My Destination is a global travel resource powered by a diverse community of local experts on the ground, providing local knowledge and local deals. Alltopstartups interviewed the founders of My Destination(James Street and Neil Waller) to find out how they started their online travel guide, how they raised funds, how they used social media to grow My Destination and the challenges they went through building My Destination into a successful company.

Can you share with us the Success Story of My Destination

My Destination was born from spotting one gap in the market for a decent online travel guide for the Spanish resort town Marbella. We set out to fill this gap as a University project but seeing success with it at an early stage we suddenly saw there were gaps for this type of information all over the world. Major destinations in the world such as Singapore, Rio de Janeiro seemed to have a lack of good online travel guides.

Where we really set out to be different is we wanted our sites to be run by people on the ground, who knew the area and were able to collect unrivaled levels of information about the destination and businesses. The franchise model allowed us to do this and none of our competitors have anything like this in place. If you take a big entity like Lonely Planet and compare the amount of information they have to one of our established sites you will see the difference.

Can you talk about how My Destination has used the franchise model to raise funds and capital

Franchising although I don’t think it has the best reputation is a fantastic model because it allows you to expand quickly which for our business when we are trying to provide travel guides for destinations all around the world is very important. Not only that but it provides you with investment to grow, so rather than in traditional sense of expansion you would have to invest in a team and content etc to break into a new territory now you get a franchise fee. The downside to this of course is that you have to give away a large share of the profits on the ground in this destination.

For the franchisee it is a smart move teaming up with a good franchisor because you don’t have to spend a lot of money on the learning curve of starting a business. All of these mistakes have been made for you so you are buying an effective business model, with a brand that will be more powerful than what you could create in just one destination.

Fortunately for us we have franchisees who not only believe in their business on the ground but believe in what we are trying to do on a global scale and so have wanted to buy into and own shares in My Destination as a whole. Therefore when we have wanted to raise finances for expansion or for key projects we have been able to raise money internally rather than going outside the family to an external investor.

What are some of the ways you have used social media to grow My Destination

So far we have utilized social platforms to better ingratiate ourselves into the travel community, build meaningful relationships with key online travel influencers and used social channels as a key promotional tool for all our unique content. Twitter and Facebook have been especially great for us as each franchise destination has their own accounts from which they can provide local knowledge or answer real time queries about their destination, thus providing customer service that truly is ‘locally informed, globally inspired’!

The introduction of a new blog has given the site some social traction, as well as being the perfect tool to attribute a more informal voice to our brand – one our customers can really relate to on a more personal level. We have also been using LinkedIn to help promote our unique franchise model and offering – helping us to capture some great leads for potential new partners.

We plan to be innovative in the coming year and plans for on-site social as well as off-site will be just as important to our growth as anything else.

 What are the biggest challenges you have faced launching My Destination and how did you solve them

The biggest challenge we faced launching My Destination was trying to convince people that an internet franchise was a good model for business. 5 years ago the only franchises I had heard of were McDonalds and Subway, so in a way we were burning a new path in people’s minds. Today it is fair to say that our biggest challenge is trying to get our site to rank on the search engines, after-all you can have the best site in the world but if no one can find it then it’s not much use. It is however a never ending cycle as search engines as well as our sites are forever evolving. There is so much you can do to make your site search engine friendly but sometimes it is in the hands of the Google gods which can be a frustrating thing, what you have to do is concentrate on the areas of the business where you have control of and prey/hope that Google get it right and serve the user with the best resource for that specific search term.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs chasing the startup dream

Keep it cheap in the beginning and you will get told NO a lot so having a thick skin and using those NO’s as fuel to keep going will certainly help.

James Street and Neil Waller are the Co-Founders of My Destination. Established in 2006, My Destination has grown on a shoe string budget, out of the university dorms of the two Co-founders, to a business that is now trusted by over 10 million travellers a year and has franchised in 120 destinations and growing.