How digital technologies and parental experience can lead you to a successful startup? Is it possible to find a perfect hotel or book an extraordinary luxury trip for families with kids in just one click?
Have you ever thought of how hard it is to plan a trip with kids? The enjoyment level of a family vacation is directly related to choosing a trip that appeals to kids. But how to make the holiday perfect for both parents and children? There is a cure: technology. Are you interested? In our new article, you will learn how innovative technologies and digitalization can help families with kids’ book a perfect vacation with only one click.
Digitalization has invaded all sectors, even tourism. This robust global industry is becoming ever more influenced by digital technologies, particularly with online booking. International online bookings are growing twice as fast as the overall market.
The online travel market’s growth has become even more robust because of the switch of offline-to-online booking. The penetration rate of online bookings increased by ⅔ percentage points last year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems incredible. It was driven by the adoption of digital technologies, devices, and the development of user-friendly applications and websites.
Digital technologies have definitely changed the way we travel, and these new advances promise us an even more interacting and exciting experience.
We’ve talked to 37-years old Jerome Stefanski, the Co-founder of Little Guest, a startup that offers families with kids extraordinary holidays. Do you want to know more? Please read the article to the end to learn more about their solution and business in general.
What is Little Guest?
“Little Guest is a unique collection of luxury hotels dedicated to families with kids. For the very first time, parents can book with one click the ideal hotel that combines a high-end approach (design, gastronomy, spa, golf, etc.) and a real program dedicated to children (baby-club, kids- clubs, sports, and creative activities, etc.) in one click,” said on the companies website.
But let’s dig a little deeper and find out how the idea of creating such a platform and a collection of hotels came about, how to build such a business during a pandemic, and find out how to attract investment for such a startup.
What do parenting and starting a startup have in common?
The success of a startup depends on many aspects that influence its formation and development. However, nothing is more important than your business idea. But what is even more significant is what led you to this idea. If it is unique or offers something better, you might have a winner.
It is always interesting to know how the startup concept has appeared and what has been its cornerstones. We’ve asked Jerome how Little Guest’s idea came to him and got a very unusual answer.
“I have a background in entrepreneurship. I started my career when I was 22 years old,” stated Jerome. “Before launching Little Guest, I had a couple of companies. After I sold my second enterprise, I took a break in my career because I wanted to travel with my wife and a newborn son. But I asked myself a question, where can we go on holiday as a family, what type of hotel we have to pick? We were looking for a hotel with SPA, gastronomy, nice architecture but also with a service dedicated to kids.”
After a few seconds, Jerome added, “I’ve noticed that it’s tough to find a hotel that combines two types of services, for parents and kids. I started to check and learn business models of different types of hotels. And I decided to create a collection of hotels for families with children.”
“Children are our most valuable resource.”
How can a unique approach help your startup to grow even during a crisis?
With planes on the ground, hotel closures, and travel restrictions, travel and tourism have been one of the worst-hit sectors since the start of the pandemic. Although the travel industry’s active growth has stalled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the online travel industry, specifically online travel booking, continued to grow.
Obviously, we became interested in what Jerome thinks about this and why now is the time for their company to exist. “We are fascinated and crazy about traveling with kids. Obviously, we are still affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but we saw no other companies similar to ours that have the same approach to clients. We consider that we are in the niche market. We had hard times during last spring, but we have recovered faster than traditional travel agencies, and since May, our sales started to grow again, and in September 2020, we had 40% growth compared to September 2019.”
“Obviously, we are still affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but we saw no other companies similar to ours that have the same approach to clients.”
Current development stage and how it all started
Switching from the main idea to practice, we asked Jerome about the first steps they made to launch Little Guest. He gave us a comprehensive explanation of how things work. “We launched the company in 2017. In the first year, we started to create a collection on the B2B site by contacting each affiliated hotel and combining them to participate in the project. In 2018 we started to do digital marketing to reach out to families that could be interested in booking hotels listed on our website.”
We also inquired about the structure of the company and which departments, according to Jerome, are the most important. The Сo-owner of Little Guest shared the following findings with us: “I would say it depends on the current development stage. For us now, I would say that the key departments of Little Guest are, first of all, the IT and web development departments. But the role of the marketing department is also not the least at the moment. We also have a reservation and affiliation department that is in relationships with all hotels that we have.”
Ingredients for successful funding
What is the recipe for a successful business? Yes, one genius idea, 100% of enthusiasm, and, of course, initial capital. To determine which method of financing is the best for your project, you don’t have to go a long way. If you have your own money, this is a perfect situation. But this is not the case for everyone. There is no right way, but multiple sources are available to secure investments for a new startup.
Funding is always amid the essential issues for every young entrepreneur, especially in the first stages of startup development. We asked Jerome about the specifics of finding investments and how it was for Little Guest.
“I started by myself; I put my money to launch the company,” shared with us Jerome. “But one year later, after we proved our business model, I found a Flemish business-angel who invested in Little Guest, and I got a bank loan. In 2018, we made a first seed round of funding and got 500 000 euros, which helped us do strong digital marketing. In 2019, we made our first year of online reservations.”
After a while, the Co-founder of Little Guest continued his speech. “At the beginning of 2020, we made the second round of funding and got 1 200 000 euros for the next development stage. We want to scale and switch to a full automatic booking system. Currently, we use a hybrid system; I would say – 100% of our leads are coming from the internet, but booking is confirmed by travel agencies based in Brussels.”
Another topic that always attracts the attention of our audience is customers. So we’ve asked Jerome who are Little Guest’s primary customers and where do they find them.
Jerome started with the geography and preliminary numbers. “Most of our affiliated hotels are located in the Medditerenian region: Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, France. Currently, we have 200 hotels on our website. What about clients? 65% of our customers are from France; the other 35% are from Switzerland, UK, Belgium, Luxembourg and the rest of Europe.”
After clarifying clients’ geography and numbers of affiliated hotels, Little Guest’s Co-founder shared their customer strategy. “So, as you see, we have both B2B and B2C. We are looking for B2C clients on the internet. 70% of the website traffic is generated naturally by a strong content strategy. We have a team of ten online marketers, among which five are copywriters, who produce a lot of content about luxury travels for families with kids.”
What about B2B? Jerome also added, “We have an affiliation based model. All the hotel members you can find on our website are paying a yearly fee (marketing fee), and we also charge a commission for each booking that was done on our website. We find affiliated hotels mostly on trade shows.”
Hiring remote developers can help to scale your business
Being a software provider working from Ukraine for more than eight years, we, of course, asked Jerome how they developed their software and if they have an in-house or a remote team. The Co-founder of Little Guest shared with us their development strategy. “First two years, we were working with outsourced developers. But now we have an in-house team; four developers are working in the IT and web development department. But we use some external software and cloud-based applications.”
Jerome also emphasized the importance of hiring remote developers to scale fast. “But I have to say that later we are planning to outsource more developers, as we want to scale and grow and go further, so even having four skillful web developers, we have limited capacity and need external help.”
“We are planning to outsource more developers, as we want to scale and grow and go further.”
What does it mean to be a team leader?
No matter how great the idea is, the team brings it to life, implements it, and helps you reach the goal. Of course, choosing the right team is half the battle, but do not forget that you, as a leader, must also not only take but also give – knowledge, experience, motivation, dedication, and readiness for action.
The next question that we decided to discuss with Jerome was his team and why they can make this business successful. The answer surprised us and showed Jerome’s desire to share in the success.
“We are working with a lot of young people. We hire some trainees and what I like the most about it is that they usually come with zero skills, knowing nothing about the company and how it works. When time passes, I see how they are growing and succeed, and we sign long-term contracts with them. It’s not about giving jobs but seeing how people can grow and learn from you and do the same as what you did by yourself three years ago.”
How your own customer’s experience can bring clients into your startup?
Customer experience is a top priority to any startup for the next decade. The reason is straightforward – the enterprises that focus on excellent customer experience reduce churn and increase their revenue, which leads to higher profits! In the case of Little Guest, the customer experience generated additional income in very unexpected ways.
The story about the first paying customer is already a tradition for our blog. Mostly always, these stories are unique and can give a few great tips for a young entrepreneur. This is the case for Little Guest. Truly inspiring story.
“It was a hotel in France, surrounded by lake Geneva, where I invited my wife with our son to enjoy SPA treatment for mothers and kids. We were there as guests, and actually, this trip inspired me to create the Little Guest. We got a wonderful experience there, traveling as a family with our little son. And when we came back, I realized that these types of hotels are unique, and it would be great to have all of them online in one place. So it was the first hotel I contacted after I launched my company. And they signed a contract with us immediately.”
“I realized that these types of hotels are unique, and it would be great to have all of them online in one place.”
Grow or not to grow?
Young entrepreneurs often reduce startup success to one dimension – growth. So, every decision and action that you take leads to only one thing – getting income. Is it so? Yes, it’s always important to keep track of whether your income is increasing, but the startup’s real success goes much more in-depth and consists of many metrics.
Every startup has its metrics of measuring success, and the Co-founder of Little Guest shared with us his practical vision. “We have a lot of metrics, but the most important is weekly and monthly reports and also sales KPI, like the number of leads, sources where the leads come from, and conversion.”
Plans for the future
Growth isn’t a strictly defined concept. The discussion about success metrics switched the interview to Little Guest’s plans, and as the Co-founder, Jerome showed that they have a clear strategy.
“I think for us next year will be very challenging because, in 2021, we want to scale. Normally we would do it in 2020, but due to the crisis, it was impossible. What relates to the steps and goals we need to achieve is the automation of the booking process. And I hope we will meet business recovery after the pandemic ends.”
To overcome failures tomorrow, take a risk today
“When you take risks, and they work out, they lead to new capabilities you never saw before.”
Every conversation about plans and traction can’t be 100% perfect without question about risks and threats. Jerome’s answer showed him as a true entrepreneur.
“After a pandemic, I would say that we have nothing to be scared of related to business. If we could have survived after the COVID-19 crisis, we can achieve everything, and there are no real threats for us.”
“If we could have survived after the COVID-19 crisis, we can achieve everything, and there are no real threats for us.”
Why are families not afraid of traveling even during a pandemic, and how does it relate to business traction to date?
What relates to traction, Jerome Stefanski sees customers’ motivation to travel as the most exciting aspect of their business. “What is the most exciting is that currently to date, although there is still a big difficulty to travel and considering COVID-19 crisis, we are still selling trips every day. Depending on the situation in Europe and the whole world, I would say, it’s an extraordinary thing to convince people to travel with kids.”
So people are not afraid of traveling with kids even during a pandemic? “A few months ago people were still scared to travel, but now, when every city is in the red zone, it’s less dangerous to go to the countryside or seaside (less interaction, less crowded) than to stay in town. And what is more important, families are looking for a way to escape from lockdown and distress. At this point, we come for help.”
“Be brave enough to dream!”
At the end of every interview, we ask all the founders to give young entrepreneurs some universal advice. The Co-founder of Little Guest was very emotional and gave an inspiring speech.
“Spend your time to create something meaningful. Start building your startup from scratch, even without external help from anyone. Then go and try even if you fail. Don’t depend on the opinion of your friends or family. Don’t be distracted by others’ feelings. Be brave enough to dream!”
As we said initially, the tourism industry is undergoing a massive transformation, driven by innovation and digital technology.
The changes have long gone beyond quality service and a great travel experience. Today you can find the perfect hotel or book an extraordinary luxury trip in just one click, without wasting time searching through dozens of sites and reading reviews for a particular hotel. It indeed entails a transformation of tourism itself – improving processes, customer service, and creating new business models. Booking platforms and services like Little Guest allow you to save time and find and book the truly perfect travel option for the whole family.