SO YOU WANT TO START A TRAVEL COMPANY.... OR ANY COMPANY?
This blog post is not the usual travel post. As young women entrepreneurs, we often get emails from individuals asking us how we made our passion into our full time job. We are humbled beyond belief that so many people are turning to us for advice and wanted to answer some of those questions. Along with our usual travel content, we wanted to start a series shining light on the business side of starting a travel company. Hint: it is not as glamorous as it seems, but it is completely rewarding.
We are going to start with six lessons that our CEO, Katalina Mayorga, has learned throughout the process of launching and sustaining El Camino Travel. Learn from our mistakes and from what we happened to do right.
So you want to start a travel company… or any company? Here are five key lessons that stick out to me as pivotal in transforming an idea into a business.
1) Tell everyone your idea. This may seem counterintuitive at first. You might be concerned that people will copy or steal your idea, but telling everyone I knew about this concept of bringing a photographer along on trips is what confirmed we were onto something special. I was met with an overwhelming enthusiastic response. I heard over and over again, that it was such a simple concept, but a brilliant one. Many asked why no one had done it. Though the general response was positive, I also received a lot of questions and feedback that helped Marianna and I better define El Camino Travel as we decided to move forward with it. It allowed us to quickly figure out the gaps, what aspects of the business plan we needed to better think through, and so forth.
2) Do your market research. When you’re hustling, every minute counts. Save several headaches and time lost in the long run by taking the time in the short run to do thorough market research. Start to see if anyone else has tried to execute a similar concept or currently is doing what you are thinking about launching. If you find a similar company, that does not mean to abandon ship. Instead, analyze what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. What are the gaps you see in their business model? Are they not being creative enough? Are they targeting the wrong demographic? Do they not know how to leverage social media? Write down your observations, and then figure out how your product or service will fill those gaps or trump that service. Why will your company excel beyond what they are offering?
Additionally, as much as a Google search can pull up some incredible results, you still need to depend on human knowledge. Start talking to people in the industry you are targeting. They are your best resource in market analysis and their institutional knowledge is unparalleled. Tell them about your company and see if they respond with something like, “Oh, that sounds similar to XYZ company. Have you looked into them?” I continue to rely on this as a way to figure out potential competition and just by asking have heard of companies or services that never came up in any of the searches I had conducted.
3) Fail fast and fail cheaply. During the early stages when we were gauging interest, one person said to me, “Kata, yah this is an awesome idea, but don’t think someone else is going to try to do it. It is all about who can run faster and smarter with that idea.” So that is what we did. With little money, we quickly tried to see what would stick and what wouldn’t. We got scrappy and we got super creative. We piloted new ideas at such a small scale before deciding to scale up and spend more money or to ditch the idea all together. We are still in scrappy and creative mode and I hope that spirit continues to be core to the fabric of our company no matter if we have 2 employees or 200. I highly suggest reading the book, Lean Startup, to get educated on this subject.
Most importantly, you need to be okay with failure. Not everything is going to work, the astrological gods know it hasn’t for us, but revel in what you learned from those failures and use them for the development of future successes. Be smart about your failures.
4) Build a tribe of creative advisors. This idea is simple. Surround yourself by people smarter than you, people you admire, and people who you trust. This will push you to be a better entrepreneur and have a kick ass company. People want to help and people want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to seek advice.
This is a little off tangent, but I want to take a second to talk about the importance of creating your tribe of women entrepreneurs and supporting these same ladies. As women, we often hear that we can get competitive and catty with each other. We hear that there has to always be a queen bee in the office or on the scene (not true). I simply don’t think that is the majority. We have had too many women in this early stage go above and beyond to help us get to where we are now. We have too many women who continue to help us out in whatever way they can. I am a huge believer in the shine theory, the concept that “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”
5) Be able to clearly articulate the value proposition of your company in 30 second or less. We have all heard about the importance of the elevator speech. You never know when you are going to be stuck in an elevator with an individual who possibly could take your company to the next level. I have to be honest, for a while I thought it was all a little too hyped up. When would this happen and if it did I was sure I would have two to five minutes to talk about El Camino Travel. NO. I do not know how many situations I have been in where I literally have only 20 seconds or so to capture the attention of someone important before their eyes start wandering. I have to get them hooked and interested. I have to have something in the pitch that raises eyebrows.
I like to talk. This continues to be a struggle for me. I think I have it down, but I still find myself saying too many words that just are unnecessary at that the moment. I know that everything seems important, I have felt that, but cut the fat. Your company’s potential network depends on it.
6) Read, read, read! Read as much as you can. Educate yourself of what has been done and what has not. Keep up to date with the new trends and decide how you want to adjust. Learn how to run a smart operation. Learn about the struggles of being an entrepreneur, including the trough of sorrow that you are bound to encounter. Get prepared. Education is ongoing, you will never know everything, but know enough. Below are a list of resources that have been pivotal to me as an entrepreneur.
We love hearing from all our fellow entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. What have you learned along the way? Any advice you can share with the El Camino community?