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Our founder's story

She's a mum of three, she has no formal business training and her careers advisor told her she would never amount to anything. If you're feeling inspired to start your own businesses here's what Founder, Abi, has to say about her journey.

Tell us a little about your background?

I am from Newton Abbot in Devon where my mum was a housewife and my dad was a double glazing salesman. I went to the local school and then on to Glamorgan University to do Communication and Media Studies before going on to Cardiff University for a postgraduate qualification in journalism.

I don't have any formal business training and I have a vivid memory of my careers advisor telling me that I wouldn’t ever amount to anything. I should possibly thank her because I've definitely striven to prove her wrong and to make sure I never make anyone else feel like that.

After university I worked as a freelance journalist but quickly realised I was better suited to marketing. I spent time contract negotiating in Maritime Security, and then following 9/11 I moved to a small collection of hotel spas. That was really the lightbulb moment for me and where the idea for began.

How did the idea come to you for

It was while working with this small collection of hotels that I realised there was an opportunity to change the way spas were marketed, and to alter the perception of spas by working with them to help realise their commercial potential whilst still showcasing the integrity of the industry. I started in 2008 when my first son was four months old (I now have three children). It was just two interns and myself at the time, and it was right in the middle of a recession, when the discount model, Groupon, was in full flow and people thought I was mad starting what was in essence a luxury brand with a view to opening a UK-based call-centre. However, I knew it was the right thing for me, for the industry and for the customers I was trying to reach.

How did you achieve awareness for the brand? is, in its most basic essence, a marketing platform for spas and the spa industry, so it's really leveraged off the growth in digital marketing. Obviously there's a lot that goes into that and it's grown and developed over time.

When you start you have almost no money to put into anything. Now we're more strategic and knowledgeable about when, what and how we do things. For example, during and after the pandemic we invested in our proprietary tech stack and improved the customer digital journey, operational and fulfilment efficiencies. Updates included category innovations, more products, the integration of a Global GDS for spa treatment times and dynamically priced bedroom stock. We also wrote the code so that £4m worth of vouchers could be redeemed online instead of over the phone to make the customer experience easier. We’re always looking at how we can improve things.

Despite all the technology however, I think what's important at its core is that has been built on communication. It's a network of more than 600 spa destinations and, now, over a million spa users. Day one, awareness came from picking up the phone to the people I knew in the industry, putting together packages of spa experiences that I knew people wanted to make them more accessible than piecing together your day from a list of treatments that don't necessarily make a lot of sense on a menu. We then set out our stall online and answered the phone ourselves to people who wanted to book.

It was pretty rudimentary at the time, but the core was about making it easy for people to understand what was available in spas, and connecting the right destination with the right customers.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

We had some initial investment but in truth the company has been self-funded almost from day one. We don't spend what we don't have, but we do reinvest pretty aggressively in our people, in our marketing capabilities, in our technology and in our website.

What are's key successes?

I think this falls into two categories - the things I am personally proud of and the things that are clear milestones for the company.

In terms of milestones, reaching the number two position in The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 in 2012 was a game changer. Financial growth year-on-year never fails to be an achievement for every member of the team, and then I think coming through the pandemic when so many businesses floundered was a real collective achievement for every member of the company. We have won multiple awards along the line, which I am eternally grateful for, and we moved our team to Brighton in 2017, in order to facilitate a more positive work/life balance, which I'm really pleased we did.

On a personal level, I think there are two things I am most proud of. The first, always, is my team. I have always said that the best thing that you can do as a business (but also in life) is to surround yourself with people who are as positive, excited and passionate as you are, but who bring their own gifts and perspectives to their roles. I have the most energetic and proactive team you could ask for in all departments, and I am privileged to have some people who have been with me practically from the start. They keep me grounded and motivated in equal measure.

The second thing is that as a team we not only work hard on our core business, but also to positively influence and support the spa industry. We have done (and continue to do) a lot of work to make spas more accessible. This has been particularly positive in supporting anyone with cancer to be able to enjoy a spa break by promoting better knowledge and therapist training standards. We are also really passionate about showing the value of the spa industry to national health, and as a major employer in the UK as well.

What were/are the business challenges and how have you overcome these?

I think the thing to remember is that there will always be challenges, some are bigger than others but they are always there. From a business perspective, Covid was a major hurdle, as it was for everyone. At the point when lockdown was announced on 23rd March 2020 the company faced three key challenges:

  • The voucher and heavy booking period as well as the nature of cash flow in the business meant that at that date it owed significant amounts of booking fees to spas for trips that could not take place
  • They were faced not only with the total cessation of income as spas closed
  • In addition they had 6000 spa bookers seeking refunds

In 24-hours we pivoted the business model, turning it almost exclusively into a customer services company for a period of time, handling deferred bookings and refunds. In order to make that happen, many team members had to take on customer service roles in order to meet the influx of calls and enquiries. The willingness of the team as a whole to ‘muck in’ speaks to their dedication to the company and hopefully the culture we have created. That comes back to surrounding yourself with great people. I don't think we would still be here without that dedication, which went over and beyond the call of duty.

That really speaks to a wider and ongoing challenge, which is to attract great people and nurture them within the team. It's not easy to find people who are great at what they do, so on a personal as well as professional note I can't express how much we value those within our team. We try to nurture people within their roles and to help them grow with us. I am sure we don't get it right all the time and I always want to do more, but I think the day we feel we're doing everything is probably the day we have lost touch a bit.

The final challenge that I think it’s really important to talk about is keeping your own head straight. I am the first to admit that I am not always great at looking after my own health, but there are things that I cleave to that help me keep my head on track when life, the world and the universe, or just my own little demons try to get in the way. Walking the dog has always been a bit of a sanctuary for me, but once again, those all important people you have around you - your team, who check your thinking and give you a boost - they’re essential.

What are your plans now and for the future?

The industry as a whole is still struggling quite a lot with the compounding impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Commercially, our goal on that side is to support our spa partners and to drive business to them as much as possible by making sure we're meeting customer wants and needs in our products and marketing. We also continue to be dedicated to making the spa world more accessible, and to highlighting its value for individual and collective health. We know that this is an industry that can and does deliver enormous, meaningful good and I'm determined to make the world see that.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

I think if you really want to start your own business, the real message is to start. Dr. Susan Jeffers coined the term 'feel the fear and do it anyway', and I think there's a lot of truth in that. It's not to say that you should go into something blindly or unprepared - you absolutely need to think things through, but you will never have a risk free, perfect plan. At some point you have to just start and work it out from there. I would also say that if you don't feel you have formal business training, don't see that as a barrier to entry - you don't have to have all the answers, you just need to know what questions to ask, and that's where it becomes incredibly important to surround yourself with good people who you trust.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

  1. Surround yourself with good people
  2. Do your research and then trust your gut
  3. Look for opportunities in spaces that you know
  4. Have the humility to know that you don't know everything and be ok with that
  5. Know that success is both subjective and an ongoing journey - not a destination

Who are the five people who inspire you the most and why?

Oh wow, lots of people inspire me in different ways. The top three are my children - like most mothers, I find my children to be a constant source of inspiration and humility. The youngest is now eight and the eldest is 16 and they challenge me, restore me, inspire me and open my mind to new ways of thinking on a daily basis. No one will make you feel quite as proud or quite as humble as your children.

My dad is sadly no longer with us, but he was phenomenally kind and supportive, so I have taken enormous inspiration from that and always seek to emulate that in my personal and professional life.

The fifth is quite different, but in recent years, Jacinda Ardern's views on leadership, and I think in particular what stereotypically feminine traits can bring to leadership, have put words to something that I have often felt but not been able to articulate. She said: “I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” I think that determination to bring empathy into work and leadership spaces is profoundly strong and very much needed.

What is one of your favourite inspirational quotes?

It changes over time, but one that continues to resonate time and again is from that great philosopher, Christopher Robin in A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh: "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and loved more than you know."

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