Talking to Oliver Bell and Ravi Sabharwal, Oliver's Travels

A Life Well Lived

As part of our journey to re-define Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?” Here we talk to Oliver Bell and Ravi Sabharwal, founders of the luxury villa rentals website, Oliver’s Travels, about their business and what living well means to them.

Oliver and Ravi first met at school, and after spending what Oliver describes as “One of the best weeks of our lives” in a crumbling chateau in France, the seed was firmly planted to launch a specialist villa rental company.

On Oliver's Travels

“We set up the business in its original form back in 2004 after a university reunion of about 30 of us at a chateau in the Dordogne” says Oliver. “We turned up to this amazing fortified chateau and just couldn’t believe we’d booked this place. We immediately turned around, went back in to the village to ask the villagers for directions and they pointed us straight back up the hill to where we’d come from.”

“At the time I was looking to start a concierge company with a friend of mine, I had written a business plan etc. […] and had joined Quintessentially and had a spell with them. Ollie returned from this magnificent holiday, we had lunch together and decided we should give it a go. We launched ‘Simply Chateau’ soon after that and that was the start of Oliver’s Travels.”

“When those first few bookings came in, it was everything to us.” says Oliver. “At the time, ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ by The Killers, was one of the top tunes that we both loved, so for quite a few months we would play that song every time a booking came in. It was just the two of us, dancing around the bedroom we were working from at the time, and that did feel very life affirming.”

“The first booking that we made was really cool.” agrees Ravi. “We were working for six months trying to get the business going and I would go to France every couple of weeks to see my parents who live there and they would always ask “Have you got a booking yet?” and it was always a little depressing, until that first booking came along. Then there were these small little milestones, can we get to three bookings a day, five bookings a day, and if we did we might pop to the pub for some lunch. It was a slow start, but it was good fun.”

On Advice

“We always wanted to be entrepreneurs and to start a company. We love what we do.”
Ravi explains that for him, starting a business with a friend was really important. “I would urge anyone to do the same, because it can be quite a lonely experience.”

“That’s very true.” agrees Oliver. “We started in our early twenties and it was inevitable – as with any business – that we would run into obstacles. When you are doing things independently, as soon as you run into an obstacle it’s easy to think you can’t get over it. But as soon as we teamed up, Ravi would say “of course we can, just look at it like this”. You keep each other going – the motivation and belief that you can do it.”

“I think I would also recommend” adds Ravi “that you don’t get too bogged down in writing a business plan. I mean yes of course, if you have to raise money or it’s a real requirement […] but it can take such a long time to write a good business plan, and we’re not all MBA students.”
“You have to consider that we started this business almost straight from university” explains Ravi “so we haven’t really had a ‘job’, we always wanted to be entrepreneurs and to start a company. We love what we do, coming to work and seeing the happy faces downstairs. It’s always been a real privilege running our own company, but we’ve never really had that Sunday fear, as it’s only ever been us running the business.”

“I think that’s absolutely right. Its never felt like the daily grind” says Oliver “of course there are some tasks that you like doing less than others, but I guess you don’t dread them in the same way because ultimately you’re in control of them. The responsibility of managing people can be stressful at times, but as Ravi says, is a real privilege.”

On Success

Ravi explains that success for him is all about the team he and Oliver have built around them. “Walking in to the office and seeing 35 happy faces, that really is cool. The team downstairs are phenomenal and make us look really good.”

“I think it’s generally walking to work with a spring in your step.” says Oliver. “In jobs before setting up the company, I would wake up and my first thought would be ‘please be the weekend’. Whereas now, genuinely, every day is as good as any other, weekend or not.”

On Hindsight

“Lots of mistakes have been made, but I think we made some good decisions too.”
“With hindsight” says Oliver “you can look at all of the things you’ve done well and say we should have done them sooner, but we were lucky that we started young so we had lots of years to go at it, and learn from all of our mistakes.”

“I think getting in staff sooner would have been really good as well. The tasks that Ollie and I had to perform when we first started were mind-numbingly boring, so getting support earlier would have been a good idea. Lots of mistakes have been made, but I think we made some good decisions too.”

On Living Well

“I’ve got a young family and the business” says Oliver “and I am really just concentrating on those two things. I have very little time for other hobbies […] I guess the time commitment has just taken over, so I would definitely like to find the time to do something else.”

“I have two young girls, two and four, and they are both at that lovely age where when I pick them up at school and nursery, they are literally jumping around with excitement to see me. I think that is probably the nicest things you can ever experience. And at work, there’s something very satisfying about launching a new destination, getting those first few bookings in just means that you have made the right decision, and so it’s very exciting to watch that grow.”

Living a good life for Ravi is simple, he says “For me it is just coming to work and seeing your friends, it’s having a good work life balance – work hard play hard I suppose – doing both things in equal measure. We’re quite a social company, so heading out to lunch at the pub – our Christmas and summer parties are really cool – just being able to interact like that with the team. They impress us every day, and it’s a privilege to be able to work with them.”
And lastly, what about the perfect holiday destinations? Oliver says “if you want beaches, go to Greece. If you want scenery and amazing views, go to the Italian Lakes and if you visit Lake Maggiore, you’ll get much better value than Lake Como. Majorca is great for families.”

“I think anywhere in France” says Ravi. “Oliver and I started in France by renting chateaux and manoirs when we were ‘Simply Chateau’ in the old days, and I still go to France every two months, for a meeting or to visit my parents, and I just love it there.”

You can find out more about Oliver, Ravi and Oliver’s Travels by visiting their website.