to grow and scale-up the business, but it is also useful to hear about our options if we ever wish to exit. For founders of businesses, it is understandable that over a period of time, their ambitions can change, based on life events, market events, offers from other companies etc., so we need our governance to support this. We talked through a few scenarios and the advisor mentioned we should consider an independent valuation just for our internal use going forward. VC or Private Equity investment was mentioned and I agreed this wouldn’t be right for JRPass as we enjoy working under our own direction, but potentially a trade sale could work. It is worth considering early on who potential minority shareholders/investors or future acquirers could be and, based on that, effectively growing the business so that it is attractive to them.

From this one-on-one, some conversations were a broad stroke and some in detail, but as with all of my sessions so far, I am finding it very useful to keep this all in mind as we scale-up.

Visit our website for more information about the programme and how to apply.

29 July 2019

Follow JRPass’ Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Branding and research

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun’s first blog on refining your business model and developing a growth strategy here, but this week, he talks us through the next lot of workshops and one-to-ones…

Branding

Tuesday 23 July

A large part of what attracted me to the Innovating for Growth programme was the branding component. It’s something that I have been thinking a lot about of late and we have to do much more work on. This week I attended the Branding workshop run by ABA agency. There were a lot of takeaways, especially concerning building an identity and the power of personality of a brand. This is vital in terms of your positioning in the marketplace, and crafting an authentic story with messaging behind your company’s journey. The most interesting and fun part was to break your brand identity down into terms of personality archetypes, for example The Magician, The Outlaw, The Lover!

For JRPass.com, I chose three:

  1. The Sage – At JRPass.com we are domain experts with deep knowledge of Japan. I hope we have sage-like characteristics of being smart, knowledgeable and wise about travelling there. One example being the free planning tools we provide for events such as the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
  2. The Ruler – As a company we are responsible and reliable in processing and dealing with our customer’s important and time-sensitive orders. We take great care in looking after our customers and ensuring they have a stress-free experience. 
  3. The Explorer – This should be self-explanatory! We don’t sell packages and hope to encourage independent travel and hope to facilitate some wonderful discoveries and experiences.
World Cup
JRPass free planning tools for events such as the upcoming Rugby World Cup

At first this seemed quite an abstract exercise but it actually really did help to drill down into the character of our company brand.

Research

This week I also had a one-to-one to introduce me to the Business & IP Centre’s business research facilities. We can gain access to normally quite expensive industry reports from leading intel agencies on marketplace conditions and competitor analysis (Ed note: The Business & IP Centre has over £5m worth of online market reports from top publishers Mintel, Frost & Sullivan, Euromonitor and more as well as company data, business directories and more!). It was cool to see on one report on rail passes in Japan, our site was listed as the leader worldwide!

Visit our website for more information about the programme and how to apply.

You can read the next part of Haroun's Innovating for Growth diary here. 

26 July 2019

Follow JRPass’ Director through the Innovating for Growth programme

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Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.

This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. Over to Haroun…

Hi, my name is Haroun and am one of the founders of JRPass. I have always had a passion for travel, especially rail as a sustainable way for people to get around. Alongside my two co-founders, we founded the company a few years ago straight out of uni, and it has grown steadily and beyond our initial expectations. We are known worldwide as the leaders in sales of the Japan Rail Pass, which offers unlimited train travel for people visiting Japan for 1, 2 or 3 week durations. Our website forum is also a well known destination for travelers to swap tips on their journeys. We have since expanded into mobile WiFi, regional tickets, meet and greet services and are looking to expand further. With the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, and the Olympics next, this is the ideal time for us to look at our strategy for the future.

How to use your Japan Rail Pass from JRPass.com on Vimeo.

Refining Your Business Model

Friday 5 July

So, today we had our first proper introduction to the programme. We were introduced to the Business Model Canvas, which is a way of visually constructing the 'state of your play’ of your business, further opportunities and future strategy. As a company we have grown organically and very quickly so this was a really good opportunity to step back, take a deep breath and take time to test our assumptions, spot gaps and look for areas of improvement. All the sessions after this feed into the model. 

What was really interesting about the session was the variety of businesses that the other attendees had. No two business were similar. As part of an exercise we modelled each other’s businesses using the canvas and it was quite enlightening to see how outside eyes view your own baby! I am looking forward to the upcoming sessions on growth strategy, branding, marketing, product Innovation, IP protection and more, where I can add even more insights into my own personal canvas.

Developing a Growth Strategy

Thursday 11 July

Today was our first personal one-to-one focusing on opportunities for future growth, with Uday from Red Ochre Consulting. JRPass has grown quite organically over the years and it was really useful to see Uday laser in on areas that needed addressing as we grow. As we move from a smaller informal organisation, where individuals like myself wear many business hats, to one with stronger distinct departments, it is really important to take time and assess such a change, with future opportunities in mind. I left the session with a bunch of action points on what to take now within the business, and openings for the future that I will be researching and building upon over the next few months.

Aside from the Innovating for Growth programme, I made use of the other workshops taking place in the Business & IP Centre and attended a Hiring masterclass. Hiring is probably one of my own weaker areas which I don’t really enjoy spending a lot of time on, so I gained a lot from the class (one thing being I really should get other people to do that stuff for me as they would be better!). As I was part of the Innovating for Growth programme, we were offered discounted tickets, another benefit! 

Visit our website for more information about the programme and how to apply. You can read part 2 of Haroun's diary here.

07 August 2018

If the Shoe Fits… Finding your Business Niche

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Finding your niche in any market can be tough; who is your customer? What do they want? What are your competition doing? Amanda Overs, graduate of the Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme and founder of I Can Make Shoes, set up a shoemaking school after being unable to find a course to make shoes, without the need for heavy machinery.

B-886C7442
I Can Make Shoes workshop

“I was sick of being told ‘you can’t do it like that’” (by traditional shoemakers). With the demand for slow fashion and a resurgence of sewing and crafting, Amanda decided to put a positive spin on the negative backlash and eight years later has gone from running classes in her living room by herself to employing five part-time members of staff and running workshops almost every day of the year in both London and New York.

Research was crucial in finding out exactly who I Can Make Shoes’ customers were. Amanda says, “There has been a lot of trial and error over the years, but what I have found is the fastest, most efficient way of doing research is to actually ask your customer what they think. I regularly do surveys when I have a new idea to see what my audience think of it and recently started a Facebook community so that I can see for myself what it is that my students and customers really want and need.”

_MG_1613
I Can Make Shoes now run workshops in both London and New York

Amanda is always looking at ways to improve I Can Make Shoes’ offering and the business is always changing and improving. Something Amanda says is “key to staying ahead of the competition”. Not only do they run workshops for members of the public, they also have online shoemaking instructions, sell components, and train designers from major high street brands such as ASOS, River Island and Adidas.

The Innovating for Growth programme has helped Amanda take I Can Make Shoes to the next level, “It’s helped me to step back and reassess the business as a whole and identify the key areas of potential growth. I started in a bit of a whirlwind and have been treading water ever since, so to have fresh (very experienced) eyes and non-biased opinions on my plans for the future has been absolutely priceless”.

_MG_1680
"Fail fast, learn faster and move on to the next thing.”

What tips does Amanda have for finding your niche? “Trust your gut. Don't over think every detail. Fail fast, learn faster and move on to the next thing.” Amanda lives by her rules, due to popular demand she will be offering a new sneaker course launching soon...

Apply now for over £10,000 worth of business advice!

If you are already running a business and are looking to take it to the next level like Amanda, our three-month Innovating for Growth programme can help turn your growth idea into a reality. Applications are now open, so find out more here and apply now!

  LogoERDF_Col_Landscape

This programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

05 July 2017

How Intellectual Property helped Julie Deane start a £10 million business from her kitchen table

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So many small businesses lack IP awareness and understanding, but IP is something of an unsung hero and can prove critical in making or breaking a business.

The Business & IP Centre team are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and SMEs understand what IP is and why it’s important, what IP they might have created and how they might increase their business success and profitability by protecting and exploiting that IP in the future. Over the years the team have supported thousands of small businesses unlock the value of their IP, and much of the support we provide in the Centre uses case studies and real-life stories to demonstrate how having a handle on your IP gives you a huge commercial advantage.

One such example is Julie Deane OBE, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company, who has taken her business from the kitchen table and a £600 start-up budget to a global success story with a turnover of £10 million. Along the way Julie has overcome numerous business challenges including managing designers, manufacturers and overseas distributors, establishing web and physical retail sites around the globe and dealing with thousands of imitator brands. Here, in a free 30 minute podcast with the Intellectual Property Office, Julie lays the truth bare on how she’s developed strategies to tackle copycat websites, build the brand, keep putting the quality of the product at the heart of the business and “hang on to the passion that made you start the business in the first place.”

 

Podcast IPO

 Here are our 3 ‘top tips’ for what you need to know when it comes to your Intellectual Property:

  1. Think about trade marks - Is your business name protectable in the countries that you wish to trade? Is it already being used or does the word have another meaning in a different country. Future investors will want to know that you have the rights to trade in the countries that they wish to trade in, and you need to consider this right from the start to give your business the best chance of success.
  2. If you’re creating a ‘thing’ - Do your research before filing for a patent; is there a market for your product? It is expensive and takes a long time to protect your idea so make sure you do your market research and can be confident that somebody will buy it at the end of the day. If you have paid for your product to be patented and want somebody to manufacture it for you, you also need to ensure you have agreements in place limiting their rights to your initial idea or design.
  3. Founder’s agreement - It is easy to set out a document with your business partner right at the start when setting up your business agreeing things like % of ownership and what should happen in the case of a dispute, or if one of you wish to sell then business and the other one doesn’t. Once a dispute has started it is much harder and messier so you need to make sure all parties are clear on this from day one.

You can find further help, support and information on IP in any of the eleven Business & IP Centres up and down the country, including the British Library in King’s Cross. Speak to any one of our specialist staff face-to-face, over the phone or by email. You can also log on to our free of charge online workshops to grow your knowledge about IP, and increase your chances of business success.

Julie 2
Julie Deane in the Business & IP Centre

Julie Deane is Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library and a huge champion for ambitious business owners. She recently gave advice and practical tips on Intellectual Property at the Library’s Scale-up Summit alongside Will Butler-Adams, CEO of Brompton Bicycles. Cambridge Satchel and Brompton recently launched a range of colour-matching bags and bikes where the satchel fitted perfectly to the handlebars. This ‘made-in-heaven’ brand match caught the attention of the press and delivered extremely high sales. Will and Julie's opening keynote presentation on ‘Getting your business in the media’ was a great success too.

 

Brompton
The Cambridge Satchel Company / Brompton Bikes collaboration

 

17 February 2017

SNO – The ski travel company with big ambitions

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Richard Sinclair is the founder of SNO and Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups graduate. His company specialises in helping customers find the perfect ski/snowboarding holiday packages online, suiting their specific needs, and at the best prices available. Having started the company in 2006 after accidentally noticing a gap in the market, SNO has gone on to become the fastest growing ski travel business in the UK.

In 2014, Richard saw that there was an opportunity to scale up and decided to apply for the Innovating for Growth programme. The three-month course proved to be the catalyst for SNO to grow, and Richard credits the programme for giving him the focus and the tools to execute his vision. With over £10,000 worth of bespoke business advice, Innovating for Growth is perfect for small to medium sized enterprises hoping to grow. To find out more about the Scale-ups programme click here.

  Richard SNO1

SNO is very much your second career, how did your twelve years at the BBC influence your entrepreneurial journey?

Deeply. As a former BBC executive producer, making factual TV for prime time, I can pinpoint three key periods with “Auntie” which pointed me down this road. I got my customer focus from early days at consumer champion Watchdog, indulged my love of science and technology at Tomorrow’s World and slaked my thirst for travel while running the Holiday programme.

These programmes, and the talented and passionate people I worked with, definitely fed into my desire to build an online travel business, but it was a documentary series where I spent a month filming a race to the North Pole, which taught me the real power of perseverance… and just how much further we can push ourselves, beyond the limits that we have imagined. This experience uncovered the tenacity needed to build a business from scratch. Crucially, it taught me that the most fun and fulfilment is to be had by tackling the hardest challenges with the most talented and driven teams.

Having started as a “creative”, directing and producing telly, I later found (having climbed the greasy pole to become quite senior) that I really loved the business and finance side of running a large department in the BBC and particularly the building and leading of talented teams of people, as we all worked towards a common goal.

Having successfully completed the Innovating for Growth programme, would you say it has benefited your business, and would you recommend the programme to your peers?

Innovating for Growth was the lens which helped focus our plans. When you’re starting out and focused on getting traction, the very specific coaching in discrete areas such as product development, branding and marketing helps to crystalise your often amorphous BHAGs (big-hairy-audacious-goals) into more practical and immediately actionable insights… which allow you to continually execute.

One of the key markers of success in an entrepreneur is to “execute” again and again, all day, all week, month in and month out.  Innovating for Growth gives you the tools to keep delivering on your vision.

I would recommend this programme to any entrepreneur, but especially those less experienced in leading and growing a business, as it gives you the know-how and tools in a short space of time, which are usually garnered through a lifetime of trial and error.

The travel industry seems a world away from the media.  What was the specific event that started SNO?

SNO came about accidentally, as a by-product of naively thinking I could “just build a website” to rent out my flat in Chamonix in the French Alps, when not using it. We ended up creating the world’s first ski resort guide which worked on all phones “The whole ski resort in your pocket!” (back when mobile web was new and hard to do across all devices).

Cutting a long story short, we toured the alps (in a vintage Airstream) and quickly realised that the “business” was in selling holidays business-to-consumer, not selling advertising business-to-business to all the locals in the guide.  That was our big pivot and sno.mobi the mobile guide became sno.co.uk the online travel agent.

We also got to know many of the remarkable people who make your visits to the mountains so special and decided we wanted to support them and their communities. To this day we advertise all local ski schools, rental, transfer drivers, bars, restaurants, etc. free of charge on SNO, so they can benefit from our huge web traffic too. We’re also working on a Platform/Marketplace technology project which we believe can change the travel industry globally, and give all those literally millions of micropreneurs, in resorts and destinations around the world, access to the big travel distribution channels that they could never reach themselves – it’s a classic “tech disintermediation” idea whose time has come.

You started SNO selling ski holidays, so what made you want to move beyond that quite large travel niche?

It’s true that skiing and snowboarding is a passion for us at SNO, but it’s just one facet of the bigger love of all types of travel. In addition, the biggest motivation to grown beyond ski holidays is the very seasonal nature of the industry. Each autumn we hire new talent to work in reservations and every winter there are always some “keepers” who we love working with and want to bring into the family as SNO grows. As you can imagine, it’s heartbreaking to have to “crew-down” each spring when there’s not enough work for a big team over the summer, so we set about fixing that.

Any great business is really about the people – even a technology business like ours – so we’re growing into beach holidays and then cruises, to keep creating jobs for the talent we’re lucky enough to work with.

SNO4

The UK is the world’s 5th biggest economy, but your sights are set higher. What are your plans for global expansion?

We’re a UK technology and travel business, but we’ve been plotting ways to map our success here into other territories. It makes sense to start in the same language, so we’re building SNO in America and a US-centric version of SNO.co.uk for that market. We’re rebuilding our entire technology stack to accommodate multi-domain, multi-region delivery with multi-languages. The content management system and even the product descriptions need a version for each country, as English-speaking Americans search for “ski vacations” rather than “ski holidays” and ski chalets tend to be called ski lodges over there. And, of course, we also need to re-engineer our systems to accommodate multi-currency and find novel ways to turn UK-departing packages into trips that depart from the USA instead.

The key to the successful globalisation of any business is “localisation”. Not just language, domain, currency and marketing, but even the technology of being a big, fast and reliable website around the world. It means we have to get our heads around technologies like CDN (content delivery networks) so that content for e.g. New York is not being served from thousands of miles away in York(shire).

As they say “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”...

You mentioned a big technology project designed to disrupt the global travel industry. I think you need to tell us more.

I can’t go into details, as we’re still working on the technology and are speaking to parties interested in funding this as a separate business.

The project has been dubbed “Etsy for Travel” and “Amazon for Travel” but it’s much bigger than that.

I’ve been to the North Pole, driven an F1 car and managed a few Ironman races but I can honestly say that, (apart from having two amazing children), this is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on in my life.

Richard SNO2

You’ve bootstrapped SNO to $5m revenue as an online travel agent, so why are you considering investment in the Travel Marketplace?

We did bootstrap SNO, but it took five years just to get this far, and I’m determined to work on the Travel Marketplace project at a much faster pace. It can scale enormously and very quickly with the right team – we already have a positive relationship with thousands of travel entrepreneurs in resorts worldwide, and the technology is not rocket science, so it’s all going to be in the execution.  We’ll use investment mainly to fill existing roles at SNO, so I can bring my core team into this project full time.

We’re working on the details of the project now and will raise £500k seed, so interested investors should drop me a line!

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