Do the hustle
After re-mortgaging their house and raising £180,000 of funds, the couple had written about 41 hotels that ticked the right boxes.
But initially their guidebook was rejected by publishers.
A bit of entrepreneurial nous – and self-admitted naivety – gave the couple the confidence to self-publish.
“I came from a background promoting nightclubs,” James says. “To be able to get people in there you had to hustle and have the best looking flyer on the street. I thought ‘How hard can it be? A book is just 300 flyers stuck together!’ Of course, it was not that simple, but if you believe in your product – which we certainly did – it makes it a lot easier to sell.”
The hustle succeeded. The first edition of the Mr & Mrs Smith guidebook sold 100,000 copies and contributed to as much as 40% of bookings at many of the hotels it featured.
“Our distributor told us that we’d be lucky to sell 5,000 copies in three years,” Tamara says. “We sold 20,000 in three months.”
Two years after their first publication in 2003, inspired by the response of their readers and the hoteliers they featured, James and Tamara decided to expand the business, go online, and set up Mr & Mrs Smith as a hotel booking platform. By 2015, the business was operating in more than 80 countries and featuring more than 1,000 hotels.
But getting there was anything but simple.
Tamara explains: “If we were starting again I think we would have taken more time over our international expansion. I think we underestimated how challenging it would be to go global. Each market is unique and catering to each, while keeping our brand consistent, was not something we initially understood the scope of.”
This difficulty, however, has not deterred the couple from further expansion. They recently closed a round of crowdfunding that raised £6 million in investment in exchange for equity. Having identified a number of strategic opportunities for rapid growth, James, Tamara and their co-founder – now CEO – Ed Orr felt that crowdfunding offered the best route.
“Conventional investment may have brought us the money, but this way we have been able to attract hundreds of new members and stakeholders,” says James.
Read our other Entrepreneur Month articles: