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From corporate CFO to startup entrepreneur

4 Mins

I’ve spent the last sixteen years in the corporate world, enjoying (almost!) every minute working in a CFO capacity at highly creative brands like Alexander McQueen and Gucci. Every day was different and brought a new challenge – even if these are brand icons, the environment was entrepreneurial and fast paced.

Fantastic as that experience was, I was always helping to implement other peoples’ strategies. In my heart and my gut I wanted to start my own business and make my own decisions. It was like my sixteen years in corporate were a period of learning and waiting. So, when my wife and I decided to move our family back to the UK after three and a half years in the US, it seemed like the perfect moment to switch direction. 

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Holiday rental industry

The holiday rental industry fascinates me. It’s one of those few industries where you can pay an individual you don’t know anything from $500 to $10,000+ for a week’s stay in their property. But that same one-to-one interaction is an opportunity for a more personal experience than a hotel. You can directly ask the owner almost anything about your stay and chances are they’ll know the answer – it’s like having a human guidebook. We know because we’ve been that guest many times.

This is the idea behind Touch Stay, my new business, is a mobile web application that provides holiday rental owners and managers a digital guest welcome book, which is shared with their guests. What’s the best local pizza restaurant? What are the driving directions to the property? What beach equipment do you have? For owners, it’s a great way to build hospitality, being more than a place where guests stay. All the information is managed in one place in the cloud, accessed by owner and guest from any location and any device. 

We have also integrated Touch Stay with Google Places and TripAdvisor so that the owner doesn’t have to recreate the information. They simply find the local pizza restaurant via the Google Places integration and add it to their guidebook. Guests then see a local recommendation backed by Google Places and TripAdvisor reviews.

Building Touch Stay and setting ourselves up was the relatively easy part. We hired a good mobile software company, we took feedback from owners and from our own experiences, and we created a product that worked well. But taking that to market was far harder.

Fortunately someone introduced me to the concept of “just ask” as a way of building awareness. Whether it’s someone who has been through a similar experience and made it work (a mentor), or whether it’s a local blogger with an audience in your niche (an influencer), unless you ask if they’d be willing to help, you remain on your own. The person who introduced me to that concept runs a start up incubator and he told me he’s surprised how few people believe they can ask for (free) big ticket help at such a young stage. The point is you can if you pitch in a way that benefits both sides.

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