10 years of IB4UD: How I turned a small idea into a big travel website

10 years of IB4UD: How I turned a small idea into a big travel website.

Ten years ago, equipped with nothing but a laptop and passion, I launched Ireland Before You Die from my university bedroom.

What started as a simple Facebook page has blossomed into one of Ireland’s largest and most popular travel websites.

Reflecting on this journey, I am overwhelmed by gratitude for the experiences, the challenges, and the triumphs that have marked this incredible decade.

This article recaps the past ten years as I reveal the story of how we got here and where we are today as we look to the future.

Unexpected beginnings – launching Ireland’s top travel website from…England

A collage showing the exterior of Leeds University and a dorm room (left) and Stevie Haughey on his graduation day (right).

In March 2014, my most life-changing idea developed in a University of Leeds bedroom, paving the way for a wild decade to follow.

It’s an interesting fact that this major Irish travel platform was actually created in England, although let’s not focus on that too much!

I never set out to start an online business. Originally intent on a legal career, my perspective shifted dramatically after I started studying law.

By year three, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had no interest in pursuing a career in law. It would have been an exciting career, but I just didn’t have the passion.  

However, I did develop a passion for Ireland after spending a long time away in England and a growing appreciation for what I left behind.

Despite growing up on the Emerald Isle, it took me until my early 20s to fully explore and appreciate its stunning landscapes and historical sites. On each trip home, I would plan road trips and adventures around Ireland, and I really fell in love with our island.

This renewed appreciation inspired me to share these experiences with others, especially those who, like myself, had not yet experienced the full extent of Ireland’s beauty.

It was this growing sense of national pride and a desire to showcase Ireland to the world that fueled the creation of Ireland Before You Die.

Starting out – from a modest Facebook page to widespread popularity

A collage comprising a portrait of Stevie Haughey, Stevie giving a speech, Stevie having a pint with Dara Curran, and the Emerald Green Media team.

In 2014, I created ‘Places To See In Ireland Before You Die’, a Facebook page dedicated to showcasing Ireland’s beauty. I felt there were no good Facebook pages highlighting this beautiful country, so I felt it was up to me to create one.

Launched immediately after St. Patrick’s Day (good timing, it turned out, but not planned), the page was met with enthusiasm and rapidly gained traction, particularly among the Irish diaspora in America.

My strategy was simple yet effective: I used captivating photographs of Ireland accompanied by interesting captions that described the place and why people should visit.

The page’s popularity soared, amassing over 70,000 followers in just a few weeks, a figure that both astonished and motivated me to expand the project further.

DIY digital education – building a travel website from YouTube videos

A collage comprising a screenshot of the Ireland Before You Die Facebook page, the initial Ireland Before You Die homepage, and a laptop displaying a video entitled "How to make a website in 10 minutes".

Encouraged by the initial success, I quickly realised the potential to evolve the page into a full-fledged travel website.

However, I faced a significant hurdle: I lacked the technical skills to build a website.

Undeterred, I turned to the University of YouTube, and found videos on the basics of building a website.

Back in 2014, as is the case today, creating a website was relatively straightforward when compared to the early days of the internet.

Thankfully, many websites were developed using WordPress at that time, which allowed you to install a pre-made theme and customise it to your liking with ease.

After following the guidance of a video tutorial, I had a functioning, though basic, website. This platform became the foundation upon which I would build a more comprehensive digital presence.

Growth and challenges – navigating the digital landscape

A collage of Stevie Haughey posing for photos as he generates content for Ireland Before You Die at the likes of the Free Derry Wall and Father Ted's house.

After getting the website and Facebook page to a point I was happy with, I started sharing locations that I believed should be on everyone’s bucket list.

That summer, I dedicated myself to discovering more of Ireland and gathering fresh ideas and content for our online community.

As the website took shape, I understood there was much to learn about running a successful website and brand via digital marketing. The journey was fraught with challenges, from understanding SEO to effectively engaging with a global audience.

I met each challenge with a relentless pursuit of knowledge and improvement. I spent countless hours studying successful travel sites, experimenting with different content strategies, and gradually refining our approach to audience engagement.

Jobless and watching The Apprentice – an unusual route to a marketing career

A collage comprising a Tweet by Richard Woods, a portrait of Richard Woods, and the London office of Yomp Marketing.

After graduating from university, I found myself at a crossroads, uncertain of my career path but aware of my flair for digital and social media marketing.

At this time, I was out of work and spent a lot of time watching The Apprentice on the BBC, where I was particularly impressed by a contestant named Richard Woods.

Richard ran a digital marketing firm and was affectionately nicknamed ‘Tricky Dicky’ by Lord Sugar on the show. His consistent success with his teams struck a chord with me.

As it turned out, Richard ran a company just a short drive from where my girlfriend’s family resided, just outside of London, in Surrey, England. A quick Google search showed the company was hiring.

I submitted my application for a digital marketing job to Yomp Marketing and was soon invited for an in-person interview, which ultimately led to my employment there.

I spent the best part of a year at Yomp and learned a lot about working in a small business, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Richard was a big inspiration in my life, and I owe a lot to him for this.

It was a good start to my career and I used what I learned at Yomp to bring better content to Ireland Before You Die’s followers.

Relocating to Glasgow – Scotland as a stepping stone home

A collage of photos of Stevie Haughey travelling around Scotland.

After my stint at Yomp Marketing, I came across an opportunity at a company called Moore Legal Technology in Glasgow and decided to apply.

Upon securing the job, I moved north of Hadrian’s Wall for a fresh start.

Scotland, with its breathtaking landscapes, reminded me a lot of Ireland, and I took every chance to explore and enjoy its scenic beauty while enhancing my digital marketing expertise through my work at the company.

During my time there, I further developed my skills, particularly in professionalism and attention to detail, which helped Ireland Before You Die further.

Unfortunately, my journey with Moore Legal Technology was cut short, lasting just under a year due to company downsizing, but I am grateful for the experience gained.

My debut book, The Irish Bucket List – penned in Glasgow coffee shops and later a hit on Amazon

A collage showing the book 'The Irish Bucket List', a coffee beside a laptop, and Stevie Haughey posing with the book outside Titanic Belfast.

After I lost my job, I committed to running Ireland Before You Die as if it were a full-time job. My daily routine involved working on the site from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a coffee shop until I could secure another job.

During my time between jobs, I found myself exceptionally productive. I had the idea to write and self-publish an ebook titled The Irish Bucket List: 101 Places to See in Ireland Before You Die, an inspirational travel book about exactly what the title suggests.

Each page featured a photo and a description of a notable place to visit in Ireland. The concept was straightforward yet resonated well with readers. Initially promoted on Ireland Before You Die, the ebook saw significant sales figures.

Motivated by the ebook’s success and the support of my readers, I chose to return to Belfast to self-publish the book on Amazon, while also committing to making Ireland Before You Die my full-time career by transforming it into a formal business.

After its release on Amazon, the book quickly became a bestseller in the Irish travel category, an achievement that brought me great pride.

Formalising Ireland Before You Die – hiring, planning, and networking

A collage comprising photos of advertorial material for Ireland Before You Die.

Following the successful launch of my book on Amazon, I created a business plan and pitched the ultimate idea of Ireland Before You Die to the Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator programme in Belfast.

The team at Ulster Bank liked the idea and offered me a place on their platform, which was a crucial opportunity for further development.

I was given a workspace in Ulster Bank’s headquarters in Belfast City Centre. This space is free for small businesses participating in their accelerator programme.

Ulster Bank’s commitment to supporting small businesses through its program includes not only office space but also mentorship, access to educational resources, community events, and more.

During this period, I enhanced our website and introduced our first full-time employee, Paris Donnatella Callan, a proficient writer from Dublin. Her significant contributions markedly elevated our content quality.

Paris spearheaded the content strategy for Ireland Before You Die and was instrumental in defining the style and tone of our website. An enthusiastic travel writer, she extensively explored Ireland and captured her experiences in compelling articles for the site.

She also crafted a style guide that became the benchmark for all our content. To further strengthen our team, we recruited a new editor and videographer, significantly expanding our capabilities.

By March 2020, Ireland Before You Die was flourishing. Our site had achieved prominent Google rankings for popular queries such as ‘things to do in Ireland’, our ebook sales were strong, and we were attracting over one million views per month.

The positive response from our followers underscored the site’s success, fueling my belief that we could reach the esteemed levels of major travel platforms like Lonely Planet.

This progress filled me with immense pride and optimism for the future, confirming the site’s potential and usefulness for people planning trips to Ireland.

COVID-19 pandemic – uncertainty and a necessary move to diversify

A collage of photos of cautionary signs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first true test of our resilience came with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world shut down and travel came to a halt, our platform faced unprecedented challenges.

Our primary revenue source came from advertising, which depended on article views. With virtually no one searching for Irish travel tips during the lockdowns and travel restrictions, our traffic — and thus our revenue — plummeted almost overnight.

This period was marked by intense uncertainty, heartache, and frustration, yet it also compelled us to innovate and adapt.

We had to scale back our article production and reduce our team size until things got back to normal, which took about two years.

However, at this time, we began diversifying our content to include virtual tours and intensified our focus on SEO traffic.

Additionally, we expanded our product offerings on the online shop section of our site to include ebooks and merchandise that celebrated Irish culture and travel.

The revival of Ireland Before You Die – rebuilding our team and business post-pandemic

A collage of photos consisting of Ireland Before You Die staff past and present, and Stevie Haughey with Dara Curran.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have successfully rebuilt our team and expanded our readership while continuing to produce high-quality Irish content.

We actively share engaging travel articles and videos through social media platforms, including YouTube, and maintain a strong connection with our audience via newsletters and social media.

Each month, our content — including videos, photos, and articles — reaches over one million people, who thoroughly enjoy what we produce.

Our online success has also been boosted through partnerships with tourist attractions and experiences across Ireland, as well as collaborations with influencers such as the Guinness Guru (Dara Curran) and Marius Monaghan, among others.

The loyalty and dedication of our writers have been instrumental to our success; without their contributions, Ireland Before You Die would simply not exist. Our most prolific writers, Jade, Sian, Dan and Conor, have been writing for us for years, and they continue to produce high-quality content.

Today, we are a stable company with a core team of four in our office (myself, Katie, Lauren, and Matthew) and approximately ten talented remote workers who are mostly writers.

The team we have built has significantly enriched our content and broadened our reach, with each member contributing unique talents, from creative writing to video production.

We operate today in Belfast and trade as a limited company under the banner of Emerald Green Media, expanding our expertise to nurture other brands such as Meanwhile in Ireland and The World Bucket List.

Additionally, we offer our services to help other businesses grow. Our diversified approach aims to secure continued success and sustain Ireland Before You Die into the future.

Celebrating a decade – reflecting on our success and being thankful

A collage of photos Stevie has amassed over the years creating content for Ireland Before You Die.

As I reflect on the past decade, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the journey that Ireland Before You Die has taken.

What began as a modest Facebook page has grown into a fantastic Irish travel website, receiving millions of visitors each year and continuing to inspire people around the world to explore Ireland.

Looking forward, I’m excited about the future. The digital landscape is ever-evolving and challenging, but we are committed to staying at the forefront of travel media.

We plan to expand our video content, explore new social media strategies, and continue to provide engaging, high-quality content that celebrates Ireland’s beauty and culture.

As we celebrate this milestone, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey — our team, our readers, and all those who have supported us along the way.

Here’s to another decade of exploring, sharing, and celebrating the spirit of Ireland!

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