Meet the 'ebullient overgrown schoolboy' who will take you on holiday of a lifetime
I caught up with Dan Janes, once described by the Guardian as an 'ebullient overgrown schoolboy' which, according to Dan's friends and family, is pretty much an accurate description.
Dan is an adventurer, avid skier and the founder of HOFNAR, always entertaining guests at his ski, surfing and multi-activity holidays in France and the UK.
He is someone who knows what building a great name from scratch really involves. Without having the initial capital, he has created an extremely popular, yet laid-back travel company, with three quarters of his guests coming back the following year.
In this interview, Dan talks about driving a bus in London, never wanting a real job, occasionally skiing 100 km a day, hiring the right people, and much more!
What does Hofnar stand for?
You need to come away with us to find out!
You used to drive a bus in London. How did starting ski company in French Alps come about?
I never really wanted a real job. I had an idea to convert an old bus into a 'tour bus' that would run to the Alps every week during the winter.
Having been turned down by the bank for a loan I responded to an advert in the local paper to get my bus licence in return for working with the bus company for 6 months. This would be perfect, I thought, to keep the money coming in whilst I raised the money for the 'tour bus.' I never did get it up and running - along came EasyJet and the thought of a bus ride is less appealing than a plane ride to most people.
The first trip happened in 2003 and was just me and a group of mates. I did one trip a year to start with, but in 2008 we became a limited company. That year we did 8 weeks of the season and since then we have done full snow seasons and our summer programme is really starting to blossom...
Looking back at your journey, what were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Money. I have never had any capital. I have had to rely on people letting me pay them back over long periods of time. When you rent a ski chalet you are committed to a certain number of beds and when you don't fill them you lose money very quickly. I am really fortunate to work with the Baud family in Morzine who have really helped me.
What's the one thing you are most proud of ?
I love it when friendships are formed. It gives me a reall good feeling when I see people still friends years later because they met on a trip that I put together.
What makes you jump out of bed every morning?
I've always got SO much to do, it's 5:21am now!
What's a typical day in the snow like, if there is one?
It's pretty crazy and does vary depending on who is away with us. Classicly over breakfast we'll be reminiscing on what happened the night before. There always seems to be stories from the night before...Then usually we are on the lifts at about 9 / 9:30 and some days we'll ski for miles (there's the 100km day!).
Some days we'll hang in the parks and get loose on the airbag... we tend to split into smaller groups depending on who wants to do what, but we all meet for lunch.
Back on the slopes in the afternoon before meeting for aprés in one of the bars at the bottom of the runs....Back to the chalet for snacks and hot tub!
When the guests are all relaxing in the tub I'll be preparing dinner upstairs. After dinner we might do a few silly games before heading out into town to meet the locals and perhaps try that Mutzig beer that everyone talks about.
You regularly swap the snowy pistes of France for surfing and hiking in the UK. How does doing business in the UK and France compare?
I find it way harder to find people to do stuff in the UK. Most of our guests are Brits. I think during the winter if somebody is going to go on holiday they will probably go skiing. If somebody is going to go on holiday during the summer then the options are way bigger and so it's harder to get people to come our way. But as our programme grows and we've been around that bit longer our summer numbers are getting stronger.
What do you like about having your own business and how do you manage everything without going insane?
It's a roller coaster. As well as running HOFNAR I still drive buses every now and then to keep the pennies rolling in. I also am trying to do up our house and spend time with my baby! It's busy.
I don't have too much social time or hobbies outside of HOFNAR. Luckily my passions are those that we do with HOFNAR and I love the business that I have created.
There are many companies that start up and fade away. You have to be fully committed to what you do and your business needs to be doing something you like doing. There's very little time for anything else! Some days you wake up and think 'what am I doing!', other days it is like walking on air. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone for sure!
How do you use social media to promote Hofnar?
People sharing photos is such a powerful thing. Instagram / FaceBook are both vital for me to spread things 'word of mouth'.
There are a couple of people working with you every winter. Who do you look for when you’re hiring?
The most important thing I try and look for is for a person that other people would like to go on holiday with AGAIN. It's a really tough quality to know in advance and I have had mixed results.
I'm really keen to grow my business and bringing more people on board is the key. Probably half of the applications that come to me I dismiss because of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors on their CV.
Or my other pet hate is generic covering letters. If you really want to work with any company then the CV should be tailored to that specific company (and checked by a friend for mistakes) and the covering letter should be targeted at the person you are writing to!
Every Hofnar trip has a story to tell. Can you a share a memorable story from your adventures?
I'm not sure of a single story - we have gotten up to all kinds of things from being chased by cows, to doing shots with a random shepherd in the middle of nowhere, from getting massively stuck in a huge storm to hitch hiking our way home.
Things are slightly more professional now but I love running the HOFNAR experience. On a trip I belly laugh almost everyday - there is always someone fooling about or falling over or telling jokes.
What are your future plans with Hofnar? Are you expanding outside the UK and France?
I have SO many plans and ideas and it really centres on me hiring the right staff, I need more brain power, I need more people shouting about HOFNAR.
In the short term we have increased capacity on our winter trips and have 3 extra weeks in the programme - next year I hope to have two chalets running.
This summer we are upping the number of weekend trips in the UK and will run a few surf trips to Portugal.
I have ideas for a hotel in London but we are a ways off that yet.
Can you give us a few awesome tips for building a successful business?
Build a business around something that you love and stick with it. Before every overnight success there was years of work, failures, sweat and tears. Focus, be consistent and don't give up...
What would you say to anyone who is planning to start a ski holiday company?