How a couple quit their jobs, sold everything to start a travel agency
- Alex and Elise Coleman are the founders of Travel here and nowa boutique travel agency.
- The company launched in 2019 and was operational again after the pandemic shutdowns.
- Their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to save money before you even have a business idea.
Elise Coleman, 28, has always loved to travel. She completed a study abroad program in Puerto Rico as a student at Texas A&M University, and as part of her first full-time job after graduation, she visited to Argentina for a one-month training program.
These trips had a few things in common — both were well-organized, group-focused and encouraged interaction with locals, and she told Insider they were some of the best trips of her life.
“It was a totally different experience than if I had gone alone or with a friend. I thought to myself, ‘There should be options like this for young professionals,'” Elise said.
Elise and her husband, Alex, 29, took that idea and turned it into Travel here and now in May 2019. Here & Now offers adventurous group trips for groups of 10 to 14 people eight international destinations, with plans to add more. Trips range from $979 for Latin American countries to $2,279 for Greece. The company partners with local guides at each of its locations, and trips are open to travelers of all ages, though the Colemans said the key population is 21 to 35.
In July 2021 – 16 months after launch and despite an unexpected shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic – both Elise and Alex quit their jobs at the company, sold all of their belongings and transformed Here & Now from a hustle and bustle. high school into a full-time gig that allows them to live around the world.
In January 2022, Here & Now had 196 registered travelers for the year, and Alex expects them to reach 300. Based on the six-figure sales numbers they’ve seen in 2021 and trips already forecast for 2022, Here & Now’s revenue is expected to grow 137% this year.
Here’s how they made the leap.
Start with savings
Elise and Alex met in college and moved to Houston where they both worked in companies – Alex in sales for Shell and Elise as an engineer for another oil and gas company in the area – during five and a half years. They didn’t exactly set out to save to start a business, but they made their finances a priority from their very first paychecks.
“We were really determined to be debt free when we got out of college,” Elise said, adding that they followed the David Ramsey method.
Early in their relationship, they agreed that it was a priority for both of them to pay off their student loans as quickly as possible. They both saved around 70% of their salary for four straight years, Elise said, and were able to pay off all of their debt 16 months into their marriage.
“The moment we thought of Here & Now, we were like, ‘Okay, we can do this,'” Elise said. “If we hadn’t made the decision to save when we didn’t know what we wanted to do, we wouldn’t have been able to start this business. Save as much as you can before you even had the idea. “
Alex, who comes from the small town of Jasper, Texas, said he grew up traveling in his home state and Mexico, but never got far. Once he and Elise got married, they traveled to Italy, and that’s where he said his eyes were opened.
“It bit me. We spent 10 days there, and that’s when I did everything to travel,” Alex said.
With a savings cushion and a newly shared passion, Elise and Alex launched Here & Now and led nine trips from June 2019 to March 2020. They said they started by begging friends and friends of friends to try their luck with their service and sacrifice a few vacations. days, so the first travelers were almost all from Houston or Dallas.
Getting the business going – then pausing for the pandemic
Their initial investment in the company went into scouting and travel marketing. They traveled to all destinations before launch to check accommodations, interview guides and try out activities. They hired professional photographers and videographers to document the trips and show future travelers what to expect. This high-quality content attracted potential travelers.
“We felt like a real company even though we were so new and had almost no reviews online,” Alex said.
To find the guides, Alex said they started looking online for agencies and freelance guides who had their own businesses. Beyond the basic requirements of being a licensed guide, having a verified background and having good references, Alex said they are looking for guides who are positive, upbeat and have the same interest in providing a unique experience. .
“Guides are the most important part of travel. They help bring the destination to life and highlight parts of a place that would otherwise go unnoticed,” Alex said.
Often the first companies they contacted didn’t work out, but they said many people they spoke with offered suggestions for other guides to contact.
They have also invested in marketing through Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads. Alex said they hired a digital marketing agency to run the ads from the start because they didn’t want to waste money trying it out themselves, and although the management fee was an expense. extra early they paid dividends. “Professional online marketing has fundamentally changed our business,” said Alex.
Quitting their day jobs and embarking on Here & Now was the goal from the start, but then the pandemic hit – while they were on a group trip to Tulum, Mexico – and travel for the rest of 2020 had to be cancelled. Since they were still working at their company, Alex said they have kept those jobs (and their salaries) through 2020 and are working from home.
Their work on Here & Now during quarantine included launching a customer portal that allows travelers to select a payment plan, developing a new website, adding three new destinations and completing segments of trip to local Houston news stations.
Restart the business and hit the road
When the youngsters started getting vaccinated in March 2021, Alex and Elise started planning trips again. They were able to complete 13 trips in 2021 with a total of 163 travelers from 32 states, Alex said.
With business up and running again, Alex and Elise revisited the idea of quitting their corporate gigs. They didn’t expect to earn more than their salaries as entrepreneurs – they just wanted Here & Now to be able to fully support them. “More important to us than making more money was the freedom to be able to run our own business, dictate our own time, and choose the projects we want to work on,” Alex said.
They used a concept known as the 4% rule in the FIRE community to decide when it was time to go all-in. Elise said that once their total net worth divided by 25 – 4% of their net worth – had not exceeded their cost of living per year, they were able to quit their jobs and focus on their business full time. . It took them until July 2021 to get there.
They have also decided to sell all their possessions to lighten their burdens while on the move. Alex said they talked about it. “When you dream and talk about it enough like it’s real, things start happening and you start acting in a way that it actually happens. That’s what happened,” Alex said. .
They joined Here & Now trips for the rest of the summer through fall to Iceland, Costa Rica and finally Mexico for Día de los Muertos before setting off on their own. For the 2021 holiday season, they stayed at Airbnbs in Europe while researching locations.
On reconnaissance trips, Alex said the two questions they ask themselves are:
- Is there a different, authentic side to a destination that people would be interested in seeing?
- Can we significantly improve or facilitate the travel process for a traveler? For example, he said, it is not difficult for someone in the United States to visit London and navigate the city. But navigating in Bogota, Colombia, in the rainforest of Costa Rica or in the Greek islands are all places where the burden of navigation can be relieved from the traveler to allow him to fully enjoy the destination.
Elise said it was really good not paying rent right now, although they plan to move back to Texas next year to move in near family.
Plan to expand but stay authentic
Here & Now has no intention of becoming a massive tour operator and wants to stick to “really special and authentic local tours”, Alex said.
The co-founders still outsource marketing to a small marketing agency, but Here & Now has no additional full-time staff. They want to stay boutique, limit their overheads and never make more than 40 trips a year. Alex said that’s important, as is keeping travel groups small, as they don’t want to trample the places they’re visiting – for example, they use local transport instead of charter buses.
But Alex and Elise plan to slowly return joining each trip. Instead, they will conduct reconnaissance trips exclusively and hope to one day add Australia and Asia to the map.