Pictured: Founders Alex (left) and Sam (right) in their office
How do you turn a passion for travel into a fast growing business?
On a sunny day in Runway East Shoreditch we dragged Much Better Adventures co-founder Sam Bruce away from his office, slackline (yes they have a slackline) and about-to-launch crowdfunding campaign to find out more about how they’ve grown their company Much Better Adventures.
Having expanded to have offices on 3 continents and award-winning adventure experiences from the top of the Alps to the Australian outback, Much Better Adventures are expanding fast in the notoriously competitive travel industry – so what’s the secret to their success? We spoke to Sam to find out.
What does Much Better Adventures do?
We make it easy to book the planet’s best adventures with local independent guides and hosts who are experts both in the activity and locations they’re hosting. It could be weekend breaks in Europe and Northern Africa or longer trips further afield like hiking the best trails in Nepal or the volcanoes in Indonesia – we’re constantly expanding our range.
We want to make it easier to book with local professionals who are typically hard to find and book with online for the better experiences they offer and also to funnel more money from tourism into local economies, supporting great jobs and incentivizing conservation in the amazing places we send people.
What’s a lesson you’ve learnt a hard way on your startup journey so far?
So many things! We found out pretty quickly that trying to take on an entire market – in our case the whole adventure market – in one fell swoop was an almighty task and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. If we could go back in time, we would have saved ourselves a lot of time had we just focussed on one thing at a time before branching out into other categories. We learned to take on one niche within the market at a time, and developed a blueprint that scales out with an absolute focus on being the very best at selling that one thing. We then started to see the results – our weekend adventures is a recent example of this, designed for those who are time-poor or have limited annual leave and want a truly unique experience.
Pictured: Some Much Better Adventure’s customers tackling the heights of Mt Toubkal in Morocco, the highest mountain in North Africa
Visual content is obviously hugely important to selling consumer content, and especially important in selling travel products – how do you tackle that?
High quality media content collection is one of our challenges where suppliers don’t have anything themselves. Where this is the case, we tackle it in two ways – with professional photographers or videographers, and with user generated content. Customers often send in their own shots from our adventures with accompanying stories too, which I love because it’s a really authentic way to showcase a place or experience.
Some experiences are difficult to get across in a photo, how do you work around that?
This is very true. Some of the best moments on our trips – like caving or surfing – can be notoriously hard to capture despite being some of the most sublime experiences out there. There’s no easy solution to that one, other than building trust up in our brand enough to take our and our community’s word for it when we talk about how amazing something or somewhere happens to be.
Hiring is a huge issue for founders we talk to – how do you get around it?
The best decisions we’ve ever made are our hiring ones. We tend to put a job out there and get a lot of applicants which is great. Despite being an adventure company a lot of the work we do is office-based but people understand the mission, they believe like we do that tourism can be a force for good. You need to have people who are malleable, who create and react well to change, so it does come down a lot to personality and how they’d fit into the team. We get a lot of job applications when we’re not hiring which I take as a good sign that we’re doing something right – and yes we have hired one person who cold emailed us.
Responsible tourism is core to your beliefs and brand – how do you balance opening up unique destinations for tourists and not accidentally ruining them by encouraging too much tourism?
I’m really glad you asked me that question – it’s something we think about a lot. I also studied sustainable development for four years so it’s an area I’m passionate about personally. I think that kind of thinking should be deep-set in the minds of all international travel companies because you do have a responsibility to make sure that what you’re building isn’t “too successful”, which can lead to all sorts of problems in the long term. A prerequisite for all of our guides is that they have a very strong ethos of protecting the environments that they work in but because they typically live there and are from the area they guide in, they are instinctively incentivised to think more long term about how they use their environment.
At our end, for example, we limit the number of people who can go to destinations for sustainability reasons but also for the experience, to keep it special. One of our best sellers are our Norwegian fjord trips – we’ve worked closely with our partners there to preserve the destination, which happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site, we could have just added more spaces to meet the increasing demand but it would have killed what makes those trips so special. We also have a foundation to support conservation projects which grows with every booking, so the bigger we get the more sustainability projects we can support.
Alex and Sam testing out their slack line in their office at Runway East Shoreditch
Where next geographically and figuratively?
We’re still adding to Nepal, a mixture of trips that people have had sat on the bucket list for a long time like the Everest Base Camp trek as well as trips off the well trodden tracks, away from other tourists. We’ve also added Indonesia as part of our Asian growth like climbing Mount Rinjani and volcanoes in and around Indonesia. We’ve also been adding a lot of great Northern Lights adventures because we learned that that they’re going to be fading away for 11 years after this next year. There’s a lot of the world still to cover and this upcoming crowdfunding campaign will help us widen the net further still.
We all remember our first time. Can you tell us about your first sale? Do you remember your first sale?
Yes, the first one I remember was a ski booking soon after we’d launched. I still remember her name, Caroline. It was quite a big one at the time, I think about £9,000, so that warranted a celebration Stuart Pearce would have been proud of.
How many of your holidays do you go on?
We take it in turns to test them out, we have our annual team get togethers and have Much Better Adventure leave on top of our annual leave, so we’ve made sure that there’s plenty opportunity to get out there. I’ve most recently been on our kayaking and wild camping in the Norwegian fjords trip, which was some of the most stunning scenery I’ve been in. I also climbed Mt Toubkal in Morocco in winter conditions, which was one of the most challenging but gratifying things I’ve done. I have my heart set on our Triglav trip next.
Sam alongside Much Better Adventurer’s, checking out the night skies in the Saharan desert
What does success look like?
We wrote down a 10-year plan recently which was a satisfying and fulfilling process to go through, I think when you’re a startup you can often start to think in 3-6 month intervals but we came together and wrote down our more long-term plan and it became clear that job creation and security were our key motivators. By growing our global range of unique experiences, we can support 500,000+ great jobs for people who do what they love whether it be guiding through a forest in Finland, or skiing in the Alps. Whatever they’re passionate about or a place that they love we want to give them a job that’s secure and stable where money is contributing to the local economy, incentivising local conservation.
And you’re offering people the chance to own a piece of the much better pie?
Yes. We sent an email out recently to our community of adventurers and local hosts and the response totally blew us away. We go live on the 1st of November and we’re really excited to be inviting our network and the crowd to invest in us to help us expand and build the future of adventure.
Find out more about investing in Much Better Adventures here.
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