Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler: Ten tips for building a brandNewsBy Viewpoints | May 14, 2011Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest article by Jason Demant, co-founder of Unanchor.com.Tony Wheeler and his wife Maureen started Lonely Planet in 1972, growing it to be the largest guidebook seller in the world and one of the most recognized brands in travel.In February of this year, the couple completed their sale of Lonely Planet to BBC Worldwide for over $200 million.But how did they grow from two people throwing notes together from a Southeast Asia honeymoon to a company worth over $200 million dollars? And how can we apply their lessons to our own companies?I interviewed Tony Wheeler recently about launching the company and building it into something that went way beyond its early ideals.Here are his ten tips on how you can build a company into a globally recognized travel brand:1. Identify a gap that you can fillTraveling around Asia, Tony and Maureen struggled to find information about where they were going to go and how they were going to get there. This was a clear gap that they could fill.2. Be firstWhile obviously easier said than done, don’t discount the importance of being first to market. Rough Guides was started around the same time as Lonely Planet and Tony credits being slightly ahead of it as a factor in its success.3. Shop your idea to the customer earlyBefore they were even finished with the first book, Tony went into a bookstore, told them what they were working on and they got their first order: 50 copies.4. Stay focused on your goal – be obsessive about itTony’s competitors "got into other things and other distractions". Lonely Planet remained solely focused on guidebooks.5. Do something you loveThe enthusiasm you put into your product is going to be picked up by your customers, employees and partners.TW: "When you have that enthusiasm, people tend to go along with you. They like what you do and want to do something similar."6. Don’t only start to do something you love, make sure to keep it that wayAt Lonely Planet there were many times when it was led by its heart rather than the head. "This makes more sense than that because of money, but we didn’t to that, we did what we wanted to do."7. Focus on what you do bestWheeler wasn’t going to be able to travel, write guidebooks and run the business. He found a business partner to keep things moving while he traveled and wrote the books.8. When you’re on to something, your customers will let you knowAt the beginning, Lonely Planet customers would send them letters and postcards.TW: "You could tell how enthusiastic [the customers] were about what [we] were doing by the amount of time they put into it. People don't sit down and write you a long letter of corrections and suggestions and ideas and so on, given that they're making no return on this at all; they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart…they like what you're doing, and they want to help out."9. Go niche to winLonely Planet started out with guidebooks to Southeast Asia, Nepal, Africa, Burma and Sri Lanka. These were up and coming destinations and not nearly as popular as Western Europe or the United States.The company knew it was too small to compete in those destinations, so it focused on smaller books and areas the writer knew they could handle, and then grow from there.10. Bet the bank at the right timeBet the bank, but be strategic about it and make sure you have the experience under your belt to know that you can accomplish the task.After knocking out smaller destinations with books that took six weeks to two months to research, the company decided that India was going to be their next book.This was a massive project, however, with three teams and 12 months of research. The company had produced 17 books and India was the 18th. If it had tried to do it earlier, there is no way Lonely Planety could have found the time or the money.Listen to the full interview with Wheeler:You can also download the entire MP3 (right-click and then choose "Save Link As..."). Lastly, you can read the transcript.NB: This is a guest article by Jason Demant, co-founder of Unanchor.com.NB2: This interview was carried out before the latest round of redundancies at the company, now no longer under Wheeler's ownership.