When looking for new business ideas, it can help to BE the consumer, rather than trying to understand the consumer. This approach worked well for James Lohan and Tamara Heber-Percy, who are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their online hotel guide, Mr & Mrs Smith.
From humble beginnings as a single hotel guidebook, the business now attracts 700,000 visitors a month to its website and makes £30million of bookings a year. Here are some things to learn from their success.
1. BE the consumer
Like many successful entrepreneurs, James and Tamara got the idea for their business from personal experience. They got frustrated at not being able to find a nice boutique hotel to stay in, finding that the places they did use rarely lived up to expectations. They used this personal "pain point" as the inspiration to create their own guide. Mr & Mrs Smith comes from the name sometimes used by couples hiding their real identity when checking in for a "dirty weekend"!
Many people sit around dreaming of starting a business. But a minority actually have the balls to do it. James and Tamara re-mortgaged their house to raise £30,000 and got a further £150,000 from friends and family. When they couldn't get a publisher, the couple went ahead and published the first guidebook themselves. The distributor said they would sell 5,000 copies in three years, but again they backed themselves and printed 10,000. They actually sold 100,000 in the first year alone.
Two years into the business James and Tamara made another bold move by taking the business online. This is back in 2005, so the couple had real vision about the way the travel industry would be evolve. The online version of the brand meant they could handle booking for hotel, and then charge commission to hotels people booked.
4. Extend the core
The guide started out focusing on the UK. But over time the brand has expanded to also include international destinations. More recently the brand has also extended beyond boutique hotels for couples to also cater for families. This is smart, as the brand is in effect growing up with its customers who, like me, now have kids but still want to enjoy a boutique hotel experience.