We chat to Lee McAteer, co-founder of Invasion Camp Group, summer camp experience for young people business. Lee tells us how he became “Britain’s Best Boss” and why studying law was not for him.
What exactly is your business and how does it help people?
My business is the Invasion Camp Group which comprises of nearly 30 brands. It is better known for its sub divisions such as Invasion.com, AmeriCamp, Camp Thailand, Camp.co.uk, Camp South Africa, Wrestling Travel, Camp Cambodia, AusJob and What Marketing amongst others.
All of our brands have to fit the mantra of work hard, party hard and make a positive impact. Camp Thailand and Camp Cambodia for example have helped to rebuild schools, buy new playgrounds, contribute to the building of a new elephant hospital and we actually pay for the education of over 400 kids in Cambodia who without us would not even be able to go to school, having rebuilt and reopened a school back in June 2016.
What was your inspiration and motivation to get started in business?
I never expected to go into business. My passion was the media, but I ended up at the amazing Leeds University Law School doing straight law and I truly believed that I would end up as a lawyer. As fate would happen, I ended up being elected President of Leeds University Law Society and it was my first insight into what it was like running a business. I loved it and was hooked. I then ended up combining all of my skills and passion by working as an editor for Max Power Magazine before turning my own entrepreneurial ambitions into action. My father Craig McAteer would constantly push me to go further and although I didn’t quite know the direction I was going I would always try and push what could be achieved.
How did your friends and family react to you starting a business?
My friends laughed, my Dad wanted me to be a lawyer and my Mum just wanted me to be safe and happy. My friends could not understand why I would quit the media and later law to take on such a gamble. I would like to think the gamble has paid off simply because of the positive impact we have made on so many around the world. We have even had weddings through people meeting doing AmeriCamp!
How have you managed a work/life balance?
I don’t have a work/life balance. My entire life revolves around my passion for what I do, yet if you love what you do I am a strong believer that you never work a day in your life.
If you want something to succeed you have to be completely committed. In my mind, I am prepared to die for the cause and lead my warriors into battle, I’m not behind the scenes dictating or constantly delegating. I will never ask one of my team to do something I have either not done or aren’t willing to do myself. My attitude has caused havoc for my personal life, but when you believe so passionately that you are making such a positive impact I don’t ever want to let anyone down and it is what drives me.
The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror and The Sun amongst other well-known publications embarrassingly referred to me as “Britain’s Best Boss” recently so although I might not have a work/life balance at least I can say that I live up to my own thoughts on treating people how you would want to be treated.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges we constantly face are other individuals or companies passing off our brands or infringing our trademarks.
Charles Caleb Colton in 1824 said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. I say that imitation is a pain in the ass which stops companies from continually innovating because they have to spend time on protecting what they have.
Recently for example, we had to deal with a company calling themselves “Portugal Invasion” which was all over the press because of riots that resulted from their travel event. Everyone thought it was us when it wasn’t. They had blatantly used our name and goodwill, yet even though we have the necessary trademarks in place the event still went ahead and the end result was damage to our reputation through no fault of our own.
When you’re so passionate about something and see others damaging what you have worked so hard for by copying your brand it really hurts, but you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and play damage limitation.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
Really ask yourself if you are willing to die for the cause and constantly work harder than the next person!
Then with your idea identify what the commercial gap in the market is, describe it to others and analyse it on how to take it forward. I call it IDA; Identify, Describe, Analyse. If the passion and commitment are there with an IDA that makes it look like a go-er then go for it. Don’t waste endless days on a perfect business plan as in that time you are better off making sales as that is the lifeblood of any business.
How do you expect your business to develop in the future?
People will always want to travel, but it’s vital that we stay on trend. By continually pushing the boundaries in which as a company we put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer I sincerely hope that we can keep innovating and create exciting new projects. We are opening up yet more offices around the world and have big expansion plans to take the brands further than they have ever gone before.