The Entrepreneur: Phil Cameron, No.1 Traveller

Having turned the concept of lounging around into a multi-million pound company, ex-West End producer Cameron shares his business story...

Founder: Phil Cameron
Company: No.1 Traveller
Description in one line: Award-winning airport lounge operator which provides a range of premium products to improve the pre-flight experience.
Previous companies: None
Turnover: £12.5m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • No.1 Traveller operates award-winning airport lounges at major UK airports and a range of premium pre-flight services, such as chauffeur-driven airport transfers and travel spas.
  • Our services are available to everyone, regardless of airline or class of travel.
  • We are unique in providing a complete service from driveway to runway.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Partnering with the right investors. We’ve had three stages of investment in the business and we’ve been very fortunate with our backers each time.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I’m bombarded with figures every day, but keep a very close eye on daily guest numbers.  If those are healthy, the rest more or less flows through. The key cost for us to watch is consumables, because we have a generous complimentary food and drink offering.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We are essentially a UK operator but hope to take the business abroad in the not-too-distant future. We serve an international market, so we have strong client and distribution bases already.

Describe your growth funding path:

We started with ‘friends and family’ funding, then spent four years in partnership with a middle-eastern family fund. A year ago, we saw through a management buy-out with NVM Private Equity, which has provided us with venture capital trust funding (£7m speculated).

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We run a very niche operation, so we’ve had to develop our own software to manage a pretty complex mix of bookings.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We currently have six lounges. That will double over the next three years, with some initial sites abroad, as will turnover.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

People often tell me they admire anyone who can start up their own business. For me, that’s not nearly as hard as the transition from being a start-up to a more structured organisation. There’s a tricky point at which you are still best placed to do things, but have to let go.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I’d like to think we haven’t had many major mistakes, but we’ve certainly lost some good development opportunities by not full understanding the other party’s objectives.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Employment law in this country is way too complicated.  My most loyal and hard-working team was in New York, where employment is ‘at will’, which seemed to work better for everyone in our business.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Failing to protect their concept properly. You can’t always trademark, but there are many other ways to defend what you have. There has to be a uniqueness to what you do that is difficult for someone else to copy or compete with.

How will your market look in three years?

Aviation continues to grow at pace, airports are always looking to innovate and improve user experience, and passengers are increasingly on the lookout for ways to ‘uplux’ their journeys, so our market is going from strength to strength.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Keep a crystal clear view on cash.  Profit is a nice-to-have, but without cash you’re nothing – and it’s very easy for a budding entrepreneur to overspend.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

My cottage in the country – getting out of town has massively improved my quality of life and my work.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

You can’t really teach someone to be an entrepreneur and the value of real experience is priceless.

What would make you a better leader?

I could always listen more and talk less.

Business book:

I wish I had time to read books. I get the most out of the business pages and profiles of people I admire.


(will not be published)