In today’s Behind the Biz, I’m delighted to be sharing my interview with the inspiring Natalie Naaman, the founder of U&I Travel.
Throughout the interview, we look back at her career journey, where she is now and where she’s heading with U&I Travel.
Where did the inspiration for U&I Travel come from?
I’ve been running my Lifestyle business (U&I Lifestyle Ltd) for 4 years now, and since I founded the brand, the company has grown year by year. We started as an events-only company, soon expanding to offering concierge and marketing services, and for me, the next natural step would be to expand further and offer travel services, too! Travel is also something which I’m extremely passionate about. I love visiting new places and checking out the coolest new hot spots, so I love that I’m able to share this passion as a business.
I’m a firm believer that when you create a brand, it MUST be something that you are passionate about and love in order to be successful. Nobody wants to spend hours a day doing something that they feel is a hassle; I genuinely look forward to Monday mornings!
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
U&I stands for Unique & Innovative. Before I came up with that, my initial idea was to have a company name that worked off of my initials (NN), but I couldn’t think of any suitable and creative words that matched this. My next trail of thought was to use two initials that worked well together, and immediately came up with U&I. Once I had that, the words “Unique” & “Innovative” fitted perfectly for my brand which was offering a creative and bespoke service.
What did you do before starting U&I Travel?
As soon as I came out of university (I studied PR & Communication at Southampton University) I went straight into working as a social media manager for a Facebook app. I then was offered a job as social media manager for the prestige members club in London, Aura Mayfair, where I worked for two and a half years and rapidly worked my way into having the responsibilities of various roles, including event management, marketing and office management. I absolutely loved my role at Aura, and I will be forever grateful for the contacts that I made there, many whom I still work with today. I actually fell seriously ill back in 2013 which meant that I had to take a few months off work, and it was during that time that I decided I wanted to start my own business. Every cloud!
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Yes. I knew from around the age of 16 that I wanted to run my own business, and as time went on and I got older, the idea of working for someone else for the rest of my life became less and less exciting! Saying that, I didn’t quite expect to go solo at the age that I did (I was 25 when I first started), but life throws us in funny directions and I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason!
Please share a business high and low with us.
That’s a tough one! There have been so many highs. Every day is so exciting to me, because as an entrepreneur you really have no idea what’s going to happen on a day to day basis. One of my favourite moments was going to Dubai at the beginning of this year on a personal holiday, and I got an out of the blue email from Jumeirah, whom I had contacted MONTHS beforehand and not had a response. The email stated that they would love to meet me and discuss the opportunity of forming a partnership (which is what I had initially emailed about), and I just so happened to be in Dubai at the time that I received the email from the lovely lady, Jessica, who was based at one of their hotels on The Palm. I went on holiday for a few days of post-Christmas fun with my best friends and left with a new partnership with one of the most fabulous hotel brands in the world (and definitely one of my personal favourites!). That would definitely be one of my highs.
I can’t remember a specific event which has been a low, but I definitely remember a feeling about a year ago, when things just didn’t seem to be going the way I was hoping. I was about to embark on my 3rd year of business, and financially, I wasn’t seeing the rewards I had hoped for. I remember thinking to myself “is this really worth it? Should I just go and get a regular job?”, and all I can say is that I am SO glad I went with my gut feeling and carried on.
They say it takes 3-5 years on average to start seeing true results as a business owner, and I can honestly say that from my experience, that’s so true. I truly believe that consistency is key with ANYTHING in life, and the only way you will not be successful is if you quit. Things don’t always go to plan and there are many times that we have to change the direction we are going in, but all of this is a learning curve and a lesson learned in the right direction.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice would be to just go for it!! Think carefully about your brand and product, and make sure you have a USP which will be attractive to either a specific or large audience. Plan carefully, and do a short-term and long-term plan. When I first started my business there were many times that I wished I had planned more carefully when I started, as I think the process could have been smoother for me in certain areas (a lesson learned!).
Don’t let other people’s opinions get in your way. If you believe in yourself and in your brand, you will do what it takes to be successful, so don’t let negative opinions be a hindrance to you. In the last four years (particularly when I first decided this was what I wanted to do) I had a few negative opinions thrown my way, but I didn’t let it stop me. Remember, you’re living your life for you, not anyone else, so don’t settle for a life that someone else thinks is better suited.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
Well, funny you ask that! I have literally just finalised the details of our brand new website which is going to be launched before the end of this year. We have just expanded our brand to become a global business, and we now not only have partnerships with selected brands, we can now offer a full travel experience from start to finish. This includes flights, transfers, experiences (including many money-can’t-buy experiences) and more. As well as this, users will be able to book their travel directly and instantly from our website, rather than having to go through the back and forth process of speaking to one of our team, which is our current situation. I can’t wait for this as it will make the whole experience so much smoother for everyone and so much faster, too! I can’t wait for our new website to launch as I truly believe this will open the doors to a whole new world for us, literally!
Find out more over on Natalie’s site.
I want to say a massive thank you to Natalie for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I hope you all enjoyed hearing about her career journey and learning all about U&I Travel.
Natalie’s passion and energy for her business shine throughout this interview. It’s easy to see why she has been and continues to be successful within her work. I wish her the best of luck with U&I Travel for 2019.