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Pioneers of the Week: Lee and Dan Strickland from Cohort Hostel

Community Manager

Pioneers of the Week: Lee and Dan Strickland from Cohort Hostel

A home from home, our Pioneers of the Week Lee, @Cohort_Hostel, and Dan have transformed an old hostel into a destination for visitors to St Ives in Cornwall. They've got some great advice for those starting out in the hospitality industry, can you help with their funding query?


Introduce you and your business in one sentence.

Lee and Dan - Cohort Hostel.pngWe're husband and wife team Lee and Dan Strickland, we own and run Cohort Hostel, a super stylish, friendly hostel in the centre of St Ives, Cornwall.


Tell us 2 interesting facts about you.

  • Dan has a Masters in Forensic Psychology
  • Lee once played Frosty the Snowman in a touring panto back in the days when she wanted to be an actress!

How did you start your business?

We moved from London to Cornwall on a whim to open a B&B with no plan and no exit strategy. It quickly became clear that we were going to have to move on to something bigger to stay interested and an old, dilapidated backpackers hostel came on the market a few years later.


It felt like a much better fit for us and the Grade II listed building itself was amazing, it had so much potential. It’s been a long process renovating it from top to bottom but we’re nearly there, we only have a few more things to do this winter to feel like it’s finally finished.


What made you start your business?

We just wanted to work for ourselves and were quite keen to have a break from London… we were open to opportunities and the B&B thing just landed in our lap when on holiday in Cornwall. We’re pretty delighted (and feel quite lucky) that the youth hostel came out of that move.


What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?

Working for ourselves. It’s much easier and much more satisfying to put in the hours to something that you’ve built rather than something someone else has. We feel more in charge of our own destiny and with two young children we do have a great work / life balance. 


What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?

The biggest challenge has been building our business outside of July and August. Tourism in Cornwall is a hugely seasonal business and whilst we’re lucky to be in St Ives, which has an element of year-round trade, our natural market of independent travellers doesn’t really exist outside of the summer months. We’ve had to work very hard to build up our business outside of this time.  


Can you share an experience that really helped you take your business forward?

Now the building is up to scratch we feel more able to focus on things that will take the business forward.


We’re currently working with Oxford Innovation, an organisation which supports high growth SMEs; their input is proving invaluable and really helps us focus on growth and where we want to be. Our meetings with them force us to think outside of the day-to-day running of the business which doesn’t come naturally.


We’ve also accessed some funding through the Dept of International Trade and this is enabling us to explore markets outside of the UK and develop a marketing strategy which supports international growth.


Where do you work from?

I mainly work from the home office as my role is focused on the administration, marketing and groups side of the business. Dan works from the hostel as he is responsible for everything on site, including staff.


What do you wish you knew when you first started in business?

That you’re never going to get it right from the beginning.


What are your three top tips for your industry?

  • Think about what your customer needs when they walk through your door… not just one customer but all of them: Meet those needs with a smile on your face and you can’t go far wrong.
  • Develop a thick skin, there’s something about the hospitality business where everyone thinks they could do a better job than you and some of the reviews can be brutal.
  • Be good to your staff; it’s not a new concept but super important – we all want to keep good people.

Latest news?

We’ve just made it to the final of the Best Accommodation in the British Youth Travel Awards 2017 and are excited to be the only independent hostel in the finals. We can’t wait for the results on 7 December. (Good luck, keep us posted! – Emma)


What would you like to ask the Voom Pioneers community?

We’d be interested to hear of anyone whose accessed significant capital (£300k+) from private investors and how they went about it.


We raised half of what you're looking for by remortgaging. The interest rates are fixed at a very reasonable rate and it was pretty quick and easy to arrange. We've also kept control of our business.  


Good luck with the Travel Awards!

Well Connected

Thanks MManchester; we would definitely do that too but we would need that much plus remortgaging... it's an expensive business - trying to expand a business which requires land / property :-).