School friends Ben Owen, 24, and Hugh Bourne, 22, direct messaged thousands of celebrities to get their online travel agency off the ground. When they started they couldn’t afford the heating. A year on, they are targeting revenue of more than £1 million. Juliet Dennis reports

Q. When did you first want to be entrepreneurs?

A. At school we were adamant one day we’d be millionaires. Business was always something we both had a passion for. We used to undersell the school tuck shop. We sold chocolates and drinks in the playground. We were always going to set up a business together, we just didn’t know what it would be.

Q. Do you have a background in travel?

A. Hugh worked for Hays Travel. He was assistant manager of the local branch within two years. I worked for a travel company with a cultural exchange programme, but I’d never sold a holiday before.

Q. How did you get business off the ground?

A. We started Venture Travel on October 8, 2017, as a Global Travel Group member. We saved for a year and a half. The Atol licence was £20,000 and we spent pretty much every penny on that. We didn’t have a logo, website or money for marketing.

We used our network of friends to help us, one of whom designed a logo. We sent 20,000 direct messages to influencers, from footballers to reality TV stars, Olympians and actors. We got 5,000 responses.

We offered holidays at net prices in return for a social media post to grow our exposure. Of those 5,000 we did
10 to 30 bookings; that got business off the ground. We also cold-called companies.

Q. What lessons did you learn?

A. In March we were victims of fraud. We got an email asking for flights to Thailand. They pretended to have been recommended by an influencer. They spent £3,000 on flights on a stolen card. We spend hours talking to the bank; the fee was waived. It was a big learning curve. We’re much more careful now.

Q. Your office is Ben’s family garage – what’s that like?

A. The garage works perfectly for us. We just pay for utilities. We couldn’t afford the heating until March this year; we were waiting for commissions to come in. We came to work in gloves, hats and scarves. We have not taken any days off; we work six days a week and only take a small salary.

Q. How is business now?

A. In January business really took off. We now spend all our marketing budget on Facebook. It generates 500 bookings a week. Less than 5% of sales come from celebrities but we have booked everyone from Premier League players to reality TV stars.

We set an ambitious goal for the first year of £500,000 revenue – we’ve done £650,000. Next year we we are hoping for £1.2 million.

Q. What’s it like working with one of your oldest friends?

A. We get on really well! We have no real arguments and we’re on the same page. We have no excuse for shirking or having ‘no-show’ days.