Entrepreneur Series – Interview with Oliver Bell

May 17, 2019

  1. Prior to setting up Oliver’s Travels, what was your background?

I setup my first business, Simply Chateau, straight after university and that business was eventually rebranded and relaunched as Oliver’s Travels in 2013. So my background pre Oliver’s Travels was basically ‘pound-a-pint’ student nights and baked beans on toast!

 

  1. Back in 2003 you set up your first company, Simply Chateau with co-founder Ravi, tell us a bit more about where this idea came from and how this evolved into Oliver’s Travels.

In the summer of 2002 my girlfriend (and now wife) was tasked with finding a holiday property for thirty of our friends to celebrate our recent graduation and enjoy a ‘last hurrah’ before the job hunt began. No one had any idea that Steph had actually booked a medieval French chateau (and neither did she as it had only cost about £75 per head for the week)! The first group turned up to the address they had been given, saw that it was this incredible chateau, couldn’t believe that was where we were staying (imagining a youth hostel or similar) and literally turned the car around, drove back to the nearby village and asked a local where the address was. The resident pointed back up to the hill to the chateau they had just driven from and that was the start of a hilarious week of boozing amongst suits of armour and centuries old furniture.

That holiday planted the seed for our first business, Simply Chateau, and we quickly became the go-to provider of holiday chateaux to the UK market. After the launch of a handful of new destinations offering similar product over the next few years we decided the only way to grow significantly was to open up to a wider audience in the luxury villa market – and Oliver’s Travels was born.

 

  1. Where do you see the business going in the next 3-5 years?

We have just embarked upon an ambitious acquisition strategy to rapidly grow the number of luxury villas we can offer in an ever increasing number of destinations. We have acquired five villa companies to date and we are in negotiations with several others. The plan is to triple the size of the business within 5 years.

 

  1. What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your own business?

We both started when we were 23 years old so it was very difficult to be taken seriously by a bank at that age. This meant that all of our growth had to be funded organically rather than with debt or equity. As a result it took us a while to get to where we are – but on the plus side it means we still each own 50% of the company.

 

  1. What is unique about your business in the market?

All of our properties are hand-picked for their unique and characterful qualities and features. You only get a limited amount of holiday each year so why stay in a purpose built villa amongst fifty other similar houses when you can stay somewhere extraordinary? Our strapline says it all – why do ordinary?

 

  1. What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the luxury villa market currently?

The villa and ‘alternative accommodation’ market in general is growing rapidly and continues to take market share from the hotel groups. Customers are looking for authentic holiday experiences, not just in the homes they book but also in the local activities and cuisine they enjoy during their stay.

 

  1. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Hire people as early as possible – we held back for a long time because we were nervous about the issues it might entail but our serious growth only happened when the team started to expand rapidly. The key is to try and hire people who can do their tasks better than you can do it yourself so you feel comfortable delegating. Many entrepreneurs I know make the mistake of thinking that only they can do the job and end up taking on too much of the day-to-day which can seriously hamper opportunities for growth.

 

  1. How do you operate such a good business whilst having young children?
    It probably goes back to the last question. We are now a team of fifty and everyone is invested in driving the business forward so if I’m not in the office because I’m doing the school run it isn’t going to fall apart!

 

Quick fire questions

  1. a) Go to holiday destination?
    French chateau – genuinely.
  2. b) Name 1 person, past or present from the music industry you would like to have dinner with?
    Freddie Mercury
  3. c) Favourite film?
    Dumb and Dumber
  4. d) What’s something you could eat for a week straight?
    Sushi
  5. e) Life motto?
    Not a life motto per se but I like “Money talks, But it don’t sing and dance, And it don’t walk” – Neil Diamond, Forever in Blue Jeans.
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