Lifestyle and marketing platform Out There is aiming to ensure that the world stays busy
Organising activities for the weekend can be a struggle for full-time workers. As their weeks flash by in a haze of deadlines, meetings and workouts, they can be forgiven for finding themselves with nothing to do once Saturday comes knocking. Fortunately, lifestyle and marketing platform Out There is doing its bit to simplify the planning process.
The brainchild of husband and wife team David and Nicola Palmer, Out There doubles up as an activity-finding service for the general public and a marketing tool for local leisure companies. Customers can either sign up for newsletters on events, places and services in their area or simply peruse Out There’s website, scanning the pages for things to do. Either way, advertisers benefit from the permission-based marketing approach as they can be certain their audience actually wants to see their advertising.
But while Out There might sound like a credible business model, its future as an enterprise wasn’t always set in stone. “It was never our plan to start a business,” says Nicola Palmer. “It evolved by itself.”
Out There’s origins can be traced back almost a decade to when the couple began renting out their holiday home on Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. “We quickly discovered that we were quite good at renting out our home,” says Palmer.
It wasn’t long before neighbours and friends began asking the couple to rent out their holiday homes too – not just in Spain but across the globe. And this is what sparked the Palmers’ first venture: Perfect Getaways. Launched in 2007, the company specialised in renting out properties to travellers who were weary of hotels and would rather opt for a home-away-from-home experience.
As the company grew, Perfect Getaways took up an increasing amount of the couple’s time. Palmer soon chose to forgo her financial services job in order to work on the startup full-time. “And then David was offered a redundancy on a really good plan,” she explains. “So he took the deal and started working for the business full-time a couple of years after I did.”
Having established Perfect Getaways, the Palmers decided to launch a second venture in 2013: My Travel Pal. The platform, an early version of what eventually became Out There, catered to travellers looking for things to do whilst on vacation in Europe. “When you rent private holiday accommodation, you don’t have a concierge advising you on the best places to eat or where the nearest golf course is,” explains Palmer. And that’s exactly what the Palmers’ new platform set out to solve. “It is like travelling with a pal who tells you about all the best things to do,” she adds.
As Palmer explains, there were some very sound reasons why My Travel Pal was launched on the continent and not in Britain. “We avoided the UK market at the time because we felt that competitors like Groupon had filled the market already,” she says.
However, launching My Travel Pal in Europe proved trickier than expected. “We quickly realised that Europe was a very difficult market for us to get into because it required us to sell our product on a face-to-face basis,” explains Palmer. Opting out of constant business trips, the Palmers decided to bring My Travel Pal back home to Blighty where another surprise was waiting for them. Instead of travellers looking for new and exciting things to do whilst on vacation, the marketing platform’s main UK audience turned out to be locals searching for things to do on their days off. “We didn’t expect that,” confesses Palmer.
Adjusting to the revelation, the Palmers reimagined and relaunched My Travel Pal as Out There in 2015. They also opted for a slightly different growth strategy, solving a problem from their days in Europe in the process. “We decided to franchise so that franchisees could go and do the face-to-face meetings,” Palmer explains. Franchising also meant that the couple avoided giving away huge chunks of their company to investors and saved them having to employ people across the country themselves.
Just two months shy of its one-year anniversary, Out There has 12 franchisees covering 22 areas across the UK. Suffice to say, each franchisee has been carefully selected by the Palmers. “We need people who understand the trials and tribulations of running a business, as well as the hard work that comes with it,” explains Palmer. “We will turn someone down if they think that they can do it part-time or that it is going to be a quick and easy way to raise money.”
To ensure that service is kept consistent across the country, new franchisees embark on a four-day training course where they learn more about how the company operates. They also have a chance to attend a one-day sales academy run by Neil Clough, a former contestant on The Apprentice who is currently serving as non-executive director of Out There.
But the support doesn’t end with the training. Out There’s central account management team is just a phone call away, eager to pounce on every opportunity to help franchisees set up meetings with clients or to assist them during those appointments.
The Palmers’ investment in the technology behind Out There has also helped deliver consistency across the network. “Our website does a lot of things for us automatically,” she explains. “At the push of a button, it sends out everything for us; it can set up an advert and it ensures that we keep the service the same.”
Given they run a company that caters to consumers’ weekend plans, it is not surprising that the Palmers leave their jobs at the office. “We completely switch off,” Palmer says. “We used to work from home in the beginning, which was a challenge. But now that we have two young children, we don’t do any work in the evenings or at the weekend.”
And while other business leaders may refrain from working with their spouses, the Palmers are adamant that they benefit from the partnership. “He’s good at some things and I am better at others, so we complement each other really well,” says Palmer.
Ultimately, the couple aims to expand Out There to the continent and across the pond. But growing the company domestically is their first priority. “We’ve got lots that we want to do here,” explains Palmer. “We want to establish national partnerships with different businesses in the leisure industry.”
Although the Palmers hooked up with the likes of Ryanair during their Perfect Getaway days, building those relationships is still some way down the road for Out There. The company first has to grow to at least 60 territories across the UK. “We are running quite an aggressive marketing plan to sell those areas or to employ people there ourselves,“ continues Palmer. “So we’re probably looking at the end of this year.”
Once those relationships are established – a process the Palmers expect will take two to three years – they’ll look to expand Out There beyond the borders of the UK. “We’ve left Europe for the moment,” Palmer concludes.