Self-Starter Stories: How an Account Director from Saatchi & Saachi Became a Boutique Hotel Startup Founder
This week's self-starter story features Roxane Gergaud, the co-founder of Doris & Dicky - an online accommodation booking website with a handpicked collection of small, charming and authentic boutique hotels from across the world for around £100 per night.
An avid traveller, Roxane and her husband Richard had the idea for Doris & Dicky having grown tired of how long it would take to find small and interesting boutique hotels that they could actually afford.
Overwhelmed by the amount of choice on big online travel agents and cautious of customer reviews – they craved curation and a website that made these small and charming hidden gems easy to book.
It was when Roxane and Richard’s friends started coming to them for recommendations, knowing how seriously they took their holidays, that they realized it wasn’t just them.
So they got to work – listing down all their favourite boutique hotels and it went from there. They now list over 500 boutique hotels from across the world each for around £100/night and all bookable through their simple and secure site.
In terms of dividing the workload Roxane leads on the marketing, sales and customer experience side, whilst Richard looks after the money and technology.
They're joined by a team of freelance travel editors and hotel reviewers who continue looking for the best, affordably priced boutique hotels to offer to their customers.
PickYourselfUK caught up with Roxane to find out more about what lead to them to being where they are today. Roxane tells me it was their love of travel that lead to them realising there was a gap in the market for small affordable hotels.
So making the most challenging decision, which was leaving the comfort of a salary and day job in advertising and finance, Roxane and Richard took the leap to quit their jobs, only a year after the business was launched.
How do they market their business? Roxane's background in Advertising has clearly come in handy. Doris & Dicky has received widespread press mentions in the BBC, The Times, Guardian, Daily Mail and more.
They've also partnered with like-minded brands, focus on targeted digital marketing and have a large customer database that they market to directly.
How did they start their database from zero to what it is today? Roxane tells me that they had themselves in mind as the target market when they first started marketing their business.
'Because it was a personal pain-point, we modeled our efforts to reflect what we would be looking for as customers.
However within a few months from launch, we discovered that not only were we attracting young professionals but empty-nesters came out of the woodwork too, also looking for those charming, unique and independent places to stay within a certain price point.
We built our database through offering timely and relevant content and working with like-minded partners to tap into existing and engaged audiences.'
Roxane says that the good thing about being a startup is that you can be agile. Disseminate your message and value proposition as far and wide as possible and see what sticks.
You'll find that when you build a presence across a number of channels, its the collective effect of all your efforts that contribute to the growth of your mailing list, builds domain authority and ultimately results in bookings.
As we work within the travel industry we know that the decision process to make a booking takes time. Customers might discover your website, then your social media pages, then come back to your website three or four times before they decide to make a booking.
So all your combined efforts across multiple channels should contribute towards the overall feeling of your brand. Having a consistent brand voice is essential.
‘We are in the business of holidays and have a focus on friendly and cosy boutique hotels - so one of the first decisions we made was to ensure that our customers felt that friendly, approachable warmth at every touch point.
Even when we do B2B outreach, we maintain the same experience across the board.’
I asked Roxane how they measured their success and she responded with customer satisfaction. Not sales, not conversions or a low customer acquisition cost. No, it was customer satisfaction.
At the heart of everything they do, what really matters to them, is the customer and their experience.
'The most rewarding part of my job is when we receive a review from one of our customers confirming they had a fantastic stay at one of the boutique hotels we recommended. That gives me immense satisfaction.’
Running a business can sound like it’s a glamorous thing to do, but the reality is far from that. You’re isolated most of the time, work unsociable hours and have to keep going even when you’re having a bad day.
The important thing is making sure you give yourself some time for breathing, so that when you're on, you can truly be 'ON'.
Roxane recommends that small business entrepreneurs make sure they take some time off each week to recalibrate and get away from work.
‘Its so important to force yourself to take time out, because when you launch a business it becomes all-consuming – evenings and weekends rapidly disappear and a few months later you can find yourself burnt out.
Time away from the business is not only important for self-preservation but it can often bring a fresh perspective.
The separation of work and personal life is particularly tricky when your husband is your business partner! But you have to draw a line - when you're at work, you are at work and when you're at home, you're at home. It’s very important to make that distinction from the start.’
Roxane's advice to hopeful entrepreneurs is to think their idea through carefully for a while and really stress-test the concept.
In terms of where to start she firmly believes it’s vital for any new business owner to have realistic and measurable goals.
Start with your long-term goals in mind and break it down into more manageable chunks.
‘It’s easy to feel deflated if you are constantly focused on long-term, high-level goals. By breaking these down into what needs to be achieved each day / month / year and ticking these off as you go – it is far easier to measure your progress and keep yourself buoyed up with this sense of achievement.
Another important thing to remember is to celebrate your successes, however small, you’re your number one cheerleader now.’
If you'd like to follow Roxane’s journey, you can do so via their social media channels and website linked below.
Doris & Dicky have qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, all you need to do is submit your story here:
Voting for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 will take place in November 2017 so make sure you get those entries submitted to qualify.