eola: Callum Hemsley
In this week's Just Started, we talk to new business owner Callum Hemsely about his start-up eola, an online booking platform for adventure sports
Tell us what your business does:
eola is a place to empower and optimise activity providers’ abilities to display and make available their offerings online automatically.
Whether bookings come via the phone, our widget, or our site, we automate all of their booking flows and admin.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
eola started out of a sense of frustration. I have tried lots of different adventure sports in life, and every time I have tried to book them, I have run into the same issues: finding places and making bookings.
After leaving my last start-up, I decided to do something about it. I found my co-founder, who shared my vision.
As we started working with providers, we started to realise that there wasn’t just a customer-facing problem, but there are also huge challenges faced by providers, and that by working alongside them, we could properly solve the problems faced by the customer.
How did you know there was a market for it?
We spent a lot of time doing research; going through every article on the industry we could find.
We sent out surveys to providers, instructors, and customers, and led focus groups with providers. We then launched a testing site and hammered it with paid ads to gauge response.
To many, and even to us at the beginning, the outdoor activity market appeared small, but it quickly became apparent that it was a huge machine, missed in the marketplace era aggregating and optimising for other related industries.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before eola, both my co-founder and I were in different marketplace start-ups. We’ve both been working on various of them over the last five years.
I was a product and strategy guy, and Dan a seasoned developer and CEO of his own agency.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Both of us have. We’ve found that we share a love of building new things, constructing architectures and teams to solve problems.
It’s that feeling of doing something you genuinely feel proud about, and being able to turn around and say, “I built that”. It’s a great feeling, and will certainly keep us coming back for more, in success or failure.
How did you raise the money?
A large part of the money came from a matched investment from me and my co-founder Dan. We both put in a decent initial injection to give us a starting war chest.
The rest of it came from two past friends and colleagues; one an Angel, and both serial investors and entrepreneurs.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Our main revenue generation comes as a result of the coordination of bookings.
On the management platform, there is an associated regular fee with using the platform.
Then on the marketplace side, we charge a commission on any bookings made from it.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We have certainly faced a few challenges in the few months since we launched our alpha!
Not least that our initial focus activity group for the launch are typically associated with summer, and we went live in October!
However, we can’t complain; since it’s actually a real advantage for us.
Our providers are burning the candle at both ends all summer long, but come winter, things quieten, and they’re around to chat and engage, and consider changing their status quo.
Certainly plenty of stories in there, with some fantastic ups and painful downs.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I think it might be a bit early to talk about big breakthroughs. We are young yet, and success is still a gleam in the far flung future.
However, one of the biggest breakthroughs was the day we jumped in my co-founders plane, and videoed the entire south east coast of England from the sky.
Suddenly, providers around the country perked up and started to take notice of us. It was a great feeling, and we also got to see England from the sky, which wasn’t bad either.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
For me, team comes first and ego shouldn’t be anywhere.
At the end of the day, it’s not going to be about how many 20 hour days you can run in a row, it’s the team that you can bring along with you. When shit hits the fan, and things get hard, you need that team there with you, standing firm.
Ego has no place in that. You are all in this together, and you succeed or fail together. As soon as you start seeing yourself as beyond getting hands dirty or thinking you are amazing, that’s the day you fail.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Still loving every day. That’s the big one for us as founders.
I would love for eola to be global, covering a huge range of activities, and making a real dent in the global inactivity epidemic, and giving providers everywhere more of the lifestyle they dreamed when they launched their ventures
It would be amazing too to enable more disadvantaged and vulnerable communities to take part in these activities.
There are so many great groups out there, and I’d love for eola to get stuck right in and see if we can help.