What we learned during the acquisition of TravelZeeky
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”— Steve Jobs
Since launching TravelZeeky, a travel agency focused on corporate and college travel, my business partners, Zach and Jeremy Mendelsohn, set us up for success with the end in mind. The goal was clear: find a niche within the travel industry, build personal relationships with decision makers that big companies simply don’t have the bandwidth to do, and sell them travel experiences they desire without the headache of managing it themselves. My role as a Managing Partner was to leverage King Tide’s design and development resources to oversee the digital presence of the brand, creating a website and CRM system to handle the sales funnel while supporting marketing campaigns.
We operated as a small team with very low overhead, and leveraged our relationships with the college Greek System to tap into an under-serviced market and create experiences for them they otherwise would miss out on. Our small team worked tirelessly for 5 years to get a stronghold on the Southern California market, and then spread nationwide once our operations were refined. Revenues grew between 20–50% year over year, and the hard work paid off.
We’re very excited about the acquisition, and optimistic about our bright future at Verve. Zach and his team have joined the Verve global team, and the journey to create memorable college experiences will continue to evolve. They will be able to leverage the Verve operations and marketing teams to tap into new markets and grow our business exponentially.
Looking back, there were a lot of lessons learned, but ultimately the steps we took since the inception set us up to achieve the goal we had from the onset: Acquisition. Zach, Jeremy and I looked back retrospectively on this journey and discussed the steps we took so we could reflect and share them with our network.
1. Find your niche in a growing industry
Even industries dominated by billion dollar companies have room for the small players. Expedia, Kayak and Orbitz dominate online travel, but they don’t have the resources to get personal with big networks like the college Greek System. Find a niche that is being under-serviced and listen to their needs so you can deliver an experience with unmatched customer service. Being a small fish in a big pond means you’ll be lunch one day, but for us, lunch was certainly on the table.
2. Build a LEAN team and incentivize them
Finding great talent is one of the hardest things to do in business, and it requires a lot of trial and error. We knew we wanted a lean team at TravelZeeky, but we had to try 15 people to find the right 5. If there are things you can outsource to people that can do it cheaper and better, don’t try to do it yourself. We could have invested in getting our own travel agent license to book airfare, but that would have cost thousands of dollars, so we partnered with a travel agent to handle all our bookings. We offered everyone on the team strong financial and cultural incentives to outperform their goals, and this translated to people working above and beyond to better themselves.
The other lesson here is all about keeping your overhead low, which is my #1 rule for any entrepreneur. TravelZeeky rented a small part of King Tide’s office for a fraction of the cost of opening our own, and we were very tactful in hiring any full-time employees. The ones we did hire full-time were heavily compensated on performance goals and incentives to drive sales.
3. Focus on what’s working and kill the rest
For any business with the goal of making money, it’s important to listen to the numbers. When TravelZeeky first launched, we were focused on corporate events, nightlife, private parties, and college experiences. Our goal was to become a leader in the corporate space because we felt that dealing with professional companies would be easier and more sustainable as we grew. Naturally, our sales team was young and doing a great job selling college packages which accounted for a large portion of our revenue. As much as we tried to phase out of the college business, there was too much volume and a growing customer base that we not only continued operating as a college travel agency, but we focused more of our resources on selling these services. When we ultimately decided this was our biggest opportunity, we became a leading college service provider, and this drew the attention of bigger companies looking to play in this sandbox. Managing these retreats became easier because we streamlined the operations, our revenue grew because of our referral system, and we carved out a niche that larger corporate travel companies couldn’t handle.
4. Stay connected to your competitors
Most people try to hide from their competitors. It’s important to keep your strategy, sales process and trade secrets a secret, but staying connected to your competitors is invaluable in understanding where the market is going. We were able to identify new territories, new packages to offer, and found ways to innovate with the latest technology in our industry. By keeping these doors open and having conversations with our foes, we were able to identify potential acquisition opportunities which ultimately culminated in our buyout. Had we not met with our competitors these opportunities would have never prevented themselves.
“Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer” — Machiavelli
5. Keep meticulous records and your books clean
Getting acquired will involve heavy due diligence, and it is essential to keep your books clean and updated regularly. Rather than trying to manage our books, we hired a part-time bookkeeper to stay on top of this every month. If you don’t have this information readily available and organized, it can squash these opportunities before you can say the word “Aqui-hire”.