Building an Online Business from the Ground Up with Bo Irik
Trevor here with eCommerce Paradise.
This is an interview episode with Bo Irik and how she built her online business from the ground up.
Bo Irik grew up in the Netherlands until she was ten years old. She moved to the south of Portugal because her parents felt tired of the rainy weather and stress. Upon arriving in Portugal, she and her sister started doing ocean activities like surfing and sailing.
They wanted to have their own business, like what their parents had, so they slowly looked for things they could do. They started working for one of the boats, tour operators in the south of Portugal that take tourists to watch the dolphins. They started selling tickets for the tour operator and made much money. Then the idea of sea bookings was born.
Bo Irik and her sister saw the opportunity to make an income by selling tickets for several tour operators, several boats, and other activities through the Internet and grabbed it. They made an online platform to book sports and boat tours in Portugal. They still aim to expand to other countries, but they are happy with what they achieved for now.
They validated their business model in Portugal. They found the need for their products and now sees the content of both markets - tourist operators and tourists.
How old were Bo and her sister started the business?
Bo's sister is the entrepreneur of the siblings. Immediately after finishing her bachelor's degree in Lisbon, she decided that she wanted to create a business along with an office in consultancy as most people who finished a business degree. Her sister decided to grab the ski bookings idea and applied it to the idea competition for young entrepreneurs organized by the university, and they actually won it. Winning it was good for developing their business model and plan as it was guided by a lot of critical professors and people who had experience in the area.
"But then I decided to quit to continue with my full-time job."
When Bo quit, her sister tried to convince her to join the business slowly. She then started working part-time until it became a full-time job.
"It's very nice because my sister had the idea, and then she had several students working on our idea in their courses with marketing and entrepreneurship."*
*Several people worked on Bos's sister's business as part of their case study in their course.
How long have they been in the company?
After the idea competition, they had to decide if they wanted to make the idea a reality or not. And they did. By then (three years ago), it was only Bo's sister working on the cases. She really believes in the idea she was doing everything on her own. Basically, Bo was just helping out with the writing part and marketing efforts. And then slowly, they started having results. That was when Bo started considering quitting her job slowly to make her part-time a full time.
Now they are on their third season. Sea booking is a seasonal business. Sometimes there are a lot of bookings, and sometimes it's low. The low season doesn't mean there is no work to do.
"There is not much income, but there is a lot of work to do. Like to improve Vescio, create new content, endorse new to our providers, create all the descriptions, optimize the website creative partnership, partnerships with agencies or affiliate programs so it can all be done remotely."
What is Bo Irik's role in the business?
Bo's sister deals directly with the tourists who have questions in the summer, so she spends the whole day on the phone. She also deals directly with the tour operators to confirm the bookings.
"She's more on this operational side, and I'm more on the marketing content side. And then we've got Savu, who is our I.T. guy."
Savu lives in Dublin, but he will move to Portugal. He is Portuguese, and he's going to work full time from January onwards.
What inspired Bo to do meditation, be more spiritual, have a work-life balance, and just try new things?
"In Portugal, I always actually had a good work-life balance. It's very important to me. I've always been doing many sports and yoga for mental health or as you may want to call it. The work-life balance I already had that in Portugal, and I live near the ocean. I really like the ocean, and I thought it would also be interesting to live a while in the mountains like two different environments."
Bo Irik met a few people on digital along with meetups while she was in ChiangMai. She started looking around, climbing, and exploring nature. She is not a spiritual person, but she likes exploring things like meditation and yoga. Things that would give her some time on her own.
Bo feels like she has a very intense social life every day after work. She always has something to do, whether it may be in a group or meetups. And she feels that being in Chiangmai has been relaxing for her.
"I feel it's like a rehab, social rehab."
Do you go outside of Chiang Mai to do retreats or go hiking or camping?
"Yes. I try to stay very focused on my work during the week, and I try to keep a very strict schedule. On weekends, I really like to escape not from the city necessarily but to go on camping, hiking, or meditation retreats in the forest. It's nice to have this digital detox moment."
To be able to do these weekend outdoor activities, Bo makes sure that all her social media posts are scheduled. That way, she can totally let go of her laptop and cell phone during her alone times.
It has been a very interesting experience for her, and the things she does on weekends make her feel like she has a calmer mind. Instead of always thinking about different things at the same time, she plans on what to do next.
"I feel like now I'm more trying at least to live more at the moment and to really learn this in these meditation retreats. It's not very spiritual. If you don't want to, you can just use it to improve your day to day life and live more in the present moment."
For Bo Irik, having time for yourself and enjoying life could help you get better results, whether in your speech, writing, or doing tasks. The relaxation of the mind could help us remove the shackles of work and develop ourselves more.
It's important to know that you can take some of the money and pay other people to build your business for you, or at least maintain it so you can take some time off and live the life you really like; which is one of the main reasons you started a business in the first place.
How many hours per day do you think you spent working on your computer?
"It really depends."
Back in Portugal, back when she wasn't a fan of meditation and yoga, she could easily sit at home for 12 hours and work nonstop. After experiencing the benefits of having a calm mind, she now keeps an eight-hour schedule - working 9-6 with an hour break. She maintains a very strict target by revising content and onboarding activities and keep up with the goals.
Have you tried outsourcing?
"So far, we've been doing everything ourselves. Now, slowly, we are considering it because we now have more money available to consider outsourcing. For next year, we plan to start hiring, start growing, and building. "
Are you thinking of expanding into other markets?
Bo and her sister have been talking about it.
The problem with sea bookings is that if the sea is not collaborating (too wavy), the boat booking would have to be canceled. This means they have to return the money after all their work managing the booking. So they now, they are thought of having alternatives such as Jeep tours and the likes.
What do you think is the tipping point of your business?
"I think the tipping point is content-based."
It was not good during their first season. It was a big disappointment for them. They thought it was easy to aggregate the activities on the Internet and make money, but they weren't findable. Not until Bo started creating more content.
How did you learn to do content? Was it just something that you wrote on your own, or did you take certain courses to learn how to be content?
"We did not take any courses. We really tried to learn on our own. We've been spent so many years in university, and we didn't learn anything about content marketing, SEO, or keyword research."
Bo and her sister wrote a nice press release about their company that they even sent to the Dutch media in the Netherlands. They are Dutch, so they wrote it in Dutch. It was a big success and got a lot of bookings.
You said that you had more of a broad niche in the beginning, and then you narrowed it down. How did you decide on that?
"We worked with these tour operators for so many years, we realized that their needs are very similar, but the needs are very different, for example, guided walking tours. The way you booked them and how they are organized is very different from other tours, so we know exactly the needs of these kinds of companies and how they work."
The sisters thought it would be better to focus and be specialized for the tourists' perspective. If they want something related to the sea, they know where to look. It's like a niche market.
Have you ever done any kind of paid advertising for your book at all?
They found that their best seller tour is the tour in the south of Portugal. They found great keywords to use and also found ways to achieve their right targets.
Do you do email marketing as well to target people?
"So far, we haven't. We do have to subscribe to our newsletter on our site, on our website. And we do have some subscribers, and we do have the emails of the people who book, but we've not been doing any email marketing. We have not been doing it yet because we believe that most of the bookings are onetime bookings. Most people visit Portugal once, and they do a boat trip once, they will not go back again to the same place to do a similar activity."
What are your plans for the future right now?
"I'm really liking Chiang Mai, and I feel that it's good to stay here for a while to get a routine as I've found my routine now, and I feel very happy with it."
How would you compare it to Chiang Mai, price-wise to other countries you've been to?
"It's difficult to compare because Asia is much cheaper than Europe in general as an insider. But for example, in Europe, Portugal is the cheapest place to go. And considering the rents, it's the easiest place to find a room or an apartment. Yes, I think it's a very good place in terms of costs, but it's not comparable to Southeast Asia."
Were there any struggles in the beginning that you wish you were told about?
"Yes, I think the main struggle we had, in the beginning, were technical issues because we were thinking very big. We were thinking about creating a booking system where tour operators can manage their bookings and integrate them with our front-end marketplace. We were thinking very big and going global immediately and like this whole technical product behind it. What we did was we hired some freelancers in India to develop its products. It went totally wrong. We invested a lot of money on that. And then we had to Portuguese I.T. guys coordinating it. Supposedly we met them on this idea competition, but they were not assertive enough. Whenever something went wrong, they wouldn't see it, and they would not guide the developers from India, nor would they tell us. And we wouldn't understand because it was very technical. And then in the end, what we got was this booking system. It did work, but it was like a spaghetti code."
During the first try of their booking business, it was very slow, and the coding sometimes doesn't work. Now, they use a simple WordPress, and it works well.
Her tip? Start as simple as possible. When you make that work, that is when you start thinking about new features.
Another tip, don't try to create things that are too technical, especially if you don't know that area well.
If you're going to try to start a tour company, don't think it's going to be so easy. Get rich quick scheme stuff takes a lot of work, just like any business. It takes much work to build, and I suggest that you go to school and try to meet up with some mastermind group of people like you who's going to give you ideas and kind of hold you accountable.
A lot of times, we become lazy as human beings. I think it's good to have mentors.
Bo Irik: "We participated in some incubation programs in Portugal, and we were in the exploration program sponsored by some startup incubators. And this was also very good to have someone behind you, to boost you, to motivate you because sometimes it's my sister and me and some days are not going well because it's wavy or another reason. We need someone sometimes to give us the push strides and in some direction to push in direction."
It's nice to have feedback because there are not many people who are entrepreneurs who can give you advice on what works in their business.
Do you guys just use many spreadsheets, or do you hire an accountant to do it all for you?
"It's mandatory to have an accounting office in Portugal, so we only make the first two years of bookings. We were doing all kinds of invoices. As a freelancer and from this summer onwards, we had a turnover that's justified to create a company. From the moment that you create a company, you need an official accountant to do your stuff."
A wonderful story of Bo and her sister's booking business in Portugal.
Everybody else out there can get inspired by that because it just takes a slow organic growth of doing content and helping people figure out what is right for them, what they want.
The world is evolving, you know, as technology evolves. And it's really exciting to see more people getting into doing digital nomad entrepreneur traveling.
And that's our blog episode for today, Building an Online Business from the Ground Up with Bo Irik.
See out there! Take care.
eCommerce Paradise was created by Trevor Fenner of Seattle, Washington in 2015 to help you, the entrepreneur, to start and scale your own eCommerce business selling high-ticket products online with the drop shipping fulfillment method so you can make more profit per sale, have a sustainable and evergreen online business, get started with very little upfront investment, and live a location independent lifestyle. Trevor owns multiple 7-figure High-Ticket Drop Shipping eCommerce stores and is a digital nomad, traveling the world while working remotely with the help of his team of over 10 virtual assistants from around the world. Trevor is currently located in Bali, Indonesia. Trevor is also a passionate skateboarder, surfer, scuba diver, photographer, environmentalist, outdoorsman, fitness and tattoo enthusiast.
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