We’re very pleased to announce today the very first episode of the Leicester Startups Podcast.
This monthly series aims to shine a light on talent from across Leicester and Leicestershire to inspire listeners, whatever stage of the entrepreneurial journey they are on.
In upcoming episodes we have founders discussing their successes, like securing millions of pounds of funding, to failures like losing their homes because of their business.
The very first episode is a conversation with James Wormington, the founder of the travel app Travamigos. He talks about rum, walking out of Dragon’s Den and getting fired from every job he’s had.
You can download the Leicester Startups Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or simply clicking below.
This episode is kindly brought to you by Twist and Shout Communications, a production team that aims to entertain and inform; because they know that when people smile, they’re engaged. And it’s smiles that get shared. Visit www.twistandshout.co.uk/ for more.
Manish Verma 0:00
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James Wormington 0:25
You know, every founder has one of those startup stories, you know, that dates back to when they’re at school, really,
Manish Verma 0:29
James Wormington is 25 years old, from Groby in Leicestershire. And from a young age, he showed signs of being a serial entrepreneur.
James Wormington 0:39
And you know, I had the standard sort of car washing round. I had a landscaping round in three villages and actually had people working for me at that time. So when I was 13, or 14, I was making probably about 300 pounds a week.
Manish Verma 0:52
Gardening, car washing, and he even made holly wreaths at one point. Then at around 17, or 18, turned to drink. No, he didn’t become an alcoholic. He actually started selling his own brand of rum. He and his friend thought that vodka had had it stay. And now rum was on the rise. His company Crest turned over 15-thousand pounds in just nine months. But then…
James Wormington 1:19
To be honest, we failed to get a sort of a direct link with the distillery. Right. It was hard for us, right? So we didn’t really we sort of came to a natural end.
Manish Verma 1:28
Now though, James doesn’t mow lawns nor is he in the booze business. He’s the founder and CEO of Travamigos, the group travel app with more than 10,000 users, and a company valuation of 1.5 million pounds. Hi, I’m Manish Verma. And welcome to the Leicester Startups Podcast.
How does a young entrepreneur and you know from a young age by the sounds of it, when you’re mowing people’s lawns or making rum? And how does someone like that fair at school?
James Wormington 2:13
Not very well at all. So I’ve got an attention deficit disorder. So it was diagnosed with me, actually, quite recently, to be fair, but I always knew that I’d sort of had it because my attention span on you know, even the simplest projects is just know, non existent. I don’t read books,because I just can’t. I’ll get to like page 50. And it’ll be like “Dave said”, and I’d be like who’s Dave? So I’ll have to read back. So school really bad. So I went, went left school and joined as a quanity surveyor with David Wilson Homes. I actually had seven jobs since I’ve left school.
Manish Verma 2:50
Seven jobs since you’ve left school and 25?!
James Wormington 2:54
So I know, they all realise this isn’t just isn’t working. So my, my career life revolved around me passing my probation because I’m a nice lad, enthusiastic. And then when they actually got into the nitty gritty, they were like, you just really can’t do this, can you? And I’m like, No.
Manish Verma 3:10
So went through seven jobs. At that point, when you’re going through those jobs, like, you just getting downhearted like what am i going to do with my life?
James Wormington 3:18
Not really, because when when I’ve when I’ve been sort of having these, these jobs, always on in the background there’s been another business. I left the sort of rum businesses aside, and then founded an app when I was 20/21. And basically, it was an app that allowed you to sort of store your social media credentials in a wallet. So if and me met for the first time we can exchange social media credentials within five minutes on a QR code rather than searching through every social media platform. It was called bunch Bunch. But basically, I offshored the development to India. And that came back what was supposed to be three months came back two and a half months later. And I went and got some consultancy on it. And they were like, if you launch Bunch, you get sued by Facebook, Instagram. Because they want people to go through their websites. And I was basically allowing a side door.
Manish Verma 4:21
And that wouldn’t have been allowed?
James Wormington 4:22
No, not at all. But that but this they’re all things to keep me excited throughout work. And even Travamigos has been a side project for two years. But we got some investment. So that was the first my first experience in sort of pre seed investment. So a guy give us 60 grand worth of development costs. But basically, it was, it was like it was it was basically a bit of a shyster, okay. And he was like, I’ll give you six thousand pounds worth of development costs, and took a percentage in the business. But we actually we actually had to pay 9000 pounds. So I had to give him nine grand, right? And then he put in his development time. And that’s how it was. But realistically, the whole project was just nine grand anywhere. I mean, you know, they always say that your first presidency is going to fail or not. And I actually do sort of believe that a little bit. If you try and go into business from nothing from nothing into business on your own, then nine times out of 10 that will be a disaster.
Manish Verma 4:44
So from the disaster of bunch, James took a hunch, or maybe not so much of a hunch. James has a unique ability to spot gaps in markets. And it was on the beaches of Brazil, that he had a thought…
James Wormington 5:53
I was walking down Copacabana Beach, drinking a 50p pints of Brahma, which was really really nice because its brewed in Rio. I was sat down and watching the sunset, and I was on my own. And I thought to myself, you know, there’s only so much posting on Instagram I can do to really make people like jealous, I suppose. But realistically, no one sort of here with me. So the only options I had were to go up to random people and be like, hey, do you want to come and sit on a beach with me. Which, which everyone’s gonna be a bit weird. I’ve get anxiety over that. And also, like download Tinder. But that’s more like a hook up style thing. And all I wanted to do was just share a few beers with a couple of mates. And so Travamigos was born basically. And that’s like I say, an app that now allows solo travellers to connect with groups of people going to the same destination. And our major, major major thing is sort of like experience shared. That’s where we hit from, but like I say, sort of no synergy between anything that I was doing before it’s just my makeup is, is one that can spot gaps in markets.
Manish Verma 6:54
That you’re on this beach, having this drink, and that she realised that you weren’t there with people. And that’s actually what you missed I guess?
James Wormington 6:56
And it made it quite an underwhelming experience. And also, I felt quite unsafe as well. Because Rio’s like quite brutal for like beach robberies. And in fact, I did get robbed in Rio. So guy came up to me, and he was just literally as plain as day just dipped his hands in my pockets in front of my face. And I was like, I was so shocked. Yeah, that I just couldn’t believe what was going on. And I looked over and he got all these like, mates with him or whatever. So I was just like, look, just take it. But I wasn’t scared or anything. I was just completely shocked. Yeah, that he was so brash, and just no care in the world. And then you think you know, those sort of things don’t happen when you’re in a group. Well, they happen a lot less.
Manish Verma 7:42
And so just explain them for someone who’s never downloaded the app before, and will then after this, what should they expect to find and what they will be able to do with it?
James Wormington 7:53
So when a user first downloads Travamigos, they’re presented with the sort of trending destinations. So along the top will be destinations based on live app search data. So someone creates a trip in India, for example, or Thailand. And they’ll appear, number one is the trend, it’s like hot at the moment. And then the users can either dive into one of those countries or do like a search so they can search for, you know, dates, trip type, destination, and just be presented with a couple of user generated groups. Or if they don’t see what they’re looking for, they can create a group of their own. This group can be shared on social media or, you know, the other app users can sort of join them along their way. Okay. But it’s basically sort of an app that facilitates that meeting it with you before you go, just to feel you know, safer, have a bit of a cheaper experience, and overall, make it a bit more social.
Manish Verma 8:44
Let’s go back then you’re on the beach, you’ve had this great idea. How did you get from there to where you are now, which is a really, if you don’t mind me saying as well, I download it, it’s really very good looking, really well functioning app. How do get from that idea in your head to where you are today?
James Wormington 9:04
The the number one thing that I was so pleased myself that I did was extensive, extensive market research. Now the market research process took about six months. So 2015, six months, that took us into 2016. And then we need to get the right team together. Okay, so the co founding team is literally the most important thing you’ll ever do. So like I said before, we don’t want to try and go on ventures on my own, they never work. But when you sort of have a really close knit team, they do. So that finding the right people took again, probably another four to six months.
Manish Verma 9:43
Who are they? Who are these people that you and what did you need?
James Wormington 9:47
Yeah, so we needed it at some tech experience, we needed some design experience. And I also needed someone to manage the commercial partners. And obviously, we partner with Skyscanner, Hostel world, Amazon and people like that. So we needed someone said to manage that side. Because when my brain clouds, that’s when the ideas stop. So I needed the freedom to move it. So when I found a techie, really good, the guy named Steve Radford, and he’s built apps before, he’s built an app of his own. So he really knew what he was talking about on the iOS side. And Paul McKay is just amazing. With a design, you can see our sort of sexy it looks. And then actually my dad, who’s 30 years in marketing and sales came on he was like, “look, I really, really like the idea really like where it’s going”. So it’s kind of as for as a co founding team. And we work really well together.
Manish Verma 10:38
You’ve got your dad working with you. Yeah. What’s that like?
James Wormington 10:40
It was really good. Actually, I like I think when you work with family, it’s difficult because you have to like, sort of live with them. And this their respect thing as my dad, and you know, that sort of stuff. But it’s good, because we can sort of like, Oh, I’m only saying cut the bullshit a little bit. And it’s like, you don’t have to be polite. You can just say, look, this is rubbish rather than having to around the bush. Yeah. So that’s, that’s worked well, actually.
Manish Verma 11:04
And you’ve got these three of the members of staff and then yourself, then how are you affording this?
James Wormington 11:09
So at the moment, we all work on equity in the business. So basically, we we don’t pay ourselves a huge salary. And we just our sort of unique goal is to basically make the equity more valuable. So we just secured 150,000 pound investment. So that was two weeks ago, we got the money in the bank for that. And that was at 1.5 million pound valuation, which is fantastic, really. So everyone’s, you know, really inspired and motivated by the fact that the company sort of like, you know, 9/10 months old, and it’s worth it already. So they sort of work for low costs.
Manish Verma 11:48
What’s the process been like to try to even recruit people to find funding?
James Wormington 11:53
Yeah, absolutely. So the problem that every startups got on the hand is, you know, you will not make revenue for the first probably a year or two years. But people put in their cash flows, that they can make revenue on day one, it just doesn’t happen. It really doesn’t happen. Unless you’ve got like a product business that it’s like an overnight success or something like that. But the guarantee to be a little where there’s no money coming in, and you’ve got expensive overheads to pay for, you know. I put 60 grand in myself, wow. So that was basically an accumulation of credit cards, loans, and all of that sort of stuff. But yeah, I bought I bought 60,000 in to start this business. And literally, about a month ago, it was all gone. Right. So that’s how quickly it can burn through.
Manish Verma 12:33
When you put 60 grand and loans, credit cards and stuff when you’re even applying those, you know, making those applications for those loans. Those credit cards, are you thinking ‘this is a lot of money, I’ve got to pay back eventually’. How scary is that?
James Wormington 12:49
I’m not too scared. I don’t really get too scared about that. Because it’s like, if he’s not gonna kill me, then then I’m going to do it. With with cash. You know, I’ve never been very good at money management. I’ve always been a huge risk taker. And literally my motto is, you know, I will pay off when it when I get the money. And it’s not a case of if it’s a case of sort of when, and that’s the mindset that I’m in at the moment.
Manish Verma 13:40
Let’s recap where we are. James Warmington from Groby has gone from selling rum to tech. His first startup didn’t quite start up. But his second Travamigos, an app idea conceived in Brazil in 2015 launches in Leicester, in 2018. It’s all about making travelling more social. But I’ll let James explain.
James Wormington 14:19
Yeah, so the initial idea was the sort of the group travel buddy thing. So basically, travel buddy apps on the market at the moment are just want to one, so they it’s basically a Tinder with a rebrand. So basically, what we decided to do was put them in a group and our goal was to become the best travel buddy app. And now we’ve got more active users than any other travel buddy app on the market the minute while we sort of smash those goals in the first like six months, and that was almost like a three year plan for us. We have about 10 and a half thousand active and just over 1000, user generated groups.
Manish Verma 14:59
And these are from all over the world?
James Wormington 15:02
We got downloads from five continents. So yeah, just, we really, really concentrated our marketing in the UK. So the sort of foreign downloads have just been sort of word of mouth on our Instagram page and stuff like that. Well, yeah. So we, but we’re moving global sort of back in the next year.
Manish Verma 15:19
That’s since 2018. Since you launched about a year ago. What’s that, like? From having this from this idea in your head, on a beach to having 10,000 people using your your app? What’s that like?
James Wormington 15:31
It’s, it’s, it’s good. When I must admit, it was the first group that was formed. I was like, wow, this is this is amazing. I can’t believe you’re actually using my app. That’s something I could never even imagine. But now it’s sort of like, you know, that’s a bit, it’s a bit sort of dimmed down the excitement. And it’s not on to the next thing.
Manish Verma 15:47
But what I find really interesting is the the, you mentioned it to try and make travelling a bit more social and this idea that you can chat beforehand. That’s a really, that’s a really interesting innovation that you added, I guess that nobody, no one else had.
James Wormington 16:01
Yeah, so the group system is we were the first one guys to do that. I imagined that they’ll probably be some some ones that come along. And so to stay ahead of our competition with that, that’s why we’re sort of going deeper with the tech. We’ve got exclusive partnership signed with Skyscanner and Hostel World. And we’re working towards getting Airbnb involved. We’re expanding from where we work, where where we are now.
Manish Verma 16:22
And when you say partnership with Skyscanner and Hostel World, what what does that partnership involve? How does that what does it look like?
James Wormington 16:28
Yeah, so both the both of those guys helped us get some early traction. And so we did some joint marketing with them. They also really helped us like our feet on the ground. So they’ve sent some guys over to have a look at the business model. Skyscanner, for example, doing a mentorship programme open in Edinburgh minute, which they’ve accepted me onto, which is great. So it’s just like a helping hand really from some industry giants.
Manish Verma 16:54
How do you even knock on the door of industry giants?
James Wormington 16:58
Yeah, it was crazy. So it was done through LinkedIn. So I just got a few few Connexions on LinkedIn. Leah, her name was she was the partnership manager at the time for Skyscanner. I basically just dropped her and I was like, I was like, look, can I please buy your coffee, I’ve got something really exciting to share, and went up to their offices. And literally within the first sort of 10 minutes of me being there, they were like, we love it. We absolutely love it. So this, this is more talking about the growth of .Travamigos. This is what we wanted to get them involved with. And they were like, yeah, we just fully support and believe in your plans. They there like Skyscanner never put their brand to any startup because it’s too risky. Yeah. But for you guys, you know, we can make an exception because we don’t want you to go anywhere else. And that was that was special. Yeah, that really was special to us.
Manish Verma 17:43
So how was James been able to afford all of this? Well, as you’ve had bank loans and credit cards, some small grants here and there, and then applications to innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, because travelling egos is pioneering artificial intelligence and machine learning, they’re able to apply for hundreds of thousands of pounds. But they’re not stopping there. James recently pitched his idea. In the most infamous arena, you can in the UK Dragon’s Den…
James Wormington 18:15
I naively went up to Dragon’s Den thinking that it was just going to be a conversation that would have with investors. So I’ve had conversations with investors in different countries for the past sort of like six months now and teeing them for the big round opening. And I was sort of going to get, you know, maybe maybe a dragon on board as well. But sort of went in there. And I was thinking, Oh, yeah, brilliant, you know, it’s just going to be lucky, like a chat like I normally have with an investor. But instead, it was like them trying to make a TV show. So they basically like very sort of belittling and patronise me, and I was not really given a chance to speak, they were just looking for a bite so that they could make good TV. And so I just looked at them. And I was like, look, I’m not wasting my time anymore. I’ll leave you to it in like, mid film, picked my laptop up, just walked out.
Manish Verma 18:57
No way. Yeah. And you you like, what were their reactions?
James Wormington 19:02
They were shocked. Really, Deborah Meadon was like, that’s the first time that’s ever happened ever. So the first time in sort of seven years. My mom was like, trust that to be you! Because I’m quite like, yeah, if someone’s not showing me respect, like, I’ll just leave
Manish Verma 19:17
Watching the show, they do they do needle you and obviously we see the final edit. But actually, is it quite hostile from quite early on?
James Wormington 19:28
Yes. They get you in their early doors. And it’s not very pleasant experience. When you walk in there, you know, you’re not actually into the den. You know, it’s not like smiles and nice to meet you. It’s very much sort of, you know, stern faces, which is intimidating, you know, especially for a young lad, it is intimidating, or a young girl. But ya know, it was it was a bit of a bit of a sad experience for me, because I was hoping that someone could would come out of it.
Manish Verma 19:53
And I’ve been told to ask you a storey from Sophie Hainsworth, who’s a mentor of yours, but it’s another funding story where you have to fly off to a different country.
James Wormington 20:02
Yeah. This is the world of investment that we’re in. So basically, there was a lot of foreign investors that show interest in Travamigos. They wanted to, you know, expand their portfolio internationally. So basically, we, we had a guy from Zurich flyover. And he was really keen in the business. We still speak to him now. And then some guy put another offer on the table. That was 300,000 pounds pound loan, basically. And she was doing like debt finance and that sort of thing. So we went over to, to Valencia to meet this guy. So I was on the plane. And when I landed and got signal I had lot for missed calls from him. And he was like, are you still come in blah, blah said yeah, I’ve just landed on the tarmac. I’ll see you soon sort of thing. When I was going through airport security around me again. And he was like, all right, like, why am I gonna recognise you? And I said, I’ve got beige trousers on and a white shirt. And my dad’s wearing a suit. And he says, Oh, so you come with someone else? I says yeah. He says you’ve you’ve bought someone else? He kept repeating himself at least like three or four times. I was like, yeah, like my dad’s my business partner. Like we’re coming together. And he put the phone down and blocks my number. So I was going to Valencia to meet this guy who has now turned out not to be an investor, but to be some sort of creepy dude. And then it was really weird in the news, because some holidaymakers and , they go over to Valencia to view some property. And this guy said to me was like I deal in property and all that sort of stuff. And these couple were held kidnap in one of these properties, and they tracked the emails from the guy to an internet cafe in Valencia. That is like the worst case scenario that could have happened.
Manish Verma 21:47
This is like a case of grooming online!
James Wormington 21:52
That’s it! Because because the guy flew over from Zurich to me is the time before. Yeah, it was just like, I was like, Oh, this is just sort of course. And yeah.
Manish Verma 21:59
And that brings me my next question. I guess like, what, what things do you think you’ve, what mistakes have you made?
James Wormington 22:05
To be honest, I think the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in sort of businesses is, you know, not having a direct relationship with the people that are actually doing the work. So I made that mistake on two occasions, actually, Once bitten and twice bitten! Ok. So when I when I was talking about the sort of rum, I didn’t have a good relationship with it with a distillery. And when I was talking about Bunch, you know that the tech guys were in India (You don’t know them). No, absolutely not. So luckily, I’ve learned from those mistakes, but the tech team in house, and that’s sort of like learning from those mistakes in the best way possible. But definitely, that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. Yeah, you cannot do things on your own despite how much you think you probably can. You know, you can’t. And you know, with it with a good team behind you, you you will go far. So like I say two mistakes, never ever offshore you development, and never try and do everything on your own.
Manish Verma 22:56
I get I’m getting this theme from talking to about collaboration. And also being with other people. Travamigos, essentially, is an app where you can meet other people and do you know, create fantastic memories go abroad, whatever. And it’s this idea of being with other people. And one of your biggest business lessons, again, is actually surround yourself with other people.
James Wormington 23:19
Yeah, absolutely. Like, I’m happy to walk into the boardroom and be the dumbest person in there. That’s how I like to work. I’m not, you know, ignorant in the sense that I know better than the guy who’s actually doing it like I’m not, so having that relationship and understanding between the team is fantastic.
Manish Verma 23:37
And you’ve got links in Leicester. Just explain kind of will relationships with various other organisations?
James Wormington 23:43
Yeah, so Leicester’s sort of our grassroots really. I was born in Leicester, and it’s a fantastic story for Leicester, this sort of startup. So we’re really keen to sort of keep that going. We’ve got partnerships with all the universities in Leicester. We work with creative agency called Arch. We work with Cocoon with the development guys. We’re really keen to keep sort of everything in Leicester. The only problem with staying in Leicester is there’s not enough grant funding for us. It’s not that they don’t support startups, you know, England as a as a country. Whereas Edinburgh do. They pay up to 70% of all r&d costs. Which is, which is a considerable saving, really, so we’re hoping to get a tech team set up there, but then still, sort of keep our blue colours.
Manish Verma 24:26
What does Leicester, what does it need to kind of have more people like you?
James Wormington 24:30
I think that Leicester would really benefit from like a collaborative working space. You know, Weworks in London are fantastic, because it allows everyone sort of come together in a cluster. I think it was like the TechCrunch said there was 267 startup births last year, which is fantastic in the in the tech scene, but the only problem is, you know, Leicester loses a lot to London. So I think the Midlands as a whole need to really sort of grab hold of these investors and be like, look, these are the startups that are coming through. So sort yourselves out sort of thing, so that we don’t go down to London because it is so tempting, because the money’s there.
Manish Verma 25:09
Thank you so much to James from Travamigos, and good luck to the whole team. Not that they need it. A recent 1.5 million pound valuation, three more members of staff coming on board by the end of 2019. And they’re forecasting a team of 29 by the end of 2021.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai