We talk to Lee McAteer, co-founder and CEO of Invasion Camp Group about what motivates him and what advice he would give to someone just starting out.
What do you currently do?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Invasion Camp Group. The group includes brands such as AmeriCamp, Camp Thailand, Invasion.com, Camp.co.uk, Camp Canada, What Marketing Company, Camp Cambodia, Camp South Africa, AusJob and many more. In total, we have over 30 brands.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I have had many inspirations, but for my first “baby” AmeriCamp, I had personal experience of a company called Camp America in 2004 and the customer service I received was terrible. They kept calling me Liam constantly and it really annoyed me because I am a great believer in treating people how you want to be treated. My name is Lee not Liam and the little touches to me mattered. Coupled with a very low salary at Camp, I thought there must be a better way of doing this.
After reverse engineering the process it became obvious to me that there was another way of doing things and took it as a personal mission to offer an amazing experience every step of the way that was affordable for the many, not the few.
By having “Save The Student” name AmeriCamp ‘Best Summer Camp Organisation’ for seven years running, I would like to think I have proved my point. The way I see it now is if Camp America are British Airways then AmeriCamp is most certainly Virgin and innovation matters.
For Camp Thailand and Camp Cambodia, I wanted to create something that would make a positive impact. My mantra across Invasion Camp Group is simple: “Work Hard, Play Hard, Make A Positive Impact”. After much research into how schools in Asia taught English, it became quickly apparent that certain types of schools could not afford to employ an English teacher so we gave all of our tefl (teach English as a foreign language qualification) trained teachers to these types of schools for free. In certain countries in Asia it’s mandatory that schools teach English and we are helping to solve that problem. The kids were so thankful for all of our help and it inspired me to go further. Since my first original concept, we have donated playgrounds, re-built schools and in Camp Cambodia, we even pay for the education of all the kids who attend our own school which is affectionately known as “My Grandfather’s House”.
What defines your way of doing business?
Treat people how you want to be treated alongside a mentality of “Work Hard, Play Hard, Make A Positive Impact”. To truly understand someone you have to slip inside their shoes and ask yourself what they would be thinking if given the same set of circumstances.
Who do you admire?
Vince McMahon, the founder and CEO of WWE.
He is a marketing genius who appeals to all different kinds of people across the world. His last Wrestlemania event had 1.95 million homes watching it.
Vince McMahon is an innovator; he has never once sat on his laurels and always continues to strive for greatness. All other forms of sports and entertainment should be looking at his shows and taking notes on how to implement those ideas. In 2016 alone there was 15.1 billion views of their digital video. Their distribution channels for marketing their products are unparalleled, especially on social media.
We have in fact recently created a new brand called Wrestling Travel that provides travel packages to all of the WWE events such as Wrestlemania. The way I see it is if you love what you do then you never work a day in your life so combining hobbies and passions into a business is never a bad thing.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Always do due diligence on any partner you end up doing a B2B deal with. We worked with a company in the very beginning who ended up owing us over £50,000 and never paid. It almost made us bankrupt because unlike most other companies we never took on external investment, but paid for everything we could ourselves – even at times paying people’s wages through credit cards.
If you believe in yourself and work harder and more importantly smarter than anyone else then you will make it work. Take calculated gambles, but never go all in.
Make sure your trademarks are sorted and in good order.
When other people see success, they will always try and capitalise on faults if your foundations are not in order. There is a company who trademarked one of our smaller brand names and we are now spending thousands on getting it back. Sometimes you need to spend money to save money.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Ask yourself what you want the end goal to be and work backwards.
Identify the gap in the market you see and ask yourself is there something that doesn’t exist or if it’s there already, can you do it cheaper and better than who is currently out there whilst still making it worth your while.
You have to be willing to go the extra mile for what you believe in to make it work. If you want a social life and to be done at 5pm every day, then don’t waste your time. You have to be prepared to ride the business rollercoaster. Yes there will be highs, but there will be lows too, you just have to ride it.
What’s funny for me is I’m amazed at how many sleepless nights went into my so-called overnight success story.