11 Lessons We Can Learn From Contikis John Anderson

11 Lessons We Can Learn From Contikis John Anderson

Late last month, AIB hosted the final alumni event for 2015 in Adelaide with special guest speaker John Anderson, founder of Contiki. On the night, John recounted his business journey in great detail, sharing the highs, lows and lessons he learnt along the way. While his story was told with much humour, there were a number of practical business lessons we can learn from him. For those who weren’t able to be there on the night, see below for 11 of the lessons John shared from his long and successful career.

1. Make your ideas happen

One of John’s great quotes from the night was “We all have ideas – the secret is to make those ideas happen”. As a 22 year old, John found a way to make his idea of seeing Europe on a shoestring budget a reality by creating a bus trip for 12 people, one being he, and covered the costs with fares from the remaining 11 passengers.

2. Plan your ideas

Before selling the fares to the other 11 passengers, John spent time researching exactly what he would need and the costs associated. He found a suitable vehicle, tallied the costs for equipment, and researched camping fees, ferry fares and petrol costs. He ensured that he was prepared before undertaking his business venture, ultimately leading to the success of his first trip around Europe.

3. Believe in yourself

When John embarked on the first tour, he had never been to anywhere in Europe except Paris. All of the passengers thought that he was an experienced driver and tour guide, however he had not even driven on the other side of the road! When reflecting on this, John said that despite these perceived challenges “I never doubted my ability to do it”. Even after years in the business he credits his continued success to this very thing. “We believed in the product and the service that we were providing. We believed in the brand that was gathering momentum; but above all, we believed in ourselves,” he said.

4. Honesty is the best policy

While John started the tour pretending to know his way around Europe, it took only one night for his conscience to hit him. The next day he admitted to the group that he had not been around Europe before, and passengers explained that they thought this was the case. “They were so happy to be on something reasonably organised that all was forgiven,” John said. Be honest about your offering and you will find that people will be more accepting of your business and brand.

5. See challenges as opportunities

On his second trip, John had 12 days to go on the itinerary but did not have enough money to complete all scheduled stops. While many would have called it quits there, John calculated how much money he needed to get the bus directly back to London, then put that money aside. With the remaining funds, he went to the casino and won enough money to continue the trip. While we don’t advocate gambling, this act demonstrates John’s very opportunistic approach to challenges.

6. Take calculated risks

Although John’s risk above was somewhat crazy, it can be considered a calculated risk as he had a backup plan and enough money to get the bus back to London. On the topic of risks, John said, “Throughout my personal and business life, I took huge risks, but every time I took a risk I tried to have a fall-back position”. He explained that if you want to achieve exceptional results, you have to be prepared to take calculated risks and give things a go.

7. Don’t underestimate word of mouth in business

When John was ready to pack up his bags and head back to New Zealand, he was approached by several people who had heard about the fantastic bus trip. These people were interested in participating the following year, giving John a further unexpected business opportunity. This convinced him to run the tours the next year – a decision that he will never regret.

8. Create a business plan

After several years in business, John had a number of strong competitors. He realised that to out-do the competition, he had to do things differently. To do so, he created a business plan. He said, “Once you write something down that you want to achieve, something clicks in your head”. After the business plan was constructed, he focused on working out how he was going to achieve it.

9. Quality is key

Although it took him years to understand this, John explains that “One night the light went on – I realised that if something is worth doing, don’t take the short cut or the cheap option”. He sold his entire minibus fleet, notorious for breakdowns, and bought the best coaches that money could buy. When he started using the coaches, his business changed forever – passengers loved them and they were both safe and reliable.

10. Innovation is essential

Touching on innovation, John said, “I constantly innovated because the market kept changing. Instead of just 12 week tours, I put on three, four and five week tours”. He went to different parts of Europe, offered different styles of tours. Whatever he did, his competitors copied him. This is the same in today’s ever-changing business environment – you must constantly be adapting to keep up with the demands of your market.

11. Be prepared for tough times

John enforced that no matter how successful your business is, you must never get complacent. He said, “Every second of every day, something happens to somebody in business when they least expect it”. Despite great success with Contiki, they experienced challenges such as natural disasters, unmanageable passenger expectations and countless accidents. If you are realistic and plan for potential challenges, your business will be better prepared when they do occur.

What do you think?

Do you find John Anderson’s open and honest business journey to be of relevance to you? We thought his speech was an inspiring and a raw account of the peaks and troughs of the business world. If you have any other lessons to add to the list – comment them below and join the conversation.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.

Image credit: Australian Institute of Business 


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