Building the billion-dollar travel company “you’ve never heard about”
We meet Josh Paine, CEO of WorldVentures Holdings and Rovia
For this week’s TD Podcast I met the CEO of WorldVentures Holdings and Rovia, Josh Paine, back stage at the Impact Arena in Bangkok. Paine had just finished speaking at an event for his company WorldVentures Holdings and one of its products DreamTrips:
The following is an abridged version of the conversation. Paine speaks:
WorldVentures Holdings is one of the biggest companies you’ve never heard about – even for me. I actually live two miles away from the office and I never heard of it even with my travel background.
It’s the world’s best kept secret; a 13-year-old network marketing company that offers life-changing experiences that are like nothing else you can get on the globe. The company that supplies all those is a virtuoso travel agency called Rovia, a platform that builds curated experiences for members.
I was born and raised in Tyler, Texas, and I moved to Dallas in the late 80s. The long and short of it is I ended up taking the accounting route – which is a little interesting given my personality. I went to Texas A&M and graduated in accounting with a masters in finance, and ended up at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
I did that for a few years and I was very good at it – the problem was, I hated it! A few years later I joined an organisation in the credit card processing space, but it had blown up and gone bankrupt.
We put together an investor group, to rebuild this organisation because it was very uniquely positioned: a company that serviced credit card processing for e-commerce companies, as the world was coming online. We took it from a bankrupt company to the eighth largest processing company in the world, and had a lot of fun doing that.
Through that experience, I joined cheapcaribbean.com – a no-name company that overnight went from nothing to about $80 million. It boomed and there was so much money that in 2007 I was told – these are the actual words – “I want you to come help me count the money”.
My whole family moved across the country and I helped to count them money, but it wasn’t what I expected. I said, “You guys have got 60 days of cash in the bank; you’re going bankrupt.”
It turns out you can sell a lot of widgets for USD 30 even when they cost you USD 55 – this was an upside-down equation, but it was fixable. I wanted to see the company live so the founders and I put together an investor group. In 45 days we had enough money to save it and the investors asked me to take the lead.
“Replicate processes to create infrastructure”
I like to grow and scale organisations and I’m fairly good at it. Part of the reason you do that is you can institutionalise; you replicate processes to create infrastructure. If you want to build a building first you have to dig deep to create foundations. For me, it was realising that we could build a foundation for this and we could combine two things: we could combine the institutionalisation that needed to happen to grow and the entrepreneurial spirit that the company had.
We just hit it out of the ballpark. The next year, in 2009, as the global markets melted down, we made more money than the entire 10-year history of the company combined – just taking these two things and putting them together.
We went from an 80-million dollar business that was losing money to a company that was making a lot of money – in the end I did get to count the money.
I got what I wanted – and it wasn’t what I wanted. So I set up a private equity company because I wanted to let my money work for me. Frankly, I was a little tired and had young kids at home and thought I would sit on boards and mentor other people, and I did that for years.
“It was a leisurely life but it wasn’t full of purpose”
The problem is, when you’re wired to operate this isnt’s fulfilling. I no longer had teams and I tried to work through other people. I had a bit of a void in my life – it wasn’t what I was passionate about doing. It was a leisurely life but it wasn’t full of purpose. I had the ‘unique blessing’ of one of my investment companies go sideways; I say that tongue in cheek because I had to parachute in and fix it – but I had a lot of fun doing it.
A month later, a friend who had a credit card processing company called me and said “I’ve had a company for nine years and it’s going out of business right now. I’ve lost every key executive in the last 14 days and I’m going under – I need some help.”
I jumped in to help and so I was running three companies, when I got a voicemail from a guy named Wayne Nugent. He started talking about conscious capitalism and the Stagen Leadership Academy – things that I really care about. I was morbidly curious (it wasn’t until later I realised he cyber-stalked me and all that was on my LinkedIn profile!).
Nonetheless, I called him back and he said he was building a billion-dollar travel company and he wanted me to come run it. I said, ‘I’m a man of my word and I’m running three businesses right now and I’m not going to not fulfill that and so I need about six months.’
I did take six months but I got to know Wayne and the company and meet the leadership and I just fell in love with it. I joined as CEO of Rovio in February last year.
I have to be in a position that allows me to use my strengths, resources and gifts to bless other people and if I’m not, I don’t feel any purpose. I didn’t see myself as a turnaround man but if you look in mirror and say, ‘You did it six times – maybe you are that guy.’
“A massive emotional shift that takes place as you’re growing up”
Companies are like people, with childhood, adolescence and adulthood. For the companies that are blessed enough to make it to the adolescent life cycle, that’s where things get rocky. In the same way as human development, it’s always difficult and it’s always emotional because you’re this child and you’re trying to become an adult but you don’t yet have adult ways. There is such a massive emotional shift that takes place as you’re growing up and the same is true of companies.
When a company starts off and it is crazy, young and entrepreneurial, you have to throw Jell-O at a wall and see what sticks. You’re trying so hard to see what’ll work and you develop a winning formula but that winning formula only takes you so far. There’s a point in time where the thing that got you here won’t get you there.
You have to change the formula, which is a scary thing. I like to find organisations that are in that adolescent life cycle and help them unlock that growth for the next stage of growth and development.
WorldVentures Holdings and Rovia
There’s a lot of networking marketing companies out there – they usually sell lotions and potions with goji berry or a root you find in the woods that has magical properties. I’m not sure about that! But successful companies always have the same thing: they take you on a trip. There’s a prize for recognition.
Wayne actually told me ‘I want to become to Mary Kay of travel!’. We make it all about the trip, all about the life experiences, and we do it in a unique group setting that creates a community. Everything revolves around that; that’s the heart of Wayne Nugent. I just fell in love with this vision and my job here is to help his vision become a reality.
You can buy a hotel on hotels.com or booking.com and you can buy your airfare, but we package it up in the unique way to provide true life experience. We put hosts on the trip and we open up special things such as a cocktail reception on the roof or we’ll open up a museum that you can’t get into.
We shut down Disney World and took over the theme park just for one of our DreamTrips – no-one can do that!
I realised I’m a hypocrite because I was not eating the bread I’m baking – I hadn’t done a trip myself. I love riding Harleys – every year I ride around Colorado with my brother – and so the team built a dream trip riding Harleys through the mountains of Colorado. It was epic!
They said, ‘We’ve got the concept; let us run with this.’ They built the trip and they posted it out to the community and then overnight the thing sold out. They had chaser cars and drones that are capturing footage so they can put together a video.
In one town they opened up a saloon that had been open since the 1800s and served local whiskey. It was a game-changing experience: 45 dream trippers crossing Colorado!
The company and its events
We’re in 90 different countries and we have about 260,000 members, with 48% of our members in the US. We have great leaders in this company and we build trips around their passions too.
We get to showcase a lot of people’s passions – the community can actually submit their passions and put things on a bucket list and it will notify them when something relevant comes up.
We do a series of events across our regions. People go to be enriched and to think differently, and to find out about the latest and greatest product offerings and incentives. We always have a little something extra special for the people. It’s a whole lot of fun; it’s like a family gathering.
So the training really centers around the stumbling blocks we have, like the false beliefs we have in this life – we really think people are motivated by a passion, but the reality is people are motivated by fear.
These talks help people in their businesses as well as personally and that’s something that I’m really passionate about. Our mantra is ‘Fun, freedom and fulfillment’ and it’s something we strive every day to give people.
Going into 2019, it’s been fun for me to take this past year to develop a full product spectrum. We have our flagship product DreamTrips but we have made massive advancements in our OTA engine and have we launched DreamDays, DreamNights and DreamBreaks.
I have just hired the CTO from Cheap Caribbean because we’re delivering a lot of new technology that is going to make it easier for people to have these amazing life-changing experiences. We’re investing heavily in an ecosystem for dining and entertainment – it’s a vast network of tens of thousands of merchants. For members, you get points that you can burn on our DreamTrips rewards platform – that we just launched in Asia.
“We want people to be a part of our ecosystem”
This is for everything from travel to everyday purchases; your vacuum cleaner to your trip to see your mother-in-law in Phuket.
We want people to be a part of our ecosystem, join the family and get additional daily value from their membership – and we have more in store for 2019.