BookMyTrail: Matthew Usherwood
With a passion for the outdoors, Matthew Usherwood decided to start his own booking service for the UK's National Trails - with added customer service
Tell us what your business does:
BookMyTrail provides a trip organising service for clients looking to walk one of the 15 National Trails in England and Wales. The National Trails are long distance footpaths usually completed over multiple days.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have always loved walking in the British countryside and I have completed a number of long treks abroad and walked extensively within the United Kingdom. The idea was born out of a passion for the great outdoors and a desire to share that with others.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I had worked for a similar company selling pre-packaged walking holidays. Disenfranchised by the relatively mediocre service and poor value this business offered I realised that there had to be another model which offered better value, flexibility and was backed up with great customer service.
What were you doing before starting up?
I still work full time for a manufacturer and distributor of outdoor clothing and equipment where I have worked for four years. I intend to work full time until it feels right to step across onto BookMyTrail full time.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I went through a patch of soul searching for about three years trying to set up various businesses and failed many times over.
My other half supported me and my many ideas, some good and some farfetched and frankly awful. But ironically I came full circle to the first Idea I acted on having picked up a tonne of experience and confidence along the way.
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How did you raise the money?
Not a lot of money was required to start other than setting up the website, which was built by me. The main investment required was the initial spend on advertising which just came out of my monthly wage. Now the business is trading I’m able to re-invest back into it.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
BookMyTrail charges an upfront booking fee for the service which is where the business makes money. This booking fee also doubles up as a non-refundable deposit. It pays for the time taken to make each client’s arrangements and is charged on a per-person-per-night-booked basis. So the more nights a customer books, the more work is required and the more expensive the fee is.
It works really well. I then invoice our clients for the final cost price of each of their arrangements and forward this onto each supplier on their behalf making it totally hassle free for the customer. The main benefit of this business model is that we are not trying to maximize our margins as that’s paid up front giving me time to simply focus on the quality of the booking.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
The main challenge has been working three full time jobs: Full time employment in our careers, working on the business and being a dad to our 14-month-old son.
Effective time management, looking after yourself, knowing when to stop and when to have family time really helps.
What was your first big breakthrough?
The first big breakthrough was a few days after an advert went live on a popular website. We got our first email through from a potential client and I must have taken about two hours to write a reply, hoping it turned into something good. This really validated the business and I am pleased to say this client has recently paid and booked with us.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t do what I did – procrastinate over whether your idea is the right one for about a year before launch. Just do it and start your business as bare-bones as you can (Minimal Viable Product). Getting that validation opens the door to your idea actually becoming a business
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’m not sure as five years is a long time and a lot can change. I’m just focusing on the next thing I can do to make my business work.