Tony Wheeler Lonely Planet The Hive Collins Quarter 86A collins st melbourne

The Hive closed off 2009 with a bang as  Tony Wheeler addressed over 200 eager listeners with the story of his journey and his passions as one of the founders of Lonely Planet. In fact, interest was so huge that the event had to be moved to bigger premises at Collins Quarter.

Tony was a self-effacing, down-to-earth media magnate if you consider the fact that he’s the co-founder of the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world.  In 2007, a 75% stake in Lonely Planet was sold to BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). It’s been a 30 year climb for a company which started off with husband-and-wife team Tony and Maureen arriving in Australia with 27 cents in their pocket and deciding to self-publish one of the first backpacker’s guides ‘Across Asia on the cheap’.

Some interesting factoids for Lonely Planet fans:

  • The company name comes from a lyric in ‘Space Captain’, a song by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell. The actual words are ‘lovely planet’ but Tony misheard ‘lonely planet’ and liked it.
  • Tony’s tips to entrepreneurs? Have fun! Sure, it’s great if you can make some money from your ventures – but even if you don’t, at least you’ve had fun.
  • Tony’s been to approximately 140 countries and his next destination of choice  – Congo and Zaire. When asked to name his most inspirational travel experience, he explained that he finds the people that he meets the most inspiring part of travelling.
  • Around 25% of Lonely Planet’s content is now sold online via downloads and iPhone apps.
  • Tony and Maureen bought their first computer to do invoices, and then discovered the possibilities of…word processing! Back in the early 80s, Lonely Planet was the first company in Melbourne to have a computer for every employee.

After the session my companions (including Miss Kish, Sashaka Fernando and Tim Bull) discussed whether we could start up a potentially multi-million dollar company in this day and age if we were broke, naive but passionate. Frankly, I’m not sure that it’s possible, even if it’s just an internet start-up. Or maybe I’m just an old risk-adverse fuddy-duddy. What do you think?

If you missed the meeting, you can access the podcast feed through iTunes. You can also read the review of a previous event by The Hive, featuring Adioso.com, here. The next event will be held in February next year.

Finally, just a little plug – MEL: HOT OR NOT is now being syndicated on Lonely Planet’s Melbourne website!