Secret Earth: John Kat and Matt Roach
Borne out of frustration, John Kat and Matt Roach’s trip planning website claims to take the stress out of travel planning for time-poor professionals
Name: John Kat and Matt Roach
Age: 42 and 40
Company Name: Secret Earth
Staff numbers: Small core team in the office with a network of up to 40 freelancers
Date Launched: 28/01/2014
Tell us what your business does?
Secret Earth is a trip planning website for those who love inspiring, independent travel – be it a weekend break or that trip of a lifetime. We offer selective recommendations from the world’s top travel writers, alongside trip planning and price comparison tools – all in one convenient place.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
We were both time-poor professionals who loved to travel during our precious holiday time, but found it incredibly frustrating and arduous to plan trips. At the time (and nothing much has changed), there were hundreds of websites for booking travel, but few, if any, that helped you research and plan trips, particularly if you weren't sure where you wanted to go.
There was an overwhelming amount of information and advice available, but the vast majority of it was poor quality and poorly presented. Our goal was to design a service whereby you could research, plan and book your perfect trip in 30 minutes. Hopefully that’s what we are now achieving.
How did you know there was a market for it?
It seemed an obvious problem from our own experience, and one that we knew our work colleagues also faced. We built a demo and then conducted some extensive user testing on the different ideas we had. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and this helped us shape our vision.
What were you doing before starting up?
Matt was working for an international strategy consultancy in New York. John was head of data architecture at Tesco.com.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Neither of us had this desire specifically. It was more that a great idea came along at the right time and we thought – yes, we could really solve this problem, why not give it a go.
How did you raise the money?
We’re privately funded. Finding willing investors to get us going was quite easy, as everyone we met along the way had this same problem.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Currently, our primary revenue stream is booking commissions, through our affiliate partnerships. We are however currently developing two others – one of which will be an industry first, and, we think, a potential game changer.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Resources, as for all start-ups, which was in truth exacerbated by trying to do too much too soon.
We made the greatest progress when we scaled back our ambitions and really focused on our core proposition.
What was your first big breakthrough?
That’s a tough one. There is probably not one single great big breakthrough, but certainly plenty of them along the way. Securing affiliate deals with the major hotel OTA brands for our price aggregator was a coup – we are the first start-up that some of them have ever agreed to support in this way.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
When we started, we were wary of talking to people in case they ‘stole’ our idea. One day, at a conference we attended, an entrepreneur gave the audience some advice. He said “People are too busy with their lives to steal your idea. It’s possible but extremely unlikely. More importantly, for every person out there that will steal it there are one million people who will help you.” Follow this advice and don't be afraid to ask everyone for help. You’ll need all the help you can get.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
One of the first websites people – wherever they are in the world – come to when they’re thinking of planning a holiday.