First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Matt Fox: We’re surviving, thank you. With young children in the family, the initial task of homeschooling and keeping them busy was a challenge; however, we ensured that we were able to get out to do things like play football, which ensured our physical and mental wellbeing. We also had to deal with a house move and change of schools, which was challenging, but now the kids are settled, and compared to a lot of other people, I feel super lucky.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Snaptrip.
Matt Fox: I’ve been the founder of the Rest Easy Group for 7 years now. We started as Snaptrip, a last-minute marketplace to book a discount UK holiday but have since expanded through acquisitions and in-house ventures to run 8 different websites, including LateRooms.com, Dog Friendly Cottages, and Big Cottages. Prior to that, I worked in marketing and operations for a company called Pureholidayhomes.com after a career in PR, so I’ve always had an interest in the UK travel market and launched Snaptrip as I really saw an opportunity to connect suppliers and customers more efficiently, particularly in the last-minute market of self-catering.
How does Snaptrip innovate?
Matt Fox: We focus on where we can drive value for customers and suppliers and look at opportunities that others may not think of. Our vision as a company is to become the home of the UK’s leading accommodation marketplaces – and by “leading,” we really want to focus on our customers, giving consumers a choice and the best price and giving suppliers access to the best consumers. We try to do this through innovative technology and a value-added user experience. We don’t limit ourselves to a particular niche (e.g., last-minute), market (e.g., the UK), or accommodation type (e.g., cottages). We look at where our knowledge, process, and focus on the customer can give us an edge ahead of others in the market, and so few people do what we do, how we do it.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Matt Fox: Operating in the travel sector, it’s had a huge impact. From March to June, booking volumes dropped to next to nothing, and we had to really work out how to manage cashflow, workload (or lack of it due to volume falling), and how to keep the company alive. Then, working in domestic travel, because people couldn’t or didn’t want to travel internationally, as soon as Boris Johnson revealed on June 22nd that people would be able to travel domestically on July 4th, our demand and volume went through the roof. The challenge, like the rest of the sector, became how to manage that volume.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Matt Fox: Of course, at the start of the pandemic, we had to decide when we wanted to close the office (we decided to a couple of weeks before the national lockdown), and then when booking volume dropped, we had to work out how best to manage cashflow, furloughing staff, payouts, etc. to ensure that the company had a future. It was emotionally very challenging, and I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve pulled through, but I guess it was a lesson in crisis management and one which I feel very happy to have gotten through.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Matt Fox: I try my best to take time to acknowledge it and deal with it rather than let it boil over. Regular exercise helps, as does time alone to process my thoughts.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Matt Fox: As mentioned, nobody does the exact thing we do; however, there are a number of players, big and small, operating in the self-catered space – Booking.com, Airbnb, HomeToGo, etc. We’re obviously a much smaller (albeit growing) company than those guys. We stay relevant by focusing on the things we do well, which may not be as important when you get to the billion-dollar scale of some of those competitors. I’d tell you what those things were, but I don’t want to give away all of our secrets!
Your final thoughts?
Matt Fox: The pandemic has been super scary and disruptive, both personally and professionally, for all of us. It can take a huge mental toll on a person, and my advice for anybody out there is to make sure you take some time to work on your mental and physical health. This will better equip you to deal with the professional challenges you’re facing. Also, make sure you have a good team around you (again, both personally and professionally) to deal with whatever is thrown up and lean on them for support.