Radha and Lee work fast. A year after their first date, they'd both bought a house and set up a business together. This wasn't some runaway romance. It was carefully thought-through spontaneity: they bought the house first because they knew securing a mortgage would be difficult when they left their jobs.
The Flash Pack is their baby. It's a boutique holiday company which offers small group holiday adventures for those in their thirties and forties with the spirit of a backpacker and the style of a jetsetter.
The business was born from the difficulty Radha had looking for a suitable trip in her early thirties. She wanted to go on an adventure but didn't have the time to go backpacking. On top of that, most of her friends weren't suitable travelling companions: they were married with children.
'What about a 'group tour'?" A friend suggested. The trip she eventually decided on had her travelling around Cambodia with a group of people in their early twenties. 'We weren't at the same life stage,' Radha says. It wasn't that fun.
She mentioned it to Lee over that first date and the idea seemed to click. 'It seemed right to set up a travel company,' says Lee. His experience as a photojournalist - in the last six years he'd travelled to over 100 countries - meant he was ready to start this adventure.
There's a gaping hole between the 18-30 Magaluf carnage and the Saga cruise. The Flash Pack aims to offer a boutique adventure for those who are time-poor and experience-hungry. In January 2013, the two started researching; spending a couple of weeks in Sierra Leone, going to travel shows and immersing themselves in the complicated world of travel regulations.
'The travel industry is very outdated,' says Lee. 'And it’s not only the stock photography and awful branding. Regulations mean it's very difficult to set up a new company.' By law, every UK travel company which sells air holidays and flights is required to hold a Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL). This protects customers ensuring they do not get stranded abroad or lose money. This licence doesn't come cheap.
Ideas for holidays come from the most unlikely sources. At an Elvis concert, they met a woman who was raving about a Vespa trip she took around Europe. A trip later, Radha and Lee decided on the first holiday: the Flash Pack would organise a Vespa tour around the Spanish countryside. 'You don't see a tourist for three days,' Radha says excitedly. 'We want to redefine group travel.'
It took four months to develop products, suppliers – they only work with tried and tested ones – and the brand launched in 2013. They started trading in January 2014, but business at first was slow. The two carried on working on their day jobs. 'In travel, you need reviews' Lee says about an industry which relies on word of mouth and recommendations. '"Maybe you got it wrong", people started saying,' Radha chimes in. Until May, they only had four customers for four trips in September.
That was when they had their brainwave. Inspired by a photo in Mashable of two builders repairing the Christ the Redeemer statue, Lee decided to take advantage of the World Cup fever building up and jet off to Rio to take his own selfie.
The resulting photo went viral - you'll probably remember it - and Lee ended up name checking the Flash Pack on CNN, the Daily Show and being tweeted at by Richard Branson. In the next few days they had 2.5 million hits and 25 people had booked a holiday. They linked the stunt to their brand message - the idea that they would provide these kind of unforgettable experiences to customers booking with Flash Pack. The real long-term benefit, Radha explains, is on Google: the 10,000 backlinks from good quality sources means they've shot up the search rankings.
After the initial trips the travel company began to get traction; in 2014 they had over 100 customers booking on about 8 trips; in 2015, they had 300. In 2016 they grew 400% - busting their growth rate target of 200% a year. People are booking to go marathon running and gorilla trekking in Uganda, paddle boarding in Slovenia, and partying in Bogota.
Last year, they pitched at the London Stock Exchange and have raised finance from five investors. This money has gone towards hiring more staff to cope with demand, coping with demanding insurance requirements, an office space, and in January 2016 they both went full-time and on the pay roll, building up to a team of nine. They’re hiring again next month.
'We saw the office and thought it was awesome,' said Radha. 'It's good for commuting and we love the flexibility to grow. We'll need to move out [from Kennington Park] in the summer. We'll probably go to London Bridge as it's easy for staff who are commuters.'
And if their customer feedback is anything to go by, they'll continue to grow. 'People have become really good mates. Some of them even bought a flat together,' Lee laughs. 'And we didn't think that people would come back. We thought they'd make friends on the trip and then organise a holiday themselves the following year. But busy professionals don't have time.' 'Plus, the next trip we have,' Lee jumps in, 'is jetting around the Philippines on private speed boats.'
Is it time for that office team-building trip?!
If you’d like to find out more about Kennington Park – a recently refurbished business centre with immaculately presented office and studio space - and book a viewing, click here.