I believe that the best event planners are creative business people. You have to come up with great solutions – sometimes at the last minute – manage employees, vendors and client expectations while delivering amazing results. Not everything can always be perfect, but you always need to be moving. This requires constant learning and I have always felt that one of the best ways to learn is by listening to other people. So for today’s article, we’re talking to the legendary, Luc Levesque, Founder of TravelPod which was later acquired by the travel power house TripAdvisor/Expedia. I could tout his accolades ad nauseum, however I think what may be most valuable about him is that he isn’t only ambitious and hard-working, but he is a prime example of someone who continues to learn and grow himself. He shared with me his journey from starting TravelPod to now, operating as Vice President of SEO/SEM for TripAdvisor where he developed the award-winning TripWow and Traveler IQ Challenge.
The Chicago Event Planner (TCEP): What made you decide to start TravelPod?
Luc Levesque (LL): I started TravelPod in 1997. I have a technology background, but I like to travel. TravelPod started as a hobby and something that I created for myself but eventually other people began using it. People reached out to me and I began to add features and as it grew I eventually brought in a team to help me with it. Later the company was acquired by TripAdvisor, which was part of Expedia at the time.
TCEP: What did you learn from having your own business? What were some mistakes you made along the way?
LL: There were definitely benefits of working for myself. Just starting out, one mistake I made was making it sound bigger than it was. It turns out that people like getting support emails from the CEO. That is one of the benefits of a smaller company and people appreciate that kind of personalization. The small feel is great – there is nothing wrong with being open with your customers in the early stages and not trying to make it look like it’s a 100 person company
TCEP: After the company was sold, what was the biggest change for you?
LL: With the transition, there were profound changes. Pre-acquisition, lots of time and energy were spent on a great product. It’s important but it doesn’t really matter without good marketing. Now, digital marketing is the lifeblood of what we do. This wasn’t so obvious until after TripAdvisor came in. They were committed to it and taught us why it’s so important.
TCEP: What is something new you learned working with TripAdvisor?
LL: Before, when I was running TravelPod, I was very tech focused. Leadership was not my forte. But in the time I’ve spent with TripAdvisor I’ve learned a lot about leadership which has made me better at what I do and ultimately able to achieve more because I got better at managing a group to reach our goals.
TCEP: In accomplishing all that you have, who is someone that you looked up to?
LL: My parents – they were entrepreneurs. They owned several courier companies, a post office, a Sears Outlet, flower shops… needless to say, my parents were busy. Both of my parents worked very hard and so I got my work ethic from them.
TCEP: So it’s safe to assume that you started working with them at a young age?
LL: Yes! My first job was working with my parents. My father starting delivering flowers, then opened a flower shop himself. He found that there was more money in delivering packages rather than flowers so they began a courier company. My father was a pragmatic thinker who was always questioning things. When asked a question where the obvious answer was no, he would always say “Why not? Why can’t you do it? You can do anything you want.”
Also, the CEO of TripAdvisor has been a great mentor to me. He pushed me and coached me through my personal transition to being a leader from being more hands-on.
I have a business coach, too, who helped make the transition much easier.
TCEP: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) are fields I think that a lot of people are still unsure about. What are the differences between the 2 and how did you become so knowledgeable about it?
LL: Well SEO is free, it’s more organic where SEM is paid like the ads you see when you search something. I have a tech background but it’s still something that I continue to learn about. It’s not a topic that’s really taught in school. That’s why we have worked really hard to get a solid team together because there aren’t a lot of good SEO people out there. We will also do educational things like conferences. In general, we try to diversify our platforms [when it comes to search engines like Google vs Bing vs Yahoo]. Things are always changing so we try and experiment with everything; we do as much as possible and as fast as possible.
TCEP: What is one piece of advice you would give someone just coming out of college or entering the professional world?
LL: You have to do something you are passionate about. It’s hard to do a start up. Getting rich can’t drive you because it’s a lot of work and you need something that excites you and makes you want to work the hours it takes to become successful.
TCEP: What advice to you have to someone starting a business?
LL: Be sure to hire the right people. As a leader, you can do a lot of things wrong, you can make mistakes but if you have the right people behind you who know what they are doing, it makes a major difference. I put a lot of effort into hiring the right people. In fact, I’m really happy because I just had someone agree to work with us who I’ve been trying to get for over 2 years. When it comes to hiring the right people, do whatever it takes and be patient. There’s no replacement for great talent.
Want to learn more about Luc and all his exciting achievements? Check out his website: http://luclevesque.com/
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