Business Journey – Nick Robinson of Maison Sport
After acquiring a traditional ski school in France, former British Ski team athletes Nick Robinson, Aaron Tipping and Olly Robinson noticed a gap in the market for an online marketplace for trusted, qualified ski and snowboarding instructors. By modernising the booking process, the trio wanted to connect instructors and customers, enhancing the experience for both parties. Since founding Maison Sport, the disruptive platform has raised a significant amount of finance and expanded its reach across the globe. Here, Co-founder and CEO, Nick Robinson, shares the story so far.
Tell us about Maison Sport, when was it founded and what does it do?
I founded Maison Sport with my brother Olly, and friend Aaron Tipping, in 2016.
We all raced with the British Ski team before going off on our own paths, working in coaching, teaching and other jobs around London. But deep down we all missed the slopes and had a real shared desire to make a difference in the industry we loved.
With a drive to reinvent the way people book and plan their ski lessons, we created Maison Sport - a ski instructor marketplace that connects skiers and snowboarders directly with some of the best independent ski instructors across Europe.
We started in the Alps, but have rapidly grown and now we work across more than 350 resorts with over 1,200 talented, trusted and fully qualified instructors in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.
Maison Sport now offers the third largest selection of instructors in comparison to any ski school in the world - something we’re extremely proud of.
What inspired you to start Maison Sport?
The vision for Maison Sport was conceived after the three of us acquired a traditional ski school in France. We felt it was a really antiquated way of booking lessons and we realised that by using technology to connect customers and ski instructors directly, there was a real opportunity to improve the situation for both parties.
Our aim was to reduce costs to the customer, while providing a more profitable practice for instructors, affording them more control over their earnings and teaching schedules.
How does the world of competitive sport compare to that of entrepreneurship?
As an athlete, you are consumed with trying to succeed. Every day your goal is to improve your performance and become the best athlete you can be. Carrying that same drive across to business was fairly straightforward. The void that was left after stopping competitive sport was filled by starting my own business, and I know other athletes have felt the same.
The biggest difference now is that I’m driving a team forward, trying to improve everyone’s performance as opposed to just my own. This brings its own set of challenges but offers more satisfaction.
What has it been like growing a business with an international offering?
Growing the business internationally has certainly come with challenges, especially over the past year. But our understanding of the industry and our contacts within it, meant we all had a strong international network from the start.
In terms of international expansion, we’ve done that gradually and focused on areas where we had a good connections.
Because all three of us have a background in competing, instructing and coaching skiing, as well as running the ski school, we had a really strong network of friends who were already instructors on an international level. They helped us attract our first 20 or so instructors on the platform, and then we were able to proactively recruit more through direct and digital marketing.
Before long, word of mouth took over, and we’ve now built a community of more than 1,200 passionate and talented independent ski and snowboard instructors and that continues to grow.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on international travel and the tourism industry, how did it affect Maison Sport?
Like all businesses in the travel market, the pandemic has thrown some serious challenges our way, with ski resorts across the world closed and travel off limits.
Olly, Aaron and I have tried to maintain our steely focus on raising enough investment for our next growth phase and we’ve had to be totally committed and confident in our vision. I certainly think the dedication, persistence, and resilience we all had to adopt as professional athletes from a young age has helped us push through challenging times.
Maison Sport recently completed a significant funding round, what was the fundraising experience like for you?
We started the business in 2016 and fairly early on, we raised funds in three angel funding rounds, to allow us to launch our concept and begin early growth.
Early funding allowed us to attract some of the best tech talent. This has ensured innovation remains at the forefront of the business and that the user experience for both our customers and instructors is accessible, fast and seamless. This has been key for our successful growth.
In early 2021, we launched a second funding round and have just raised £1.25m through collaboration with a collective of investors, alongside a Seedrs crowdfunding campaign.
Today, we’ve managed to attract a strong advisory board of investors that has been crucial to us building the business and getting set up for global growth.
Raising funds to grow has been hard work, but we’ve learnt very quickly that investors really want to know how the business works. . Identifying metrics and then tracking them closely, enabled us to answer any investor’s tough questions accurately, which helped give them the confidence to invest in us.
Since founding Maison Sport, what have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome them?
In founding Maison Sport, we set out to challenge the status quo and make real change, so from day one, the three of us have worked incredibly hard to share our vision and ideas with the ski industry.
We’re disrupting the way things have been done for years, so we’ve really had to be persistent and positive in order to open minds and push progressive change.
What are the short and long-term plans for the business?
We want to continue to grow our portfolio of instructors and loyal customers globally, enter new markets and continue to support independent ski instructors across the world.
Our goal is to keep enhancing the technology to further ease the bookings process for both our instructor community and customers, as well as developing new and innovative brand partnerships.
Recent funding and investment will allow us to grow, evolve and expand the Maison Sport platform. We will continue to ensure the user experience for both the customer and instructor remains accessible, fast and seamless.
We also have plans to expand the team from 15 to 20 by the end of the year, and we’re also set to launch a new Edinburgh office.
Additional investment will help the business expand into more than four new locations across the globe over the next six months, including Scotland, Norway, Sweden and Japan. And we e are already making plans for even further expansion into Asia and South America next year.
If you could wind the clock back to 2015, would you do anything differently?
I was slightly naïve as to how much investment it would take to grow the platform to scale. As a result, we didn’t raise enough. If I was to do it all again, I would be more ambitious with our first fundraises. Apart from that, I wouldn’t change much at all. We have learned a lot over the past years, and a lot of that knowledge helps us make our decisions today.
What has been your biggest achievement since starting Maison Sport?
For anyone that starts a business, seeing it work in full swing is a fantastic feeling. Going through the process of creating the platform, signing up ski instructors, marketing to customers and then seeing them book, was a big moment. From there on in, we knew we had something that worked and the key for us now is to continue to build and evolve the business so it can become as big as possible.
What three key pieces of advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
Have the confidence and conviction to go for it. One of the hardest steps over the past five years has been the initial decision to create Maison Sport. I’d certainly say to anyone thinking about starting their own business, to be prepared to act on one of your ideas and understand that it won’t always be easy to make that commitment, but if you’re truly passionate about it and have done your research, you will learn so much.
Be patient before pushing for rapid growth. The first couple of years of Maison Sport’s journey were a real battle - the platform simply wasn’t working how we envisaged it. It was important for us to turn this around before starting to scale up the business, which led to us really having to stretch out the funds raised in our investment round, but we got there in the end and now have the right people and technology in place to scale the business.
Invest in people. Find the right people who share your vision and values, and you can build a strong company culture. It’s not been easy to find the right people, but taking our time and being selective means we’ve now built a great team and I look forward to building on that over the next few years.
- In 2016, after identifying a gap in the market for a digitalised booking platform for ski and snowboarding instructors, Nick Robinson, Aaron Tipping and Olly Robins founded Maison Sport.
- Through raising investment, product development and marketing, Maison Sport has grown exponentially, currently working with over 1,200 instructors in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.
- Underestimating the early cost of establishing the disruptive platform and growing it to scale, Co-founder and CEO, Nick Robinson, reflects that the trio should have been more ambitious during the businesses early fundraising round.
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