Michele Connell is the founder of Off the Beaten Track – an accommodation website that connects lovers of the great outdoors with undiscovered locations and experiences that are privately owned.
Based on a dairy farmer in Matangi in the Waikato, Michele also runs an event management company which runs Balloons over Waikato and other large lifestyle events. Michele completed Soda's LIFT and original BOOST programme in 2018. We asked Michele a few questions to see how the business is going three years later.
Tell us about Off The Beaten Track…
The seed of an idea for Off the Beaten Track (OTBT) was created from watching an episode of Country Calendar which gave us a lightbulb moment. Its creation was born out of the knowledge that most of New Zealand’s best kept secret places are privately owned. As dairy farmers we were also well aware of the financial challenges that face us all in the rural industry. Our vision was to connect holidaymakers with a taste of authentic rural New Zealand that is delivered through locations and experiences that are privately owned. The flipside of this is landowners and farmers can monetize what they already own and the discretionary holiday spend can be spread into the regions.
How did Soda help your business?
Soda connected us with some fantastic business growth advisors. We had never worked on an online business before, so the ability to work with experts in this field was hugely important. They were supportive right from the get go, and continue to still be a supportive presence for the business.
Has your business changed or grown since working with Soda?
We were in the very new stages of creation when we entered the LIFT programme, so Soda has been with us along the whole journey. We were always open to taking on advice and having our thinking challenged, and having access to good mentors helped us navigate the unfamiliar territory we found ourselves in. We now have over 200 properties all around New Zealand and you won’t find any of them on a main road! They are secluded, private and many of them offering breath-taking views and fantastic experiences.
What are your biggest business achievements?
Getting Qualmarked, which sees us recognised by Tourism NZ. Getting trademarked which adds enormous value to the business.
How has Covid affected your business?
Being a tourism business, it has affected us greatly. The biggest challenge has been our biggest market, Auckland, not been able to travel resulting in lost bookings. We have also had to delay entry into the international market because of Covid, which is an area we felt was vital to the growth of the business.
What's in the future for Off The Beaten Track?
Our ideal would be for OTBT to be the ‘go to’ website for all travellers looking for an authentic rural escape and a holiday with a difference.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business founder?
Time. I own an event company, which has effectively provided the funding for OTBT. Covid has created challenges in this industry also, so balancing two Covid affected businesses has been my greatest challenge over the last 18 months.
Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Don’t delay in jumping in and doing it. It is sometimes tempting to research extensively and fuss over the spreadsheets, but if you have confidence in your idea, there’s no better time than now to make it happen.
Outside of work, how do you relax or what do you enjoy doing?
I am helping two of our sons create new businesses which is fun. I like to exercise and read and spend time with my family at home on our farm, which is definitely my happy place.