On the up · 3 August 2018

Oliver’s Travels: Why starting a business with a buddy is a good idea

Oliver Bell and Ravi Sabharwal

After finishing university it’s pretty standard for young Brits to go on a blowout vacation before settling down into corporate culture. However, these two school friends were that inspired by their 32-person trip to a French chateau that they went home and started their own property rental business.

With over 14 years of experience, Oliver’s Travels, run by Oliver Bell and Ravi Sabharwal, is now the perfect choice when it comes to pairing customers with quirky and unique holiday homes.

Business Advice caught up with Sabharwal to discover how far and wide their properties span and what’s next for the duo.

Who are you and what is your business?

Oliver and I are old school friends, and ever since I can remember, the plan was always to start a business together. Once our respective gap years and degrees were secured, that’s exactly what we did.

As the years have passed, the brand has aesthetically and technically had ongoing changes, but what remains the same is that we continue to rent the coolest, most diverse, quirky and exciting collection of luxury villas and castles ever assembled throughout Europe and the Caribbean – with more destinations launching very soon.

Where did the concept come from?

Oliver and I went on a chateau holiday with university buddies to the Dordogne in southwest France. The intention was to book a cheap but a rather large property. However, what was booked was a great deal more exciting than that (with bells on).

Convinced of the ensuing idea to rent castles, I was persuaded to jump ship from Quintessentially, and we launched Simply Chateau where we sold beautiful chateaus and manors for vacancies to families and students alike!

How did you fund your business?

Olly and I are immensely proud that we have retained full ownership of the company. In fact, we started the company in a negative position with the bank as we were laden with debt (what student isn’t?).

Still, to this day, we have no overdrafts and no loans, the company has successfully been built organically.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

The biggest challenge was building enough product to be able to launch. Once we had around 50 properties, we self-taught ourselves to build a website from scratch (as we hadn’t the funds to seek expertise!) and waited anxiously for our first transaction. This followed 6 months later after we first shook hands to kick off Simply Chateau.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

The staff that make Oliver’s Travels what it is today. We’ve been incredibly lucky in recruiting some very clever and wonderfully talented individuals. Olly and I couldn’t be prouder of team OT.

What marketing strategies have you used?

In the old days, it was merely word of mouth and leafleting! Today we use several strategies and rely on Google, SEO, PR, content & social media and of course, our loyal and increasing gang of repeat bookers.

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Oliver and I will be running the biggest villa company on the planet. We had a slow start, but my word are we catching up. You heard it here first!

Who are your business heroes and why?

It would have to be Del and Rodney Trotter. Never stop believing and this time next year you really might be that millionaire.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Only pen a business plan if you are raising money, let the market therefore decide where your business takes you.

Be it a cliché, but start a business with a buddy, I have a great one in Olly. Look for a like-minded pal that shares the same vision but also someone you can trust. If starting a business were easy, everyone would be doing it. And never forget to think big.

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

I golf, I find it’s the perfect de-stressor after a long week. And Oliver is always on the go, running around after his two amazing young daughters.

Last series you binge-watched?

Breaking Bad which I thought made sensational viewing. Now, Olly is keen to get me watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I might have to start that one next.

What three things can’t you live without?

I can’t imagine a life without coming into work, we really do love everything about Oliver’s Travels. But besides work, it would have to be mini breaks and a glass of beer each evening.

What app do you use the most?

It might come across as snobby, so I do apologise in advance, but at the moment I’m using my BA app. We are tying up a few acquisitions so I need to travel quite a bit.

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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.