Chilean expat Felipe Rebolledo talks about how his multi-faceted tourism business aimed at backpackers started out as a surf school.
What does your business do?
Elements World is a one-stop tourism business where we show backpackers how to travel New Zealand in different ways. We sell campervans, we have a rental side of the business, we teach surfing and we also offer sightseeing tours. We provide all sorts of options to backpackers.
I started planning the business in 2012 and launched it in June 2013. In the first two years it was a one-man show where I was doing everything.
What was the motivation for starting Elements World?
To begin with it was the surf school. I was teaching hundreds of backpackers to surf and they all kept saying the same thing; "We're trying to find a campervan, it's very hard to find one", and so I did a lot of research and decided to start the business, specifically for backpackers.
In the first year of trade I sold 7 campervans, the next year I sold 60, and from there I hired two Auckland employees to run the tours and surf lessons, and then I found two business partners.
What part of the business is the main focus?
Selling campervans is the main income for the business, it took over everything else.
Lots of our market is German backpackers - about 95 per cent. Usually the backpackers stay here for a year and work on a holiday visa so after they have finished travelling we give them the option of selling it back to us.
Last year we bought back around 55 per cent of the campervans we sold. The business has been growing so quick so that we're constantly having to buy new vehicles to meet demand.
How many employees do you have?
We have four full time employees and a team of interns from overseas. For them its good experience to be part of a small business, to see how it runs and the challenges. The work they do is meaningful, we don't get them to do paperwork.
What are your long term plans for the business?
We have an office in New Lynn but want to open a branch in Christchurch and also move the whole business model to Australia. Expanding into Australia is still three to five year away, though.
What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome?
It's been financial challenge, really. If I had the money I would expand into Australia now. When I first started I approached the bank for a business loan but I didn't get anything so I had to start with a personal loan of $20,000.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Be determined and be focused. Starting your own business is hard and its a rollercoaster but if you have the ability to focus on your end goal then you'll be able to push through the obstacles.
Elements World is one of two Kiwi businesses to win a trip to Hawaii for the Nurture Change business conference as part of a Herald competition. For more information visit nurturechange.com