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Contiki – how to build a business on a budget

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John Anderson started tourism business Contiki in London at age 23 in 1962 with just 25 pounds. To find out how he did it, and what lessons he learned during the 28 years he owned it, Anderson joins Peter Switzer on his Sky News Business Channel program – SWITZER.

“I’d come over to see Europe [from New Zealand], so I had to find a way to see it,” says Anderson. “And I just had this idea – I thought if I got a group of other young people together and we shared all the costs, we could probably do it quite reasonably … I eventually managed to get 11 people together and with me 12 of us set off around Europe.”

Anderson’s book, Only Two Seats Left, is named after the advertisement he put on the wall of the Overseas Visitors Club: ‘12-week tour, 15 countries, cost: 100 pounds, only two seats left’.

“My first passenger, she almost pleaded with me to book her, and I said you’ll fit in perfectly with all the others,” he laughs.

The passengers were all Australians and New Zealanders and Anderson created the itinerary. He was going to use the money to put down a deposit on the mini bus; the first tour filled quickly, so he decided to take the bus around Europe again.

“The first year I took this bus around twice, and I ended up at the end of the year having seen Europe, and owning the mini bus and all the gear,” he says.

Anderson told the initial passengers he had seen Europe before, but really he had only been to Paris.

“So we set off and after the first day I told them the truth, I actually hadn’t been round the rest of Europe, but we were such a great group and things were quite well organised. And I didn’t know at the time I had a business on my hands.

Turning into a business

The business was originally called Tiki tours. Tiki is a good luck charm in New Zealand – “And I was going to need all [the luck] I could get”. But as they were running tours of the continent, they added in c-o-n to make Contiki.

Anderson says it was in the second year of operation he realised he had a product people wanted.

“In those days everybody was coming over in their droves on the boats and they were all looking for a way to see Europe and suddenly I realised I had a product that people would buy,” he explains. “In that third year, I realised I really had a business.”

Business lessons

Anderson had no business experience, but that “it’s all about having attitude, believing that you’ve got an idea and making it happen.” He explains that he was a born entrepreneur. When he was saving for the trip to London, he had a business of selling plants to local store.

“Entrepreneurs, they’ve got this very positive attitude,” he says. “We never have a negative thought. Often that’s dangerous because you can run away with things, but I always had that creative ability. I’m a great ideas person and any company’s got to have somebody with a flag out the front, but you’ve got to have good people coming behind you to make it all happen."

Check out Peter Switzer’s SWITZER on Sky News Business Channel, Monday to Thursday from 7pm.

If you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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