Tamara Lohan

Tamara Lohan is an entrepreneur and technology strategist with a background in marketing.

In 2003 she co-founded Mr & Mrs Smith with her husband James. She has been instrumental in transforming Smith from a traditional offline publishing brand into the dynamic digital business it is today and sits on the boards of several high-profile eCommerce businesses, including Not On The High Street.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and role?

I grew up in Ibiza but my family moved to the UK just before my teens and I ended up studying languages at Oxford University. I started my career in marketing, working for large organisations and then agency side for a WPP company, but I realised throughout that part of my life that a) my heart was in travel and b) I really loved the technical and CRM side of marketing rather than the above the line part. Oh, and c) I didn’t really want to work for other people!

My husband and I started Mr & Mrs Smith in 2003 – born out of frustration trying to find great boutique hotels to go to. We launched as a guidebook but quickly pivoted the company to build a bookable website. As the business evolved digitally I took on the role of CTO (Chief Technical Officer) which I still do today – overseeing the website, our in-house-built rates-and-availability systems and booking engine, the app, the blog – essentially the technical infrastructure that powers the business.

Today Smith has over 1,100 hotels and villas around the world, offices in London, LA, New York and Singapore we hope to do close to £80m in TTV (total transaction value) this year and we’re profitable. Plus, we bought an experiences company, SideStory, this year which means we can offer a curated collection of cultural encounters in some of our most-popular cities, as well as hotel stays.

But what really gets me out of bed every morning is that I still love finding amazing hotels and inspiring our members to discover extraordinary places with the people they love. I know that might sound corny but it’s true – Mr & Mrs Smith was always about finding the very best boutique hotels on the planet. And now we’re planning to do the same with private villas and experiences, too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Never. When I came out of university, the ‘done’ thing was to go into the city – something I just knew I wasn’t cut out for. In the late Nineties the word ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘start-up’ just wasn’t in our vocabulary. I knew I wanted to travel but the travel companies out there – large, impersonal, mass market – just didn’t inspire me. So all I knew was that I had to keep learning, get working and anything that involved travel would be a bonus!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I don’t know an entrepreneur that doesn’t face challenges. For me, some are daily small challenges and some are much much bigger business issues. At the very beginning of the business our biggest challenge was getting the book into the shops. The publishers had turned us down so we ended up self-publishing, but the distribution houses were all owned by those publishers so we were stuck. We eventually found the last remaining independent distribution house in the UK and begged – even they turned us down to start with.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own business?

You can only get by so far on ambition, drive and self-determination. I would urge anyone starting their own business to get guidance; learn, listen to people you trust; talk to people who’ve succeeded and find out how; talk to people who’ve failed and find out why. No one gets anywhere on their own and I wish I’d known that earlier.

A great support network will support and help you through the tough times, and you should continue to build, nurture and give back to that network as you grow.

And the quicker you can understand – and get comfortable with – the fact that nothing is ever easy, the better things will be. Sure, there’ll be compromises you have to make along the way but if you stick to what makes you happy, stay motivated and make time to enjoy the journey, you’ll be well placed to succeed.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think it’s the curse of the entrepreneur to always feel like there is still so much more achieve. As a company grows, the next challenge always seems bigger than the last so I try and see each one as my next biggest achievement. It’s fair to say right now that juggling motherhood – getting my son off to secondary school, my daughter back to school, making sure our new puppy is fed – with work while we’re launching our crowdfunding raise on Crowdcube is tough. I’ve never felt busier! But as we hope to raise more than £1m from our customers, who then go on to become real advocates of our brand, and accelerate our growth in the US, it will definitely feel like the biggest achievement to date.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

It seems crazy to say it given how quickly it’s gone, but we’re about to reach our 15th anniversary as a business. We’re celebrating the occasion by going back to our roots and publishing a brand new book in November: a proper coffee-table tome called The World’s Sexiest Bedrooms shot by the brilliant art photographer, Polly Brown. It’s had its stresses along the way – and we’ve got a heavy promotional schedule ahead of us – but it will be such a thrill to see us back in the bookshops again. Then it will be on to implementing all the growth plans our crowdfunding will hopefully afford us. After that, well, watch this space…