Diary of an entrepreneur: How Brendon McQueen took HotelsCombined from a bedroom in his parents’ house, to a $100m global company

Diary of an entrepreneur: How Brendon McQueen took HotelsCombined from a bedroom in his parents’ house, to a $100m global company

Name: Brendon McQueen

Company: HotelsCombined

Based: Sydney

In 2005 Brendon McQueen was living with his parents, like most 22 years olds.

Unlike most 22 year olds, McQueen had just launched a hotel price comparison website that would soon become a multimillion dollar business.

The computer science graduate had just quit his job to finish a Masters degree in IT management, but was becoming bored of studying. Looking around at other online price comparison offerings, he decided he and friends Yury Shar and Michael Doubinski could do something better.

With little money and no idea how to raise funds, they pulled together a small amount of their own savings to invest in an idea they knew had big potential.

“We knew it was a great idea,” McQueen tells SmartCompany. “We basically met and had a very simple initial idea. As time went on, well, we knew it was going to be successful from the beginning, but we slowly realised it was going to be something really big.”

And nine years later, the stats show just how big it now is. Hotels Combined turns over $100 million annually, operates in 40 languages and has 300 million visitors every year. It searches over 5 million hotel deals in over 120,000 destinations.

With a 60% growth forecast, it’s not surprising that McQueen is approached “all the time” for acquisition deals.

But a genuine love of what the business does means McQueen won’t be hanging up his mouse any time soon.

Mornings

McQueen wakes up at what he calls a “relatively early” time – 5am.

“I wish I could sleep longer but my mind wakes me up,” says McQueen.

But there’s something else waking him up too – his two year old daughter. After getting her fed and dressed, ready for the day, McQueen likes to take some time for yoga or relaxation before he’s off for the day.

“It helps with the stress and anxiety,” he says. Things had been pretty hectic for the director until recently, when he took a step back to prepare for the imminent birth of his second daughter.

A bowl of muesli and a banana later, he’s out the door and driving to his Sydney office.

Daily life

In its early stages, McQueen ran HotelsCombined out of his parents’ house and then eventually the home he shared with his then girlfriend, now wife.

“I went a little bit nuts working from home. I started talking to myself in the mirror. That was one of the key moments we said, nah, we have to set up an office.”

Hotels Combined now has several offices and more than 200 staff worldwide.

Right now McQueen’s days are fairly ad hoc in the lead up to his daughter’s birth, as he tries not to get too heavily involved in any new projects.

That’s hard for him, because he loves being hands-on with any new product development.

“I’ve definitely been more skewed toward product and technology. I had the strongest technology background [of the three founders]. I’m really hands-on.”

The office culture is very active according to McQueen and every lunch you’ll find him doing countless burpees and push-ups.

“The guys at work run bootcamp. We’re always doing yoga or soccer or badminton.”

Back at his desk he’ll devour a Subway sandwich or sushi.

McQueen tries to get out the door by 5pm these days, “My main objective is to see my daughter before she goes to bed.”

Leisure time

McQueen admits he’s struggled with a work-life balance in the past.

“It was a big issue, there was a real lack of sleep,” he says.

Starting a business at just 22, McQueen says he made a lot of sacrifices and definitely withdrew socially.

“When we did set up the office and started hiring people, then work became my social life.”

These days he’ll check his emails at home, but given the nature of his business, he will try not to fall into the trap of replying to international emails and phone calls at all hours.

“It’s tough. It’s a constant fight I have with myself.”

While he says he hasn’t traditionally had a lot of spare time to invest in hobbies, McQueen loves yoga, walking his chocolate border collie and putting a smile on his pregnant wife’s face with a new DIY task.

Future

McQueen says Hotels Combined is currently continuing its international expansion and continuing to build its brand offline, with the recent release of a series of TV commercials.

Right now, he says, he and the other founders are not looking at an IPO or an acquisition.

“Because we were so profitable early on, we never needed to worry about that,” he says. “But we’re always open to opportunities.”

He says he is not concerned about the entrance of players like Airbnb to the accommodation market.

“The industry is so huge that there’s room for everyone. Most of the big travel players don’t blink an eyelid at Airbnb, it’s a huge industry.”

He says there is actually a huge overlap between HotelsCombined and sites like Airbnb, with the site even listing many properties available on the room rental service.

And as the business continues to claim market share, McQueen has only one small regret.

Referring to the site’s diversification into apartments, bed and breakfasts and home stays, he says with a laugh, “Perhaps we didn’t name the website the best.”

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