Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Nico Jacquart and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Secret Food Tours, a global food tour company with tours in more than 50 cities worldwide.
If you have never done a food tour before, it’s very much like a walking sightseeing tour but focused on food and drinks. A local and passionate tour guide will take you on a 3-hour tour of his/her city, tell you all about the culture and where locals go to eat, discover local restaurants and taste the best food the city has to offer.
Our most popular tour is Paris Food Tour where you will taste some of the best chocolates and macarons in Paris, learn how to pick some traditional French cheeses and pair them with wine. You will also visit one of the nicest areas of Paris, Montmartre.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m a French citizen and serial entrepreneur, before Secret Food Tours I had two other businesses, one online gaming company, and an online marketing agency, both experienced helped me improve the skills that were needed to build Secret Food Tours.
I had the idea of a food tour with my business partner, Oliver Levene when we realized that many of our friends traveling to Paris or London would ask us where to eat or where to find the best food in the city.
Before spending too much time on the project I wanted to test the market first, so I created a website for a food tour in Paris in a couple of hours, not the greatest website but good enough for a test, and I started advertising it on Google to see if we could sell some tickets. Within a few hours, we sold our first ticket, validating the project, we could invest more money and time into it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once the product was validated, we worked on a shiny new website with beautiful photos of food, great copy, and a simple but powerful booking system.
While we worked on the website and marketing, I also worked on developing the actual food tour, finding the best place to eat, the most secret food shops, and the most unique stories about the cities. The hardest part was to put everything together, in a route that made sense and was optimal to give the best experience to our future customers. It took a lot of testing and tweaking to find the perfect balance.
Our first tour was in Paris and we keep working on it as we keep improving all our tours daily, our work is never finished.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we launched our first tour, I was the guide, I had never done that before but I was excited about the challenge and we couldn’t afford to hire a guide and I thought it was important for me to know all the aspects of the business.
We focused our marketing efforts online and started promoting the website on Google. We realized quickly that online reputation was everything now. We made sure to deliver great tours and make the client happy no matter what, to get good reviews on Tripadvisor, Google, and other websites.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
After successfully launching Paris and London, we launched Rome, our first city where neither founders were living in the city, a first real test that our business was scalable. The biggest difficulty was to find a great and reliable manager who could help us to build, grow and expand the city. Our experience in Rome made it clear that finding the right managers was the key to grow our business worldwide.
Being flexible is the most important, especially at the start, being able to start quickly and move on to a new direction or a new project is essential.
To open new cities we first decide on which city to open and then look for the right manager, we usually post ads on local job boards, and on Indeed, we look for people who are passionate about food and their experience in tourism is always better but it’s not required.
The City Manager is responsible for building and maintaining the tour, hiring and training the guides, and relationships with the restaurants, shops, or any local partners.
We are still getting most of our bookings directly on our website, having run an online marketing agency in the past I am quite good at advertising on Google and other search engines, which help a lot. A good part of our revenue is coming from OTAs (Viator, GetYourGuide,...) but we need to be able to get most of our bookings directly so we are not too dependent on OTAs.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have now launched more than 80 tours in over 50 cities in Europe, America, Africa, and Asia. Successfully growing the biggest food tours company in the world with a growth year on year of 100%.
We had a stable business however the covid crisis arrived and put tourism to a stop, at least temporarily, right now the business is hibernating waiting for the tourism industry to recover.
In the meantime we work on getting ready to restart stronger than ever, working on our website, email marketing, SEO, developing our own in-house management system. We also developed some very interesting and popular virtual tours, like a virtual walking tour of Paris and London, and a virtual gin experience.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- In-house management tool
- Booking system: ticketinghub
- Customer service system: Freshdesk
- Email / document sharing: Google Workspace
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Being flexible is the most important, especially at the start, being able to start quickly and move on to a new direction or a new project is essential. It’s not easy but many of the best decisions we took were to close down some projects or letting people go. Moving on quickly allows you to try something else and new businesses can’t afford dead weight.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for great guides for our cities or new managers. You can contact us at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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