Greg Fisher, ’07 has what philanthropist and hotelier Harris Rosen famously calls the “entrepreneur gene.” He saw his first business succeed and fail while still studying hospitality management at Rosen College, but persevered and eventually launched TripShock, an online booking agency for tours, attractions and lodging for the Southeast United States. The company reported record sales of $2.4 million in 2014 and a three-year growth rate of 2,386 percent. His company recently ranked #173 on the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.
Fisher, who serves as TripShock’s CEO and oversees employees working remotely around the country from his Destin, Florida headquarters, shared his advice for budding entrepreneurs and how his experience at Rosen College has played a part in his success:
Describe your career journey since graduating from UCF’s Rosen College:
I started out working in various hotels in the Destin, Florida area for my first two years after graduating. At the same time, I had been running an online dining guide that I started while attending Rosen College. Although I enjoyed the challenge of both jobs, I was looking for something that defined my passion for tourism innovation. I was lucky enough to run into a local businesswoman who I had worked for in the past. She needed someone with my skill set to operate a concierge business she planned to open. As most entrepreneurs do, I took a risk of leaving a safe and secure job for a startup. For the first four years, we dealt with a lot of challenges including the BP Oil Spill that nearly shut our doors. In 2014, I acquired majority ownership of the company and took on a new partner.
What inspired you to start your own business?
While attending Rosen, I started an online dining guide that entered me in the world of entrepreneurship at 20 years old. I ran the dining guide as a hobby while holding other jobs, but the success and failure of this venture prepared me for what was to come with TripShock. What intrigued me most about entrepreneurship is allows you to solve problems for consumers on a personal level. When I realized that tourists were not able to effectively find and purchase tickets for tours and attractions on the Gulf Coast, I knew I needed to provide a means for them to do this.
What makes your company stand out from others in the online booking space?
Although there are a handful of local, regional and national competitors in our space, TripShock stands out because we have not given up on the traditional aspect of the booking experience. Where most online agencies have outsourced or removed their call centers completely, we have done exactly the opposite! We have invested in local and professional agents that greatly enhance the customer experience with their knowledge of our booking destinations. In fact, more than 30 percent of our revenue has been generated from our vacation planners, which far outweighs any additional costs of hiring local.
Another reason for our growth is attributed to an experienced management team that understands seasonal pricing trends. It’s important to structure promotions and packages at the right time in order to maximize engagement. We only concentrate on the northern Gulf Coast because we have greater control of our resources. We are very thankful for the close partnerships we have made with the 130+ suppliers in our markets.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve been able to do so far in your career?
My favorite thing I have been able to do is give back to my community, employees and colleagues, and enhance their lives in some way, shape or form. Whether it be giving to a local charity or providing assistance to an employee in need. If your desire to become an entrepreneur is to get rich and have nice things, you are in it for the wrong reasons. It will never be fulfilling until you realize that what you’re doing is helping make someone’s life (or vacation) better.
How did your experience at Rosen College prepare you to start your own business?
Although Rosen College didn’t offer many classes on entrepreneurship or online travel marketing, the faculty did a great job of inspiring students to pursue something “greater.” More than anything, I enjoyed hearing how certain professors made their mark on the hospitality industry. It made you believe that nothing can stop you from starting your own restaurant franchise or becoming the next Harris Rosen!
What was your favorite part about attending Rosen College?
There were so many great memories that it’s hard to pin point my favorite. I’d have to say being around like-minded individuals that equally inspire each other tops the list. Many of my peers from Rosen College are having a lot of success in their careers, which is important for the reputation of the college.
How has your degree helped you as an entrepreneur?
Although Rosen College didn’t offer many classes for entrepreneurs, a lot of faculty were current or past entrepreneurs. The stories of their success and failure were always intriguing and helpful. The degree has opened up many doors throughout the years and brought credibility to my company.
What’s next for you and TripShock?
We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline right now. Our latest initiative is developing a cloud based app for tour and activity operators that allows them to accept online reservations from several different distribution channels, including their own website. This project is slated to go live in October. We are also in the process of licensing our booking software to other local travel entities, so we can reach a greater audience with our products. There are no immediate plans to expand our territory since we have a lot more growth opportunity locally.
What advice would you give to current and potential Rosen College students who are interested in starting their own business?
I would say that there is never “the right time” to start a business. If you have an idea that you want to pursue, go for it. It’s ok to make mistakes and prepare to have major setbacks – it’s all part of the ride. People will tell you that “you won’t go far” and “your idea is terrible.” The worst critics will be your closest friends and family. Surround yourself with people who are highly motivated, passionate and like-minded. Most of all, lead by example!
Learn more about hospitality management education at Rosen College.