Invest. If you want to be successful, you’ll need to treat your website like a business. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right tools, the right people; reinvest your profits in your business.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevmrc.com Travel Blog Founder, Kevin Mercier.
Kevin grew up in a Paris suburb, where he still lives today. After a 6-months trip to Australia in 2016 where he discovered his love for the outdoors & photography, he founded the travel blog Kevmrc.com. 5 years later, the blog enjoys over 1M annual pageviews and the team keeps growing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure! Well, for anyone looking at my career path, there was absolutely nothing that could hint at me founding a travel company & digital media. Growing up, I wasn’t big on social media, I actually only had a Facebook account, on which I barely posted. I graduated with a Masters in Business Management, and went on to work for PSA Group as a Business Intelligence Project Manager.
My love for travel was something that gradually built up over the years, as I visited European cities on small holidays break, but it never was a burning passion. Until that one day in August 2015, when I flew to Bangkok, Thailand with 4 friends on what would be an epic Parkour trip. We traveled around Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore for 3 weeks, with only a small backpack, and never paying a single buck for accommodation. All while training each day, filming Parkour videos and creating content for our Parkour’s team Instagram.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Since that South East Asia trip in 2015, I was publishing regular content on my Instagram account, which was already starting to grow. In 2016, I left for a 6 months trip to Australia. There, I discovered my love for the outdoors, and fell in love with photography. I was fortunate to have a photographer friend at that time, who was kind enough to teach me the basics of digital photography.
I bought a digital camera, and started to heavily document my travels on Instagram. At that point, I was publishing a new photo each day, and this is when my account started to really take off. When I got home in Paris after that trip, I had a popular travel Instagram account, with over 30.000 followers.
At that time, a new “intelligent” news feed was introduced to Facebook, and Instagram. The organic reach on these platforms took a hit, and this is when I decided to create a website: to have my own platform.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I created a travel website with absolutely zero knowledge about how to attract readers. I thought that I simply had to publish interesting articles, and that somehow traffic would come. Of course, I was wrong. I was publishing in-depth travel guides, and photography guides, and almost no one was reading them. Except for the few users I was redirecting from my Instagram, which was less than 500 per month.
For the first year, the site never had more than 500 users in a month. It was pretty crushing to see so much hard work bring in so little results. On the other hand, my Instagram account was growing faster than ever, and I reached over 50.000 followers at the end of 2017.
I actually gave up on the site. Since Instagram was working so well (generating a nice stream of income with paid collaborations with brands), and the site was barely getting any traffic, I stopped publishing on the site, and focused solely on Instagram.
But the beauty of a website is that, unlike social media where you have to constantly put out content to stay relevant, the content you wrote months ago slowly starts to rank in Google, and sends traffic to your site. In January 2018, I looked at Google Analytics to see if anyone was still visiting the site. I was shocked to see 1,500 users had visited the site in January, 3 times more than any month before! It was the sign I needed that this could indeed work, and I went back to publishing content on the site, more often than ever.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great! It was a slow grind, and it took faith in what I was doing to keep at it. But it eventually reached a point where the business took off.
In January 2019, the site reached over 5,000 users, 3 times more than January 2018. 3 times more, but still pretty low to be honest.
In January 2020, we topped 70,000 users, a +1300% Year on Year growth! Founding a digital company requires time, and consistency is definitely key. All the hard work I had been putting in during the first years was starting to pay off big time, and it gave me the final validation that my business idea was indeed profitable. Since then, I’ve reinvested almost all of the profit back in the company, to accelerate the growth.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The first thing that makes the company stand out is probably the travel pictures. I started as a travel photographer, and as a result I can produce some high-standards travel photography. These photos illustrate each travel guide I write, and they help give a professional feel to these guides. Another purpose served by these photos is that they help the readers identify with me. I often include myself or my girlfriend in the pictures, to help people project; they’ll be able to see themselves in the locations, and it will help them decide if it’s a location they want to visit, or not.
The second thing, and I believe the most important, is honesty. I’m 100% independent, I don’t rely on travel companies to pay me for reviews. As a result, I’m free to share exactly what I want on my site, including the bad parts of a destination/activity. I usually recommend avoiding a certain location if I had a bad experience there, and I include full details that only someone who’s been there -in depth- can know.
One good story about this is one user “Seb” commented on one of my guides about the best hikes in a particular part of Spain. He found the guide very helpful, and it helped him plan his whole trip. Because I’m honest & personal when sharing recommendations, he felt comfortable sharing some feedback about the hikes after his trip. As a result, I updated the guide with his recommendations, making an even better guide for the future readers!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made in the beginning was believing that I just had to publish content, and that users would come. The site first started as a shop, where I sold prints of my photographs. I spent countless hours and sleepless nights creating the site, getting the best print company to fulfill my orders, setting up deliveries for overseas, creating a full online e-commerce experience… And I didn’t make a sale. Not a single one.
I thought that once the website would be up, I could just promote it on my Instagram, and people would come to the site to buy my prints. In this case, I followed nothing but my own mind, not paying any attention to the market, and sure enough it failed.
Now I run the business in a totally different way. Demand always comes first. I start by studying what the users want (what are they searching for?) and I create content tailored to them. I don’t just write articles blindly, hoping for them to bring traffic. I back my instincts with solid market research, and it’s a strong guarantee that it can be successful since there’s already demand for it.
Now that the company has been running for a few years, I go one step further and use my own data. Instead of only studying the market, I check what type of content worked well for me in the past, and I double down on it.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Great question! There’s a lot of so-called experts in every field, and following the wrong advice can be absolutely detrimental to any business. This is especially true in the world of online marketing, with a sea of fluff, and only a handful of actual experts.
When I started, I was lucky to find the right advice early in the process, and I still follow some of these strategies today. However there was one advice in particular that I wish I never followed: create posts showcasing the best experts in your field.
I spent a lot of time creating posts about “The Best Instagram Accounts in MONTH YEAR”. These are the type of posts that you usually see on major authority sites, like “The Best Entrepreneurs under 20 in 2020”.
While this might be good advice in general, it was absolutely terrible in my case. First, it doesn’t work well for the travel niche. And second, no one goes online to search for these kinds of things. It’s more content that is meant to be shared, on social media for example, or that works great for major publications where users browse the sites in search of more content. At the start of my company, I didn’t have any readers, and creating content that worked well for existing readers was a pretty bad move.
To this day, in more than 3 years, these 10 articles have generated less than 3,000 total views, which is less than 10 views per month per article. Not exactly the kind of traffic you need to scale a business!
Sometimes what might seem like good advice might not be suited for your own case. Just because something worked well for someone doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well for you too. The best way to make sure you’re following the right advice is to ask yourself “is the person giving me advice running the same business as me?”
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first one is without a doubt “consistency”. Building a successful website is a slow process, especially if it’s your first one. My ability to keep working day after day on the business, consistently, is for me the number one success factor.
When I started, I worked hard and gave it all, for a short period of time. Nothing happened, I got discouraged, and quit. When I picked up the business again several months later, I took a different approach: I worked a manageable time each day, day in day out, months after months. And finally, after 2 years of consistent work, I’ve reached great success with a profitable business.
The second one is “eager to learn”. When you start a company, there are so many things you don’t know, and even more you don’t even know you don’t know. One of the keys to my success was my eagerness to learn, to never rely on my knowledge but rather keep looking out for more advice, more strategies, more case studies.
A great example to that was when I learned that successful travel bloggers were outsourcing content creation. I had always thought that they were writing all of these guides themselves; it’s only when listening to a podcast interviewing a travel blogger that I learned that they outsource content writing. This was a real eye-opener, and a great way to scale up the business even more.
And finally, the third one is faith in myself. There were plenty of moments where I doubted myself, where I doubted that the business could work and actually take off — and I still do, sometimes.
It’s easy to be discouraged, to let the doubt creep in, and slowly lose motivation. But I have faith in myself, I know that I can make it work. Mostly because of data — I look at my track record, what I achieved, the past results, and it gives me confidence that I can make it work, and scale it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well this was a pretty good transition to this next question.
I have 2 tips (that I still apply today) for anyone starting a company now, to avoid burn out.
My first tip is to be consistent, but never over the top. Doing one small thing each and every day will get you way further than working 16 hours a day for a month and burning out. Set up dedicated time slots for each day, with a dedicated set of activities. Don’t go too big, aim for something that you feel comfortable doing each day — for the rest of your life.
The second tip is to set manageable expectations. The best way to feel discouraged and burn out is to feel like you’re not hitting your goals. Well let me tell you, if you set unreachable — and crazy- goals, you’ll spend your time feeling like a failure.
Set a couple of big goals, that will be the ultimate things to reach for you to feel successful. Once you’ve set this goal, break it down in smaller goals that are easily measured. For example mine was to write 20 articles each month. This doesn’t seem too crazy of a goal, but each month I felt great to have reached my goal, and at the end of the year I had published 240 articles!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen among founders when starting their business is not actually considering it as a business. Being able to create a successful business based on publishing written words on a website is a relatively new concept — and many don’t view it as a business in the same vein as other brick & mortar businesses.
Often, when individuals create their website, they view it as a hobby. They do it on the side, without investing too much, and hoping it works but with no real intention.
The best way to avoid this is a radical mindset change: your website is a real business. As real as any other business. Treat is as such. This means investing in training, tools, services, and people. This means outsourcing and hiring.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
To me, one aspect of running a company that tends to be most underestimated is solitude. This is especially true in the early days of the company, when you’ve just founded your business.
Work and the workplace are incredible social places, and it’s only when you leave them to create your company that you feel their absence. Being at work with colleagues, talking about work, or life in general with like-minded individuals, is for some the only social interaction they get in their days.
When you step out of the regular workplace to create your own company — especially if you’re a solopreneur in the beginning, you’re on your own. No one to talk to during the day, no one to joke with at the coffee machine, no emulation with peers. It can get quite lonely, and it’s something that’s not usually talked about or mentioned at large.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Just start. Stop thinking, analyzing, pondering, wondering, … Just get to it, get your website live and start publishing content! The only way to know if it works is to start, and the sooner you start the sooner you’ll see results.
- Your own data is gold. The best advice you’ll ever receive will come from your own data. Start fast, fail fast, use your data and analyze what doesn’t work — and what does work. Find the successful pieces of content you publish, and replicate them for success.
- Find 1 thing that works, and keep at it. Stop trying every single thing under the sun. There’s always something new to try, something else to test, the list is endless. But the best way to succeed is to find 1 thing that works, to keep doing it, and to scale it up.
- Network. I hate networking. But nothing will help you more than someone who’s doing exactly what you’re doing — one step ahead of you. Join events, join the community, bring value to others and surround yourself with other successful founders in your niche.
- Invest. If you want to be successful, you’ll need to treat your website like a business. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right tools, the right people; reinvest your profits in your business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a big believer in sharing success. It’s not because someone else succeeds that it takes away from my potential success. I love sharing what I learned with others, specifically when there’s that special motivation & interest that just begins to spark in someone’s eyes. I hold nothing back, I share everything I learned, because the more people succeeding doing what they love, the more power we have to change the world 🙂
How can our readers further follow you online?
My website is the best place, kevmrc.com
You can also check out my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kev_mrc
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!