If you watch Shark Tank on Friday nights while you plan out the rest of your weekends, this story is meant for you.
Montreal’s Joe Poulin has one of the most inspiring rags to riches stories that I have ever heard; merging his passion for travel and technology to create a revolutionary multi-million dollar business.
When he was 11, Poulin started recycling computer parts from his home and then moved onto buying and selling computer parts at 13. Two years later, he started teaching himself the in’s and out’s of webdesign and at 17, he flew to Barbados to convince the owner of a vacation property to let Poulin build a website for his business. The result, Luxury Retreats, integrates the web with personalized concierge-like service associated with high-end getaways.
Since it launched in 1999, the company now features more than 2000 villas in 50 destinations and employs approximately 150 employees. The company is on track to reach sales of $100-million by June of this year. In a recent interview, Poulin spoke to the Financial Post about what he does.
Here’s a snippet.
QUESTION: How did you decide to start a vacation property listing website when your (self-taught) expertise was in computers?
Poulin: I knew how to build websites, I knew how to rank them on search engines and when I was speaking with the homeowner in Barbados, I realized he had no concept of how to drive traffic to a website. I thought why not build one website for many homes, drive the traffic to it and then figure out some kind of arrangement for the traffic.
My original model was to do a listing service similar to what Homeaway.com does today, charging homeowners to list their properties. My objective was to make a million bucks by listing a thousand homes and charging each $1,000 a year. Where it didn’t work right away was I literally showed up at peoples’ doors and no one was giving a 17-year-old $1,000 for this Internet stuff.
I went back to Montreal and built the site anyway (under a brand we still have today, Caribbeanway.com). The industry already [had a system] where you took a cut of the revenue from a sale and I decided that was a good way to approach it because when I talked to homeowners I could say, “I just need some pictures and information, if you never hear from me again it doesn’t cost you anything. If you do, it’s because now I’m bringing revenue and we’ll do a revenue share.”
When I kicked off the company we had about seven properties and I decided to use the Internet and the search marketing I knew how to do to attract traffic and then take a cut of the revenue. That’s the model we … still use today.
To read more of the interview, check out the Ottawa Citizen’s partial transcript