GoLearnTo: Vanessa Lenssen
Vanessa Lenssen on how she started her travel experience company.
Company name: GoLearnTo Website:http://www.golearnto.com Founders: Vanessa Lenssen Age: 35 Based: London Staff Numbers: Four, plus four contractors Date started: 14 May 2007
Tell us what your business does GoLearnTo is an online learning holiday specialist selling a range of courses in destinations across the globe – from conventional courses such as learning a new language, water sports, dancing, wine tasting and cookery to extreme or unusual activities such as perfume-making, Flamenco guitar playing and Gladiator-fighting.
Where did the idea come from? I was looking for a kite surfing course for my own holiday in Tarifa, Spain. I couldn’t find what I wanted online so wasted a day of my holiday looking for a suitable kite surf school. The idea was born from there.
How did you know there was a market for it? I’ve worked in the travel industry for almost 20 years and at the time was also studying for an MBA at London Business School. I had been carefully watching the change in how people travel – there was a clear trend emerging where people were looking to get more from their holiday, and lying on a beach for two weeks was no longer enough. I was also aware of the cultural zeitgeist where more and more people were craving self fulfilment, variety and self expression, and learning something new and fun on holiday satisfies those customer needs.
What planning did you do before you started up? I spent my time at London Business School doing research and working on the business plan as part of my entrepreneurial classes. The school has an amazing entrepreneurial faculty who really helped me hone the plan and turn the idea into a real opportunity.
What challenges have you faced? Getting a bank to let me trade online using credit cards was one of the biggest headaches, because they see us as a ‘travel business’ rather than a travel/lifestyle/education company, so we don’t ‘tick their boxes’ – it took months of patient and not-so-patient negotiation just to be allowed to trade online. The other challenge is getting the message out to customers, we don’t have huge marketing budgets and it’s an ongoing part of the business as I’m sure we’ll never be satisfied with the level of customers we have and will always want more so other people can have a great holiday experience.
What about staff – how many do you have? I couldn’t have done this without the team – some are based internationally as we buy product around the world, so lots of communication is critical. I’ve been lucky as they agreed to come and work with me in the first place and they are all fantastic to work with.
What was your first big breakthrough? Launching our own website and getting bookings less than a week later was amazing and was a real confidence booster as well as signing deals with major travel firms to feature our courses on their websites.
What have you learned? I’ve learnt more doing this than in my whole career and there’s lots I’d do differently in the future, but luckily so far, nothing has been disastrous.