Interview: Graeme Gunn, private equity veteran and chairman of ski lesson booking platform Maison Sport

“We've definitely got good traction,” says veteran of worlds of investment and competitive ski-ing.

“It’s at the confluence of two things that I really love, which are winter sports, and working with really good management teams and interesting people,” says Graeme Gunn of his role as chairman of Maison Sport.

The firm has been pursuing a rapid trajectory to disrupt the ski-ing sector with its platform enabling users to book verified instructors and lessons across Europe. And since launching in France in 2016, it has attracted backers including Skyscanner co-founder and former CEO Gareth Williams and Checkatrade founder Kevin Byrne, recently raising a further seven-figure sum to help widen its reach.

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That already encompasses more than 400 resorts, and at least 1,300 instructors across Switzerland, Italy and Austria, as well as France – and in the latter, says its instructor pool is second only to the Ecole de Ski Francais, which was founded in 1937.

The Maison Sport founders took a risk, and created a product that had never existed, says Gunn. Picture: contributed.The Maison Sport founders took a risk, and created a product that had never existed, says Gunn. Picture: contributed.
The Maison Sport founders took a risk, and created a product that had never existed, says Gunn. Picture: contributed.

Gunn has chaired the firm since 2018, another string to the professional bow of the experienced lead private equity investor. Furthermore, like Maison Sport’s co-founder trio Aaron Tipping, and Nick and Olly Robinson, he is also a former British ski team member, having started competing aged 12.

In his early 20s, he decided to veer onto an academic piste, going to the University of Edinburgh to study mechanical engineering, but it was meeting someone working in investment that led him to see private equity and venture capital as offering a highly interesting career path and the chance to work with various companies.

He joined PwC, working in corporate finance, followed by a stint at Edinburgh-based private equity house Dunedin, where he served as investment manager. That was followed by helping grow from an early stage the private equity business of what was then Standard Life Investments (SLI, now part of Abrdn) to become a multi-billion-pound, global-reaching operation. “I was very fortunate in figuring out that path to get to that career, and then very fortunate to be able to do that career based in Edinburgh,” he says.

And he points out that at SLI, where he spent 20 years, many of his team had a sporting background, bringing the transferable skills of integrity and a team mentality that he also sees in Maison Sport’s leadership.

Maison Sport was created by a team with more than 25 years of ski teaching experience. Picture: Jimmy Williams.Maison Sport was created by a team with more than 25 years of ski teaching experience. Picture: Jimmy Williams.
Maison Sport was created by a team with more than 25 years of ski teaching experience. Picture: Jimmy Williams.

Scottish Gladiators star Sabre and owner of Dundee's Sweatbox gym Sheli McCoy has said she believes incremental gains that accrue to significantly boost performance is a concept that works both in the boardroom and the weights room.

Gunn says this idea is important. “But I think you also need to be willing to take some risks – some measured and balanced risks – and perceive some of the larger opportunities that are out there. The Maison Sport guys took a risk – they had a ski school, they could have just sat back and grown it slowly, but they really saw an opportunity, I think, to really provide something different… and created a product that had never existed before.” He in turn brings strategic guidance, including ensuring that they have a clear vision and culture than permeate the organisation, and outlining financial targets.

Investments secured by Maison Sport to date include taking on £1.25 million of private investment in 2021, and was one of just a handful of travel businesses to have secured finance from the UK Government’s Future Fund that year. It raised a further £442,000 via crowdfunding in 2022, and it in November last year said it had completed a £3.1m round through a private investment firm and angel investors, amid its aim to become the largest seller of snow sports activities worldwide within the next five years.

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Research from the British Business Bank published in March of this year found that equity investment in Scotland’s smaller businesses last year powered ahead of the UK average and showed “a good degree of resilience”, despite nearly halving against a gloomy economic backdrop.

Serial investor Gareth Williams – who is to this year host and mentor an intern this year as part of Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Saltire Scholars programme – said on the news of Maison Sport’s most recent funding: “I was attracted to the team’s infectious energy and enthusiasm, and the huge potential for growth for [the business]… getting resort choice and ski instruction right can make all the difference between and good and a great holiday.”

And Gunn echoes this, saying he liked the founders’ “great energy” and in-depth knowledge of the market as ski instructors themselves, and their bid to upgrade the levels of service in a sector that has been “relatively sleepy” and static for more than 100 years, although also facing challenges such as global warming.

Maison Sport cites TripAdvisor’s 2024 study showing that 67 per cent of travellers surveyed across seven key markets placed more value on experiences than things. What’s more, Future Market Insights has calculated that the mountain and ski resorts market will speed up to $50.4 billion (12.3bn) by 2033 from $15.8bn last year, with health-conscious consumers seeking out “adventurous activities in the natural environment”, and “snow sports training from certified and expert trainers”.

Gunn sees that the firm has “a lot of runway” in Europe, where it will likely make £10m in bookings this year. “And that still makes us, compared to the Ecole de Ski Francais or some of the bigger ski schools, quite a small player, but we have an amazing coverage across all of Europe, and we will continue to definitely expand that,” he says, with aims including expanding into Austria and Germany.

The seasonal business is also targeting selective mergers and acquisitions. “We're working on something at the moment, which would help our geographical coverage… we’re hopeful that we can move the business into profitability next winter. We've definitely got good traction – next year will be a big milestone for the business, and we can press on from there."



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