Read this interview that Himalayan Footsteps’ Managing Director Olly Margry gave to the Business 7 Newspaper. Olly talks about his experiences founding a business:
It was while studying to be a doctor that Olly Margry went on a trip to Nepal which changed his life. The young man fell in love with the country and decided to set up his own travel company. After packing in the medical degree he set up Himalayan Footsteps in his flat at the end of 2007. Here he tells us how the company has grown since then.
What do you do?
We arrange bespoke trekking, culture, adventure and volunteering holidays to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and northern India. We create personalised holiday packages arranging everything from flights, tour guides, financial protection, airport pick up, handpicked hotels as well as providing advice on kit, visas, health, customs and culture.
Where did the funding come from and which organisations have supported the business?
At the time of setting up Himalayan Footsteps I had access to start up grants from Business Gateway which proved very helpful. As with many SME businesses it was about starting small and gradually building up – I worked from an office in my flat to keep costs down, and spent much of the time getting the product right and building a client base.
Who are the key people in the business?
As managing director I oversee the strategic side of running the business as well as forging new customer/supplier relationships. Ulrike Werner is our relationship manager, and she looks after customer communications as well as helping me develop the business. Sakila Manandhar is our operations manager. She over sees the company’s operations, enquiries, itineraries and pricing. My wife Isha looks after the store on Morningside Road and her sister Sanu is based in Kathmandu. She is responsible for customers who are already out enjoying their adventure.
What is unique about what the company does?
We provide our customers with brilliant memories – this phrase is core to our business. It may sound simple but it encompasses a lot. Unlike many other operators our service is completely bespoke. We will sit down with our customers and help them establish exactly what they want and build the holiday around that. We use our extensive local knowledge to uncover all the hidden gems, places that you wouldn’t even know existed unless you knew where to look. The result is an experience that feels unique, and tailored to the customer.
What has been the single biggest investment?
Without a doubt our people – the success of a business is down to the quality of the people it employs. It’s as simple as that. Finding the right people to fit with your vision and ethos is not easy, but when you do, the business will move on seamlessly and naturally.
Has there been a key moment or turning point?
It’s happening right now. We are moving the business to the next level via a number of initiatives. At the end of last year we moved out to larger premises at the Midlothian Innovation Centre and took on three new people. We have invested a lot in our people as well as a brand new marketing campaign involving social media, a new website, public relations and direct marketing strategies. It sometimes feels like a gamble putting so much into something that won’t bring an immediate return, but you have to put your cards on the table if you want to grow.
What is the business plan and how does the company intend to grow?
We are focusing on building a larger customer base, particularly in the south east of England. We will grow but we’ll probably stick with one central office. To be a specialist and retain close relations with customers it’s better to remain small. We are also continuously honing and improving our services as well as the way we communicate with our customers. The travel industry changes all the time and you have to adapt and keep up – for example social media is an increasingly important channel for us.
Do you have any non-executive directors, mentors or key advisors? Who are they?
We don’t have non-executive directors, but we surround ourself with experts who help us along the way. On a personal note, I have the fortune of having great mentors in the family. My grandfather was the CEO of Parker Pens so we have a strong business pedigree.
How does the company use technology and IT?
For us, technology is about communication – keeping in touch with our customers and employees, as well as communicating our products and services to the market.
Our website is used as a tool to help customers choose their holiday, but the booking and final details are all done in the office or over the phone. I have an I-phone which keeps me linked to the office when I’m away. I find it incredibly useful keeping up to date with my diary and e-mails.
Who are your key customers/what are your key markets?
We have a pretty extensive market base – basically anyone interested in adventure, trekking, volunteering or cultural holidays. Mainly active people who love to travel and are in the 20 to 50 age bracket.
What has been the best achievement so far?
To be frank, it’s reaching where we are now in just three years – I never imagined we would get so far in such a short time. To be the managing director of a successful travel operator, and one of the few specialists in Himalayan travel is a huge buzz.
What has been the biggest hurdle which has been overcome?
Finding the right people. Right at the very start I idealised what it meant to run a business, and the calibre of employees that would fit with my vision. My dream came crashing down when I took on my first employee. He only lasted eight weeks. I had to let him go, and it made me realise that building a solid team that fits the company ethos would not happen overnight. Don’t expect everyone to follow your dreams. It’s about compromise most of the time.
What will the next 12 months hold?
It is all about business growth and generating enquiries, with marketing leading the charge. We will start to see the fruits of our marketing and business development programme shortly. We are also in discussions with the Nepali Ambassador regarding the creation of a special cultural extravaganza to promote Nepal to travel agents and the general public in Scotland.
Where do you want the business to be in 10 years time?
It is hard to say right now but in essence we don’t want to change much. I expect we will have more staff and a larger office to accommodate them. We’ll add more services to our portfolio and hone and perfect the services that we currently offer. But we are not going to become a travel franchise or large operation by any stretch of the imagination. It’s about doing what we do now but better and on a slightly larger scale.
If you were given £1 million to invest in the company how would you use it?
I’d start straight away by bringing forward my marketing plans, focussing on the activities that talk to our target audience. I’d invest a large proportion in a growth portfolio and keep a strategic reserve in cash for purchasing a profitable independent travel agent that would grow the database for my company.
What’s the best part of running a business?
Running a small business with a close knit, family atmosphere. We all share the buzz from working in a face paced, customer focused industry.