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How to be a great entrepreneur by the real Mr & Mrs Smith

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Summary

Words of entrepreneurial wisdom from the couple who turned a bad hotel experience into a global luxury brand.

2 min read

A successful entrepreneur should continually innovate, launch new initiatives and generate new campaigns, according to the couple behind luxury travel brand Mr & Mrs Smith.

James and Tamara Lohan, who set up the online hotel booking platform, say one of the advantages of this approach is that it can generate media attention. They believe getting great and continuing press coverage is critical in building and maintaining your reputation.

Their other advice to budding entrepreneurs, shared when we spoke to them as part of Coutts Entrepreneur Month, is:

  • Talk to your customers – regular workshops can help you find out what they want, not what you think they want. And if you get it right, your customers’ advocacy for your product is “the best form of marketing money can’t buy”
  • Get advice – make sure you have access to a handful of great advisors, people who have been there before and can help you avoid many of the classic traps businesses encounter
  • Pick your team – build a team around you that can do the things you can’t, people you can trust to support you without worrying you’ll have to do their jobs for them

Worth the weight

The first step on the road to Mr & Mrs Smith came while James and Tamara were at a Lake District spa hotel in 2001. They were surprised to be unexpectedly weighed on arrival and put on a calorie-controlled diet. “I felt like a schoolboy escaping matron at boarding school,” says James.

It proved to be the last straw. The couple felt that the review websites and guidebooks of the time were, at worst, actively misleading and, at best, lacked any understanding of what made a hotel stay really great.

“We thought ‘enough is enough’ and decided to create our own guidebook – one that included the things that were important to us,” Tamara says.

“If you believe in your product – which we certainly did – it makes it a lot easier to sell.”
James Lohan

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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:

Key Takeaways

Keep innovating, talk to customers about what they want, get good advice from experienced people and build the right team – just some of the things budding entrepreneurs can do to be successful according to the couple behind leading travel brand Mr & Mrs Smith.

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