Adventures tailor-made for City boy weekends

IT’S the perennial Monday morning question: “What did you do over the weekend?” And in most offices: “Erm, not much,” just doesn’t cut it week after week. Especially in the City, where even the most passive of activities can be made competitive. Three men – Alastair Poulain, a former venture capitalist, Nick Newbury who worked as a corporate financer at ING and Tom Barber, previously a journalist – took the problem and made a business out of the solution. “Little beats the feeling of coming into the office on Monday and saying that you went dog-sledging in Lapland,” says Poulain.

“There was a huge gap in the market for ‘big short breaks’, that is, original trips that require little or no time off work,” explains Newbury. “The thing about the City is that your boss doesn’t want you to take a holiday and you don’t want to take one either because you’re convinced that when you get back a young gun in the office will have nicked your job.”

Their business journey began in a spare room in 2003. Now they have a three-storey office, thirty staff and a cabinet stuffed full of business awards. But before they quit their jobs and took on the business full time, they drafted together a business plan and pooled their funds, using £44,000 of savings to kick-start the adventure.

“We didn’t have a marketing budget in the first year,” Poulain explains, “so it was a matter of sending out hundreds of emails to our friends in the City, letting them know we existed. It’s amazing we grew so fast.” They expanded far more speedily than they had imagined. “We had planned to stay in the spare room for a year and a half, but through a combination of a lack of space and how bad Tom smelt in the morning, we decided to move into a bigger space earlier than expected.”

The group opted for an injection of private equity finance to grow the business in 2008: “I think our knowledge of the private equity industry made it much easier to find the funding we wanted,” says Newbury. “We knew from experience that some funding offers can be really aggressive and domineering. It was for that reason, we actually chose not to go with the company that valued the business at the highest level, but instead for the deal we were most comfortable with.”

But that wasn’t the only advantage that City life gave the trio: “I think our original niche came from the fact that other travel agencies weren’t sensitive enough to the needs of City workers,” Barber explains. “Two-thirds of us,” he laughs at himself, “were accustomed to being super-stressed out and didn’t have time to organise adventurous short breaks.”

Company name: Original Travel

Size: Its compound annual growth rate in revenue terms has hit 50 per cent over the last three years

Staff: 30

Awards: BT Essence of the Entrepreneur 2008; Runner Up Best Applied Brand in Leisure Sector, Marketing 2003; Guardian Observer Awards: Best Short Break Tour Operator 2008; Best Tour Operator 2007; Best Brochure 2005, 2003

Meet the management

Name: Nick Newbury

Title: Co-founder and chief executive

Age: 38

Studied: French and Economics, Durham University

Talent: “Sadly, Excel-geek is the one I’m normally labelled with.”

Name: Alastair Poulain

Title: Co-founder and chief operator

Age: 38

Studied: History, Bristol University

Talent: “I won the Victor Ludorum twice in 1985 and 1986.”

Name: Tom Barber

Title: Co-founder and director for product development

Age: 38

Studied: Psychology, Durham University

Talent: “Writing and spotting a trend.”