La Bonnardière speaks to GrowthBusiness on how the start-up took off and what the future holds for Evaneos Travel following their recent app launch
Name: Eric La Bonnardière
Date launched: 2009
Number of employees: 90
What does your business do?
In short: Evaneos Travel is an online platform connecting travellers with hand-picked local travel agents across the globe, to create 100 per cent personalised adventure and discovery trips. By cutting out the middleman and putting human expertise at the forefront of travel, we seek to make every aspect of people’s trips a more meaningful, unique experience.
Where did the idea for your business come from? How did you know there was a market for it?
Evaneos Travel began with a simple email exchange between Yvan and me. As seasoned globetrotters with backgrounds in business and technology, we were keen to create a start-up within the travel sector. The Evaneos concept came about in our initial discussions, when it came to our attention that the options for travellers to explore the world in a unique and authentic way were limited. Traipsing through standardised holiday packages online didn’t fill us with inspiration, while companies offering tailor-made tours took a traveller’s budget to the highest end of the scale. As both Yvan and I had discovered first-hand, the final option, the DIY route, is a long and complicated process, through which you risk losing out on crucial advice or local recommendations.
It was therefore our own desire to be able to plan and experience our trips in a meaningful, more human way that pushed us to find a solution. From there, the idea of creating a secure platform that would cut out the middleman and put people in direct contact with local travel experts on-site in their destination was born.
How did you raise funding, and why?
To begin with, Yvan and I invested some of our own money in the company, and we’ve since raised $26 million with venture capitalists. The company is rapidly growing year after year, but our latest funding round, which amounted to a total of $21 million, was a huge milestone for Evaneos in terms of our plans to internationalise the business further.
Describe your business model in brief.
We recognised early on that while booking a trip directly with a local agent meant that a traveller could benefit from unparalleled on-site expertise at local prices, there were two major issues that might surface: travellers searching online would find it difficult to gauge the quality and trustworthiness of local agencies, and people would naturally be reluctant to send off a payment to an unknown travel agency in another country. The function of Evaneos Travel is therefore to act as a trusted third party platform between travellers and local travel agents, before, during, and after each trip.
We do the sourcing of local agents for you, with a dedicated team that applies a rigorous selection criteria to partnering with every local agent online on the Evaneos Travel website. The same team is permanently on-hand to monitor and assist our local agents throughout the communication and booking processes. In addition, we guarantee travellers secure online payment in GB pounds, complimentary repatriation insurance in the case of medical emergencies, and holiday replacement services in the unlikely event that a local agency defaults. So while travellers set off a trip organised by a friendly local expert, they remain constantly in the safe hands of Evaneos Travel.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
Our first real milestone was probably our first ever sale on the website back in 2009. Yvan and I had spent a year beforehand exploring the travel industry and working out in what way we could add significant value to it with a new business concept. Our main goal was to reinvent the way that people travel, and once we thought we had found a solution, i.e., Evaneos Travel, our first sale validated this and we knew we were on to something big.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I would say that it’s essential to start with the right team, because intelligent and innovative ideas come from people.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Evaneos might have started as a French company, but today, we also operate across Spain, Italy, Germany, and most recently the UK, whose combined markets represent 40 per cent of our total sales. Our mission is to create a global brand, with non-French markets making up 80 per cent of our revenue. To achieve this, we need to keep building on our international team, and move up to the next phase in terms of product and service.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
I always knew that I could only work on a business project that I’m passionate about, and what really motivates me is changing the way in which people travel. I’ve never been a fan of being restricted to traditional systems and rules; disrupting an industry with something new and exciting comes about when you dislike the established order of things.