What Doesn’t Kill You Only Makes You a Better Entrepreneur

Nicky Kelly, CEO & founder SurfHolidays.comMany people dream of turning their passion into their jobs while many entrepreneurs dream of turning solutions in to businesses.

Nicky Kelly did both.

Founder and CEO of SurfHolidays.com, Kelly has navigated a series of near-fatal blows in his move from a part-time business/hobby to one ready for investment and world domination.

SurfHolidays now has has 17 European locations on its books but wants to expand to over 400 worldwide.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

After starting his career in advertising sales in Ireland, Kelly decided to travel the world. He ended up in New York and was prepared to stay and work in advertising when 9/11 happened in 2001.

With jobs and U.S. visas scarce, Kelly could have worked in bars but he wanted to resume his career so he returned to Ireland.

A keen snowboarder, he looked for alternative local options and found that Ireland’s Atlantic coastline was renowned for surfing.

“The next step was to go abroad to somewhere warmer,” he told this month’s Entrepreneurs Anonymous in Dublin, Ireland.

It was the difficulty organizing the trip, accommodation and car hire that presented a problem. Surfers relied on the Stormriders Surf Guide but ads for Ireland and the UK were sparse.

Kelly asked the guide if he could sell ads, and landed a weekend, commission-only gig. “That really got me in the surf industry,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s infamous property bubble was inflating. Unable to afford property at home, Kelly and a business partner bought a house in Portugal that they could use for surf vacations and rentals.

Branding and a website were devised to handle rental and expansion potential was thought through, but it was still not a full-time business.

But “something in the back of my mind was still ticking away,” Kelly said. A couple of more twists came when his business partner left and the domain SurfHolidays.com became available.

Then — right before the financial crisis in 2008 — Kelly went full time. “There were travel companies going bust every single week,” he said.

However, a lucky break came when he used to media contacts to get SurfHolidays featured on a TV travel show. “It was huge for us. The phone rang off the hook for two months,” he said.

Money was always tight, and financing for an updated website in 2010 came via a bank loan, Kelly said.

Another blow came later in the financial crisis when his Irish bank stopped handling his merchant account. “That was a couple of sleepless nights,” Kelly said, adding he had to work hard to get that restored.

Some time after that incident, he noticed traffic to his site had suddenly dropped. Kelly had outsourced his search engine optimization (SEO) which had been farmed out to a secondary contractor.

Google had changed its algorithm because it was being gamed, and the outsourced outsourcee had played the game very well.

Too well, because it fell on Kelly to approach around 8,000 sites to clean up the mess. Although he could have outsourced the job, he decided to take it on himself. After two attempts, however, he had to pay a reputable SEO company to do the work for him.

2014 has seen great growth for the company and Kelly has taken on a CTO to revamp their site and booking platform to allow for faster expansion to the world’s 400 surf destinations. He is also pitching investors to finance expansion

Image is a partial screen shot of Kelly’s Twitter page.