Eric La Bonnardière is passionate about travel, however he was frustrated by how much work organising his own travel was, and going through a travel agent invariably ended up with an expensive, inflexible package deal. It was a fortuitous introduction with fellow traveller Yvan Wibaux that saw to fruition the idea for a travel platform that connected the traveller directly with local, on-the-ground travel agents – allowing for unique, tailor-made adventures. We spoke to Eric to find out the story behind Evaneos Travel.

Can you tell us a bit more about Evaneos Travel, what it does and who your clients are?

Evaneos Travel is an online platform that connects travellers to local travel agents all over the world, to create unique, tailor-made discovery and adventure trips. As well as benefiting from designing their trips with on-site Destination Management Companies (DMCs) – who are better equipped than anyone to give advice, make recommendations, and personalise tours – our concept moreover facilitates a friendly human experience for travellers booking holidays. Whereas the traditional model provides a list of standardised tour packages for the traveller to choose from in front of a screen, planning trips one-on-one with a handpicked local travel agent via the Evaneos Travel platform means gaining access to local prices in addition to local knowledge. Because our partner DMCs are equipped to deal with all requests from family holidays, to honeymoons, to group tours, our target demographic is vast: in a nutshell, everyone that wants to discover the world.

And where are you based? Have you always been based here or have you moved?

The company was officially launched in France six years ago, and its headquarters are still in Paris today. Since the launch of Evaneos.com (the French website) in 2009, we have nevertheless become an international business with offices within the countries of the other European markets we operate in.

Tell us a bit more about your target audience. Did you see a particular gap in the market?

I believe that the traditional holiday-booking model poses an issue, in that when it comes to planning multi-day tours, travellers have only two options: firstly, they can organise everything themselves from home, which is not only extremely time-consuming (this system requires the traveller to book on average 24 different services), but the traveller is also forced to rely on generic travel guides and the internet to find information about the destination they are planning on setting off to. The second option is to turn to a big-name tour operator or travel agency to organise these services for the traveller, the obvious setback of this being that the traveller is offered a standardised tour package at a high price. Evaneos Travel solves both problems by providing a communication, planning and payment platform that allows travellers to be put in direct contact with a DMC in their chosen destination. Not only do they benefit from local prices, but moreover from the unparalleled expertise, knowledge, advice and assistance of an on-site agent.

Tell us what you think gives you that all important competitive advantage over your competitors?

Evaneos Travel was the pioneer of the ‘travel platform’ concept, and as such, we are undoubtedly the leading player in this particular marketplace in Europe. We stand out because we have created the most extensive network of DMCs (over 600 worldwide and growing), as well as a unique technology for communication that permits travellers to make trip enquiries online, and DMCs to manage these enquiries and design trip itineraries with the traveller. From the point of view of technology, we are the only company in the world directly targeting DMCs, and our approach is that these local travel agents are much more than simply business partners – in the spirit of making travel above all a human experience, we maintain a friendly relationship with all of our DMCs. In terms of user experience, we are a platform in which everyone shares the same core values and passion for travelling, which I think is reflected both on our website and when our travellers communicate with our DMCs.

EvaneousTravel

And how long have you been working on this project? Where would you say it is at present?

We have been working on the Evaneos project since 2009, beginning by developing a strong business and base in France. At our headquarters, we now have a strong team of 60 talented people, and have created a unique technology that is constantly in the process of being optimised. Three years ago we started to internationalise the company by opening our travel platform to other European markets (Spain, Italy, Germany, and most recently, the UK), and we certainly have high ambitions for Evaneos Travel on a worldwide scale. In the future, we aim to extend our concept to other countries and continents, hiring more and more team members – tourism specialists, web developers, data analysts etc. – in order to continue bringing significant business to our DMCs, and above all to revolutionise the travel booking and holiday experience for everyone.

Do you have any specific stories around your funding – have you for example approached any VCs or are you self-funded?

In the beginning, we put our own money into the company, then after two years of fundraising, we gained our first round of funding with major venture capitalists in France. In total, we have raised 5.5 million Euros to date. I think the reason our investors have been quite excited about our project is that we are disrupting and revolutionising a huge industry, and we moreover believe that there still big potential for Evaneos Travel’s development in the future. It’s all a matter of people, and execution.

And is this your first startup venture or did you start other businesses before this?

After finishing all my university studies, I spent two years in a consulting strategy firm. Then, before setting up Evaneos in 2009, I co-founded another company with Yvan Wibaux, (also Evaneos Travel’s co-founder). This first company was specialised in travel content and was successful, but when we discovered the opportunity for Evaneos, it was obvious to us that we had to take advantage of it.

What makes you so passionate about Evaneos and where did the idea for it come from?

What stood out from the outset was that both Yvan and I are utterly passionate about travel. When I met Yvan for the first time he had just returned home from a round-the-world trip in fact, and we recently calculated that together, we have travelled to over 70 different destinations. The concept behind Evaneos Travel came very clearly to us as the solution to a common problem: as lovers of travel, neither of us ever quite found the right way to organise our trips, so we simply decided to create this ourselves.

Eric La Bonnardière

Tell us a bit more about your professional background. How did you came from studying or working for other people to doing this?

My background is in engineering, but I additionally have a Master’s in Business and Management. After graduating from university, I couldn’t seem to find the right opportunity to set up a company, which is why I became a consultant instead. As soon as Yvan and I started coming up with the concept of Evaneos Travel, however, we knew that we were onto something quite significant.

What about your typical childhood background? Did you have any entrepreneurs in the family and were you encouraged to go out on your own?

I think growing up in a family of entrepreneurs had a very positive impact on my career choices, in that I always knew that I wanted to set up and run my own company one day. When you have family members to look up to and learn from, it certainly inspires you to bridge the gap and make them proud.

Tell us about any hobbies or other passions? Do you think this has any influence in how you run your business?

My number one passion is to travel, discover new places, and meet fascinating people who have different languages, lifestyles or beliefs to my own. My idea of Heaven is to be lost somewhere across the world, totally immersed in another culture. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to combine your work with something you love.

What about a business mentor or role model?

I find myself most inspired by people who do not only manage a company on a short-term basis, but who moreover seek to innovate and revolutionise a sector in the long-term. Good examples of this are Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – great characters, and more importantly, great pioneers.

Can you think of any particular event in your past that inspired this venture?

Even though I did a Master’s in Business, my motivation to start my own business was amplified when I started working in a ‘conventional’ company with a classic management system. I learned a lot from this experience, but I’ve always been an advocate for freedom and creativity, so I wanted to be in a position in which I could find opportunities to innovate and create.

You mentioned your business partner Yvan. How did you meet and end up working together?

The story of how Yvan and I met is a strange but wonderful one. With no knowledge of who Yvan was at all, I received an email one day as part of a mailing list from my university, expressing that he was looking for a business partner in the travel industry, to revolutionise the way that people prepare and set off on their travels. I immediately got in touch, and after meeting up with him twice to discuss potential opportunities, we got on like a house on fire and began coming up with the concept of Evaneos. We shared the exact same vision about the project from day one, and this vision hasn’t changed since. I soon quit my job to focus all my time and energy into this new project, which is something you really have to do when you’re young and ambitious.

Tell us about the most exciting moment to date in running this business

Something I like in particular as a sign of growth and development is moving office. We’ve moved our headquarters five times in five years, and I’m sure that this will happen again in the future as our team gets bigger.

And any particularly tough moments?

Raising funds is probably one of the biggest challenges that any business faces. On the one hand, your company gains importance and reputation, but having to elaborate your strategy and formalise it for investors is also a process that can be draining and demanding when you are trying to manage the company at the same time.

Have you made any “bad” decision along the way? What did you learn from this?

Mistakes are inevitable in any business, but I take the view that they are only mistakes if you fail to learn from them. At Evaneos Travel, we’ve made some bad decisions in the past by launching our platform in new markets too soon, but I now realise how crucial it is to build a solid base beforehand on your original market(s). Now that we have built these solid bases, we’re ready and prepared for the company to become more and more internationalised.

And was there ever a strange moment where you realised that you are just destined to do this?

Freedom has always been very important to me as a concept, along with creativity and innovation. When I was a kid for example, I took painting and drawing lessons for more than 15 years, and I realised early on that I had an affinity for creating things from scratch on a blank page. This is something I’m still doing now with Evaneos Travel.

Tell us about your goal for Evaneos Travel. Where would you like to see it in the next few years?

The future for Evaneos Travel is an international one. We’d like our platform to operate across as many different countries as possible, and to continue establishing an international company that provides unique customer experiences, to dramatically change the way that people plan and book their trips online.

And finally, what would be the one bit of advice that you would offer to someone considering starting their own business?

My advice: find the right people, not necessarily the right idea. The right idea will come.

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