Title : Rising Star: János Handó of Ladybird Farm Leisure Centre
Date : 1 February 2017
Each month, The LOWdown sits down with one of the rising stars of the European startup and entrepreneur community. This month, we catch up with János Handó of Ladybird Farm; a leisure centre in Hungary which was established to promote a lifestyle that is in harmony with nature and the environment. Attracting 65,000 visitors and providing 12,000 guest nights a year, Ladybird Farm has developed attractions that do not consume any energy, or, if they do, the farm produces the necessary energy from renewable sources. Ladybird Farm were winners of a prestigious European Business Award for the Environment in 2016.
LOW: Why did you set up your company?
We intended to create something new at that time (15 years ago); something that creates value for the people who visit us, and where they can learn and play at the same time. So called ‘edu-taining’ place.
LOW: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?
We started in 2001, accommodated the first guest in 2002 and opened the predecessor of today’s Leisure Center in 2003. But we have plenty of ideas that can fill the next 50 years with new things.
LOW: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’?
A: Not really. We tried to develop based on our values. Things such as to not promote anything that we believe is harmful (e.g. tobacco, alcohol…), to use as little energy as we need, to not promote “consume more regardless whether you really need it”, and to handle social value creation and profitable operation as equally important KPIs. Later, we formulated our mission and placed our development strategy in all our communications: we develop only such services that do not consume energy, if they do, we produce it from renewable sources.
LOW: Where did you source funding to set up your business?
My wife and I both worked for multinational companies in Budapest for 18 years between 1994 and 2012. Initially, it was a mix of personal financing and taking out a loan for the rest. After a while, the banks could see that we were serious, and borrowing became easier. We also applied for government subsidies which contributed somewhat.
LOW: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?
We have invested over EUR 4million and received approximately EUR 250,000. The majority of this subsidy came from the EU.
LOW: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?
Rather than one single skill, I would say openness to innovation, leadership and utmost persistence.
LOW: What is the single best piece of advice you have received along the way?
It came from my father: “Nothing is free, you have to work for everything.”
LOW: Who or what are you inspired by?
I am very much inspired by people who dare to think big and then set out to achieve that, yet at the same time they remain ‘human’. Richard Branson is one of them.
LOW: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?
It’s a combination of three things: quality, uniqueness and innovation. Quality because we believe in returning visitors and quality is an essential part of that. Uniqueness because people are interested in unusual and new things. And innovation because you have the chance to set the future trends.
LOW: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?
In the first 5-6 years it was sourcing the investments. We are operating in a capital-intensive industry. It was extremely hard to convince banks to give a loan of 10 when the revenue is just 2. Now the major challenge is to find the right staff to run the business.
LOW: How are you planning to grow your business?
We have ideas for the next 50 years. I have learned that you have to go step-by-step (unless you win the lottery). Therefore, we grow as much as we are able at any time; sometimes a bit further. Luckily what we have done so far has brought us market recognition.
LOW: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?
Offer 0% interest loan to those with a solid business case, change the taxation by building in recognition of contribution to social value elements and renewable energy production.
LOW: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?
The freedom to act (and suffer).
LOW: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2017 relevant to entrepreneurs?
The instability and uncertainty in global trends. If people feel uncertain, they are more conservative in their spending which has a negative impact on SMEs.
LOW: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?
When I started to set up my business my focus was on what I was doing and about how I was doing it. Sometimes this resulted in bad personal relationships. Now my mantra is “Do the right thing and do it well”.
Learn more about Ladybird Farm Leisure Centre at: http://katicatanya.hu/nyelv/enReturn to The LOWdown