Most first dates would be considered successful if you both want to see each other again – but one couple took it a big step further, agreeing to launch a business together and invest their life savings.
Radha Vyas, 39, and Lee Thompson, 37, met via the dating website Match.com in London in 2012 and felt an ‘instant connection’, bonding over their shared love of travel.
During the date Radha shared her vision of starting a business offering trips for solo travellers – and Lee was instantly on board.
The pair invested £15,000 between them to get Flash Pack up and running – though they initially struggled to get if off the ground.
Radha Vyas and Lee Thompson met via the dating website Match.com in London in 2012 and felt an ‘instant connection’, bonding over their shared love of travel
On the brink of giving up in the run up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the couple heard that the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was undergoing repairs and came up with an idea.
What followed was one of the most epic selfies of all time, taken by Lee from the top of the iconic landmark with the city sprawling in the background.
It quickly went viral, sparking 1.4million hits to the Flash Pack website in two days – five years later, the business is now valued at over £20million.
Perhaps ironically, the former solo travellers are now married and share a six-month-old daughter, Anyā.
Lee took one of the most epic selfies of all time, from the top of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue with the city sprawling in the background
Speaking to FEMAIL, Radha said her sense of wanderlust set in from the age of seven, when she and her sister travelled alone to Kenya to meet relatives.
‘It was just so exciting,’ she said. ‘From that point on, I was always looking for the next adventure.’
Radha told how she had been looking for a business idea from the age of 27, and tried a few out but never really got anywhere.
‘At 33 I was feeling like my dream of starting my own business was fading away,’ she admitted.
During their first date, Radha shared her vision of starting a business offering trips for solo travellers – and Lee was instantly on board
‘I was desperate for a holiday to rethink my life plans but couldn’t find anyone who was available to travel with me. Although I’ve solo travelled all my life, I really needed some company at that point in my life.
‘That’s how the concept of group travel first came on my radar. I realised there was no travel company out there talking directly to solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. I saw a huge opportunity and it felt like that light-bulb moment.’
Radha met Lee, a photo journalist, at a local pub, after they discovered they lived just a few streets away from each other.
‘I think our profiles must have come up together on Match.com via a mutual love of travel, food and business,’ Radha said.
Perhaps ironically, the former solo travellers are now married and share a six-month-old daughter, Anyā
‘And the fact that Lee was working as a photojournalist, in locations all over the world, appealed to my adventurous side.
‘The connection was instant. We spent the start of night trading travel tales and a few glasses of wine in, I shared my idea for a new kind of group travel company for people like Lee and I who really craved adventure.
‘Lee immediately saw the potential of it as a business concept and the rest is history.’
The couple’s relationship grew in tandem with the company, with many of their initial dates spent attending trade shows together.
‘It wasn’t a traditional approach to romance but it worked for us!’ Radha revealed.
Radha said her sense of wanderlust set in from the age of seven, when she and her sister travelled alone to Kenya to meet relatives (pictured)
The adventurer came up with the idea for her business after realising there was no travel company out there talking directly to solo travellers in their 30s and 40s
‘Right from the start we spent a lot of time together, so developing the concept for Flash Pack with consumer research etc. felt like a natural part of that arc.’
Around four months in, the duo planned a pilot trip together to Sierra Leone – however they ran out of money in the cash-only economy and almost ended up stranded for the night in Freetown.
‘It was also brilliant,’ Radha insisted. ‘We met the friendliest people, tracked down gorgeous, remote beaches and generally had a proper adventure.
‘It confirmed to us that we were both on the same page in what we wanted from travel: something that stretches you and really shows the character of a place.’
After more in-depth research and planning, they launched Flash Pack in January 2014 – 13 months after their first date, by which point they’d brought a flat together and were using the back room to run the business.
After more indepth research and planning, Radha and Lee launched Flash Pack in January 2014 – 13 months after their first date
They put in around £15,000 initially, which was used primarily to build a website and purchase adwords, but over time that figure grew to £60,000.
Radha, a former fundraising consultant, and Lee kept their previous jobs to begin with, which meant they were both putting in 15 hour days and pushing themselves to keep up momentum.
But generating interest was tough and the couple struggled to gain the trust of travellers without online reviews and a decent Google ranking.
‘We’d taken a big gamble in investing our savings into the launch of the business, and conviction alone was not enough to make it work,’ Radha admitted.
‘We needed proof of concept. One person did book to travel with us in those early days but we had to cancel the trip as we got no other bookings. We were running out of cash and yes, we were considering quitting.’
Despite the business being valued in the millions, Radha and Lee only draw a ‘modest’ salary
They took a break to discuss their options – during which they came up with the idea for the selfie.
‘We read that Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio was being repaired – which meant it would be possible to climb to the top of it,’ Radha recalled.
‘It was the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil at the time, and the authorities in Rio were getting a lot of bad press over their planning of it. We convinced them that we could turn this around with the world’s first selfie from the top of Christ the Redeemer.
What is Flash Pack?
Flash Pack is a travel company for like-minded solo travellers, usually professionals, in their 30s and 40s.
It curates daring adventures all over the world, filled with moments designed to surprise and delight.
Travellers get to stretch their comfort zone with activities like zip-lining through the rainforests of Belize or abseiling down Table Mountain in Cape Town.
It tries to provide boutique hotels where it can, with facilities such as rooftop bars or infinity pools.
Its trips are small (a maximum of 14 travellers at a time) and meticulously designed to provide an inside look at whatever country you’re exploring, in the company of experienced guides.
It’s designed to provide the thrill of backpacking with a luxe element in the mix (hence the name Flash Pack).
The itineraries are designed to provide guests with a flavour of local people, food and activities a little off the realm of the ordinary. They usually factor in time for guests to go off and do their own thing.
‘Lee did exactly that. He carefully planned through each stage and did it with the full awareness and support of the Rio government. The Archdiocese of Rio even blessed him and gave him access at the bottom of the statue before he began his climb, so it wasn’t reckless in the way we’ve come to associate with certain travel selfies over the past few years.
‘The resulting selfie from Christ the Redeemer’s crown, with the whole of Rio in the background, went viral.
‘It sparked 1.4 million hits to Flashpack.com in two days, alongside a huge wave of interest and awareness in the brand. It was just the publicity we needed to bring in sales, and we’ve had consistent monthly revenue from then on in. We also started ranking on page one of Google.
‘People loved our trips; they connected with their fellow travellers and embraced the adventure aspect just as we hoped they would. With bookings and reviews flowing in, monthly sales grew quickly from then on in.’
The couple have clearly divided roles in the company, with Radha acting as CEO and overseeing operational decisions and Lee handling the brand side. The US currently hosts their fastest-growing customer base and this summer they launched an office in New York.
They also launched the Flash Pack Foundation last year, which sees them donate £5 for every Flash Pack trip booked to their grassroot charity partners in the areas they operate in around the world. The company also aims to become carbon neutral and provide clean water tanks on 50 per cent of Flash Pack adventures by 2023.
As well as managing a high-growth business, the couple now have the added responsibility of being parents to baby Anyā.
Radha admitted it’s not easy, but she aims to be as present as possible in whatever world she’s in – be it mum or work.
Radha admitted it’s not easy, but she aims to be as present as possible in whatever world she’s in – be it mum or work
‘Whatever spare time I have is spent breastfeeding Anyā – I pump in the office; the team are now used to seeing bags of my milk in the fridge! – and reading stories to her. She’ll come to the occasional meeting, too.
Despite the business being valued in the millions, Radha and Lee only draw a ‘modest’ salary.
‘Every penny goes back into growing the business,’ Radha said. ‘That’s why we’ve been able to achieve hyper-growth self-funded, without major outside investment.
‘I’m not very worried about earning a lot of money right now as I’m focused on the future. I know my life will materially change one day soon.’