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About 3 weeks ago we have written about the Don't Travel Empty (DTE) coach hire and bus operators collaboration platform and it’s ambition to expand globally. We ended up with more questions than answers so today we are publishing an interview with the founder of DTE.
Here below is the transcript of RentAutobus.com director Job Smulders interview with DTE’s founder Anthony Marett. The interview was done via telephone calls and emails exchange between October the 6th and 14th of 2013. We you that all you readers are very busy so we have split the interview in 2 parts. Read th 1stpart below and we’ll publish the next part in a different post in a few days.
Job Smulders: Can you explain briefly what DTE is all about?
Anthony Marett: The primary focus of DTE is to maximize the profitability of our members coach hire companies and their vehicles by maximizing every mile they travel. We do this by Matching one members ‘full leg’ of a journey with another members ‘empty leg’. This reduces ‘dead’ miles.
JS: Where and how did you get the idea of DTE?
AM: In my family run Aylmerton Field Study Centre in Norfolk. There with our coach hire service Maretts Chariots we constantly create many Full legs and empty legs going to and from collecting and taking our groups home. So I started looking for a website where I could advertise my empty legs or full legs and was surprised to see there wasn’t one.
JS: Do you recall the exact moment? When was that?
AM: May 2007
JS: What convinced you that it was a good idea?
AM: Common sense. I had already started doubling up with groups that came in on a Monday from a similar area to a group who were going home on a Monday. I would charge both groups top rate, book an operator from their area to bring one group in and take the other home and started making massive profits.
JS: Did you do any market research to coach hire companies in the UK to investigate and to check viability of the idea?
AM: None at all
JS: Why not?
AM: Let’s call it naivety. We had just a belief that it could work. We thought to invest a couple of thousands of pounds and then would be able to see if it would work. When we 1st thought about the concept the idea was that it would a mayor public system where everybody could enter their requests for bus rentals, trips or tours. But then we changed it to be a system for coach operators only.
JS: Why did you make that change towards coach operators only?
AM: Two reasons: 1st it seemed easier to approach 4500 coach operators then 60 millions individuals. 2nd we want all the savings and additional profits to be made by our coach operators (our members) and not the end user.
JS: Did you start the DTE project alone or with partners?
AM: Just me and my business partner James Howells
JS: Is that partners still working with you?
AM: Yes, plus one other angel investor
JS: Did you get outside financing or did you fund the project from you own sources?
AM: we have invested all our own money and revenues which we generated through DTE. Over £250,000 in cash so far not to mention the time which factored in would take it to well over half a million.
JS: How long did it took you to get the 1st version of DTE online?
AM: 6 months
JS: who was the 1st coach hire company to sign up?
AM: Commonwealth Coaches
JS: Was it hard to convince them? How did that go? And how did the other bus operators follow?
The first 5 signed up on the strength of one e-mail I sent to 100 Coach Operators. I sent the e mail, went and did a school run and was shocked that when I got back two hours later 5 bus operators had signed up. After that I e-mailed everybody I could and got 100 signed up very quickly. The press got hold of DTE and we just grew from there.
JS: After starting: did you struggle with some issues/problems or did all go smooth? What difficulties did you face?
One problem after enough, lack of knowledge about the internet, naivety, money, time, education, confusion over what we did etc, etc …
JS: How did you overcome those difficulties?
AM:We just keep repeating the same message over, and over and over again
JS: What was this message?
AM: The fact that that every coach operator has to become computer and internet literate. To start each coach operator must have a website and this website must be found by his potential clients.
JS: Isn’t that a basic thing for every kind of business for the last 10 years?
Well we have dozens of companies that have millions of pounds invested in buses and coaches but almost nothing in their internet presence. As this for many is becoming their most important sales vehicle it’s really a problem in this sector
JS: When did success came? Right from the start? In the 1st year?
AM: Still waiting, all monies still get ploughed straight back into DTE to further improve and go global
JS: OK that is success in terms of profitability: but you are successful in having a list of happy customers who are paying correct?
JS: So what made the list grow from 1 to over 1.000 members? And what were key moments in that growing phase?
AM: In January 2013 we employed a customer service member he is visiting coach operators and converts them from free to paid memberships. When visiting he converts 7 out of 10. We also have our own great form of advertising. Every time we send a text alert to 1100 operators it is a message from DTE right into their pockets.
JS: Did press coverage also play an important role in the signing up of new coach hire companies?
AM: Very much so! Route One and Bus and Coach Buyer took an instant shine to the DTE concept and gave us great coverage and magazine space.
JS: Looking back now what were important moments that success accelerated?
AM: Winning the award. After that is just ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’ as we say in the UK
JS: How did you get to that event/moment? Was it only hard work or some luck involved?
AM: There has been no luck involved at all. Everything we have achieved at DTE has been achieved through hard work, belief and dedication to the long term vision of where we want DTE to be on a global stage
Note: more to follow in a couple of days! Leave your comments here below!