Three years ago, a developer, a hotelier and a marketeer joined forces, combining their diverse backgrounds, experience and skills to launch Secret Getaway.
Andrea Britt, Tania Batista Hofer and Matthew Britt did their research. They looked at examples of excellent international brands working exclusively in the travel space, and asked a number of key questions:
- What were they doing well?
- What were they doing poorly?
- Where were the gaps in between?
- How did this relate to the South African market?
Next, they did what all founding partners of a start-up should do. They evaluated themselves: As a brand, a team and as people, what were they uniquely positioned to do?
Together, and based on their research and distinct differentiators, Andrea, Tania and Matthew launched their business, a safe online space for premium-priced and branded hotels to run local price promotions for South Africans in a complementary way to their existing sales channels.
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The brand and platform have grown from strength to strength, but the founders have also learnt some hard-won lessons. The entrepreneurial journey is longer, harder and tougher than you can ever expect.
Here are their 5 founding lessons from the coal face:
1. Cover your blind spots
In our journey, we were fortunate to be able to blend three types of expertise and insight, which was a significant contributing factor to our growth.
- A developer can be the best at what they do, but without a sales and marketing team they won’t be able to penetrate the market and find customers.
- A hospitality expert can have deep empathy and understanding of the hotel trade, but lack the digital insight to carve a new niche.
- A marketing strategist can have all the passion and tricks of the trade at hand, but without a unique product is equally useless.
Pull these three disciplines together to solve one specific industry pain point, however, and then magic can happen.
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2. Forge an unbreakable bond with your partners
It’s tough not having all the answers, and it can lead to pressure in unexpected ways. We’ve found that no one seems to talk about the relationship and dynamic between founders. At some points (hopefully not too many), the closest visual is probably a Cape Epic cycling team: An endurance race partner who is pushing you up a hill because you’re too tired to push through alone.
That break and support means that you can do the same for them the next day. Occasionally, that means saying sorry when you have been too aggressive or short, but sometimes it’s just taking the knock and moving on.
It takes passionate people to drive a business, and there are consequences to those personalities and passions combining but also occasionally colliding within a business. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to remember that you are all on the same team sharing the same goals. The bond you forge as you get through challenge after challenge together is truly unique.
3. Understand that plans won’t survive reality
One of the hardest parts about launching a business is the ambiguity that exists between plans, strategy and reality.
Execution is messier and harder than any text book or podcast can prepare you for. It can be tempting to grab every opportunity as they emerge, but if you want to succeed, you need to stay focused instead.
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Time is a very limited resource. There are only so many hours in a day, and there are only so many people to do the actual work, so differentiating between what is a ‘quick win’ and what is a ‘distraction’ is vital. Quick wins are great – distractions are not.
We’ve found a simple test to classify opportunities as they emerge: quick wins and big breaks are aligned to your business purpose and strategy. The they should be relatively frictionless to execute as they are within your planning and business scope. It should be simple to explain why it makes sense to pursue it.
If there is a major deviation from your planned progression of work and business milestones, then a harder look and analysis is required. Sometimes those ‘distractions’ can unveil great business pivots, but unless you are a ballet dancer, your progression should follow momentum, which is forwards not in circles.
Recognising the difference between all the opportunities that emerge will save so much time and energy. Both a business pivot and a distraction take time, which is the single most valuable resource you have when starting a business.
4. Pay with your own pain
Bootstrapping a business is probably one of the most important things you can do as a founder and business owner. There is a pain threshold involved when you’ve invested your own savings, or it’s your loan account being spent.
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This helps create a culture of care around each rand and how hard it needs to work within the business. However, be careful not to become too cautious.
Many start-ups just believe they need to find funders and scale as quickly as possible. Often, this just amounts to jumping on a hamster wheel that can quickly spin out of control and send the little rodent off into the steel sides of its sad little cage.
We’ve seen firsthand how this can cause spectacular businesses to crash because they grew too fast. Funders need their return on investment, put pressure on the founders, and the result is too much growth, too quickly and it’s just not sustainable.
On the flipside, businesses that are ‘founder bound’ can often stagnate and not grow at all. There are no external funders pushing the business to independence and full capacity, and the business owner isn’t focused on scale either.
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Bootstrapping is the balance. It enables you to learn and feel in the early days what it means to truly own a business, and then, as you grow identify who can help and, most importantly, when.
5. Never be the smartest person in the room
It was remarkable how generous very influential people were with their time and expertise when they launched. It’s just a case of asking. We reached out to all of our contacts, both locally and internationally, to create a soundboard of mentors who could share their insights and experience.
Being small or new doesn’t mean being powerless. In fact, it offers enormous agility and freedom that eventually get exchanged for growth and market size. Ironically, that agility and freedom are the attributes that other (more seasoned) founders say they missed the most.
Secret Getaway is South Africa’s first and fastest growing luxury travel flash sale site, blending the best of an eCommerce travel site with a top hotel personal Concierge, and offering refined selection and exceptional service. Secret Getaway also serves the needs of the hospitality trade by listing the prices as Secret Offers to ensure the rates do not compete with their international bookings and existing trade relations.
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