TLabs Showcase – Secret Escapes
TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based hotel flash sale site Secret Escapes.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
We are Secret Escapes, a flash sales site for luxury travel. Secret Escapes members will receive up to 70% off luxury boutique hotels and holidays.
We were originally founded by DMC Digital (who recently sold to EasyVoyage). The DMC founders remain involved as investors, but the business is now run by Tom Valentine (ex-eBay & Seatwave) and Dan Evans (ex-Lastminute.com).
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What financial support did you have to launch the business?
The DMC founders made an original investment in the business and we are currently closing out an angel round with some big names in it. We’ll let you know who at the end of February.
We’ve got enough investment to invest aggressively in growing customers and supply
What problem are you trying to solve?
Private Sales for travel gives holiday buyers access to amazing prices while knowing exactly what they are buying. It lets hotels increase their occupancy and profitability.
It’s a great model that’s taken off elsewhere, but nobody has cracked it in the UK. We’re setting out to change that
Describe the business, core products and services?
Exclusive flash sales in Luxury travel. Hotels offer a significant discount on the best online rate exclusively to Secret Escapes members.
We run five or more sales for a week, and then replace them with five more. We’re selling lots of UK & Europe weekend break product, along with longer haul trips
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We’ve currently got more than 50 hotels signed up for deals with more signing every day, everything from small boutiques to large chains.
Customer-wise, we’re starting from a base gained by marketing to the Dealchecker real deals product, in addition we’re very excited at how successful forward to a friend marketing was before launch.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes, and it wasn’t hard. Serious discounts on luxury hotels is an amazing proposition to buyers. Hotels are always looking at new ways to improve occupancy and this model is proven in other countries, while giving them an opportunity to discount in a manner that suits their luxury branding
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
Secret Escapes takes a commission on sales. We’re aiming to grow the base through targeted partnerships and invest strongly in our supply team to make sure we provide great service to hotels
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We’re launching with a base big enough to beat the “chicken and egg” problem many flash sales sites have at launch, along with strong supply and beautiful website. We’re also funded to invest whenever we see an opportunity to grow.
- The UK consumer is famously cynical about discounts, we’re being very clear how we get to our numbers but we know we have to be careful about offering real value.
- Right now, being known in the UK for discount luxury travel is our goal, but we occasionally let ourselves think about fun things you could do around widening the proposition, there are lots.
- Everyone asks us about other players entering the market, we’d see it as competition but also be glad to have others growing and validating the market.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
People ask sensible questions about similarities with the Groupon model.
We like a lot of what they do, but think we make ourselves different by taking a more “curated” approach with our supply, making our content interesting for hotel fans, and not blasting our base every day, we’d like people to look forward to getting our mails.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Thousands of happy customers going on holiday every month, helped by us.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.