Having had his business idea dismissed by BBC Dragon Duncan Bannatyne, Lee McAteer set out to prove a novice British entrepreneur could launch a millennial travel brand to rival the famous Camp America.
In 2010, the Merseyside-born founder launched AmeriCamp as a direct rival to the American institution, and has now doubled the latter’s social media following.
McAteer now oversees 30 brands as part of his Invasion Group, spanning city breaks and even a new music festival in Budapest. With Camp Thailand, now the UK’s most popular summer camp programme, he has kept ahead of a market that is turning its head from the United States to Asia.
Business Advice sat down with McAteer to find out how he scaled his company into a market leader and what opportunities he sees around the corner.
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Lee McAteer and I am the co-founder of Invasion Camp Group. This includes brands such as AmeriCamp, Invasion.com, AusJob, Camp.co.uk, What Marketing Company, Wrestling Travel, amongst others.
Specialising in the travel, cultural exchange, media and marketing sectors, our core demographic is entrenched in the 18 to 30 sector. We create trips for students all around the world, gap year experiences, offer incredible summer camp opportunities and do the marketing for many blue-chip companies.
How long have you been around for?
Invasion and AmeriCamp was created in 2010 but we didn’t properly work on it full time until late-2013.
How do you make money?
Very much depends on the brand and varies dependent on the travel, cultural exchange, recruitment and marketing sectors we are in.
What was key in terms of getting started?
After experiencing a summer camp in the USA with another provider, I thought that there must be a better way of doing it. I forked out a lot to get there and was paid a very low salary. It was a matter of principle for me. The idea after camp was to travel America, but my salary didn’t allow me to do this as I had paid so much to get there and therefore I had to head home back to the UK right after.
From this, AmeriCamp was born and we have been named “Best Summer Camp Organisation” for the past seven years.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Changing the lives of thousands and thousands of people through cultural exchange. By bringing people together, we can understand one another more and through communication and understanding the world becomes a much better and safer place.
What setbacks have you had along the way?
We have had partners owe us considerable amounts of money. Having had no external investment every penny counts, and you have to have contingency plans for a rainy day. Never put all your eggs in one basket because those that have the most options are always the ones that win.
Can you identify one specific moment that changed the course of your business?
When I decided to go full-time on my business ideas, the productivity and results shot up.
We had Budweiser sponsor all of our Invasion Events across Europe and they gave us literally thousands and thousands of bottles of beer. It was at that precise point, we knew we had something special. The issue we had at the time was we had nowhere to put it or the money to store it, but as my Dad said: “Don’t worry son, that’s a problem we can handle.”
In five years’ time, I will be…
Creating my next idea on a beach in Florida.
What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Ask yourself how badly you want it. Lots of people say they are entrepreneurs, but they are not it’s simply a status. Be prepared to die for the cause because it’s amazing how many sleepless nights I have had for what people refer to as overnight success.
Who are your business heroes and why?
Vince McMahon from WWE.
Through great adversity, he has created a billion-dollar company that has more collective influence on social media, through all of the superstars and sub-brands than anyone else in the world outside of the social channels themselves.
It’s theatre and the vast majority of all my marketing campaigns and skill sets have come from seeing what WWE have done or are doing.
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