Leaving his job to start a travel agency seemed all the more risky for Sam Cassem when he was forced to remortgage his house. But it proved the right decision: the business turned over almost £1.2 million in its first year and continues to grow
Q: Why did you set up YourTravel?
A: John [Stephenson, YourTravel co owner] and I were both at DialAFlight. We were doing quite well there and said ‘why don’t we do this on our own?’ There were a lot of naysayers when we started. People thought we would be a flash in the pan. We have now got a team of five, including Dale Whitney and Richard Moss, who were also at DialAFlight. We won Global Travel Group’s best newcomer award after just six months. We want to continue to grow and become well known in the industry.
Q: How did you fund the business?
A: Originally we had an investor who was one of John’s clients, but six months down the line he said he would not be able to invest the money. As we had got so far [in setting up the business], I remortgaged my house. It was the best thing I ever did, but it felt risky at the time as we only had half the money the investor was going to put in, so it had to work from the get-go. We found a big office, very cheap, in Sheerness; it’s even got a chill-out area! But the money soon whittled away as we got the computers, chairs and even things like a kettle and microwave. We started in August 2014 and were profitable in the first month.
Q: What targets did you set?
A: We wanted to do at least £500,000 in sales in the first year. Within five months we had already done that, so we raised the target to £1 million. In fact, we did just under £1.2 million in the first year. Global said this was unheard of unless agents are already established. We have a projected turnover of £3 million to £3.5 million next year.
Q: You specialise in premium travel with a concierge-style service for the leisure and corporate markets, with a 24-hour emergency line and luxury booking packs for clients. How did you establish a client base?
A: We spent a lot on Google AdWords and ploughed quite a lot into the website. We reached out to family and friends and asked them to put the word out. We had some positive responses from them and it kicked off for us very quickly.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge?
A: We have all been in travel for a long time but the real challenge for us was running a business. We had never done it and there was so much we had to learn. We had to get a business plan together and we’d never dealt with HMRC. We were lucky that when Dale joined us he started making money straight away. He maximised every lead and managed to build up a very good client base.
Q: What next?
A: We are now looking to take on two new staff in the new year and next year we want to build two new websites and take on up to three graduates and train them up. We want to push the corporate market and specialise in Dubai.
2014 to date: Co-owner and executive director, YourTravel, Sheerness, Kent
2008-14: Sales executive, DialAFlight, East Malling, Kent
2006-08: Sales executive, Simon Miller & Company (estate agent)
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