Globetrotting authority Laurent Vernhes has set his feet in over ninety different countries and lived in six of them. Whether backpacking in Nepal or visiting the most sophisticated destinations and hotels in the world, his goal was (and still is) the same: To be surprised in a positive way.
A Man of Ambitions
“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to escape. My first stop as a young adult was the Parisian bourgeoisie and many finer things in life that come with such package. But soon enough, my obsession became to see the world as I became worried about getting trapped in Parisian self-satisfaction”
As the CEO of Tablet Hotels, an online search for exclusive hotels and booking platform, Laurent Vernhes uses his expertise to help travelers find “beauty and substance” on their own trips. After working as an expat in Asia in the 90s, he left the East to go to New York and have his own share in the Internet revolution as he co-founded Tablet Hotels. Recently, Laurent decided to become a serial entrepreneur by taking his taste and knowledge of champagne more seriously as he established his own small champagne company, Maison Vernhes. The amazing bubbly caused enough buzz among appreciators to be called as one of the best wines out there. As good as it is exclusive, the champagne can only be acquired via Laurent himself or at a single store in Brooklyn, which must have his approval to sell to an individual customer. A labor of love, a result of the entrepreneur’s personal passions, it doesn’t come as a surprise that both Maison Vernhes and Tablet Hotels have an inherent stamp of coolness and excellence. In an exclusive interview, Laurent Vernhes talks investing in soulful projects, the importance of taking risks and why his champagne brand is so, so very exclusive. From a stay at the very posh The Lanesborough Hotel, in London, to quiet holidays in Franschhoek, a visit to a zen-Buddhist temple in Koya-san and sandstorms in the desert during Burning Man, Laurent Vernhes is strongly inspired by the contrast of the places he goes to. Fortunately, he makes a living out of his passion as the co-founder and CEO of Tablet Hotels, an online luxury and boutique hotel search, and booking platform.
Vernhes was born and raised in France, where he grew up as the only child of very loving and modest hardworking parents, in the South of France and, later on, on the outskirts of the French capital. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to escape. My first stop as a young adult was the Parisian bourgeoisie and many finer things in life that come with such a package. But soon enough, my obsession became to see the world as I became worried about getting trapped in Parisian self-satisfaction”, he confides. His diplomas – and David Bowie’s music and personality, which helped him “believe he could be anyone he wanted to be” – served as a passport for new experiences. In the 1980s, Laurent started working in Asia, developing new markets for global giants such as Michelin and The News Corporation. He lived as an expat in many different cities of the Asian continent for ten years. He has seen the world, indeed; he’s visited over ninety countries and has lived in six of them. “I’ve been shaped by the places I’ve been to, so much to the point where the concept of nationality is no longer meaningful to me personally. With only one exception: picking a team to support in the (soccer) World Cup. For example, I learned so much about business from dealing with ethnic Chinese people across Southeast Asia and in China. I admire the combination of ruthless effectiveness, elegance, and sophistication – almost no posturing”. After that period of time in Asia, he realized he wanted to have his own business while also becoming part of the global revolution that came about with the Internet, finally, settling down in Brooklyn, New York, where he still lives with his wife and three children.
“When it comes to connecting people, I believe taste transcends everything – nationality, gender, race, religion, money, age”
Since the year 2000, Tablet Hotels works by the idea of helping travelers find beauty and substance in their travel experiences and also with the underlying mission to support small independent creators and hoteliers. Amidst the information and advertising cacophony, Tablet is not only sophisticated but soulful as well. There’s something more personal about it that lacks in other websites alike. The next step for the company is to launch a new tool, one that enables users to connect through shared tastes across cultures and traditional social demographic categories. “When it comes to connecting people, I believe taste transcends everything – nationality, gender, race, religion, money, age…”, Vernhes observes, insightfully. This French man is never tired of discovering new things, new destinations, new ideas – “I’m resetting my dreams”. At this point, he jumped into a new foray: creating a small champagne company called Maison Vernhes. “Since before drinking age, which is loosely defined in France, I have dreamt of champagne being present in my life ‘at will’ because I associated it with happiness. Much later, when I started thinking that wine would be an interesting way to reconnect with my family heritage, champagne felt like a happy place to start”.
With an excellence and exclusivity stamp, Maison Vernhes’ bubbly generated a lot of buzz among Manhattan’s connoisseurs and foodies. According to Laurent, what separates good from formidable champagne is the quality and smoothness of the euphoria it creates – besides terroir, taking good care of the vines and grapes as they grow, proper climate, winemaking technique, and experience, Bien sûr. “I seek balance and complexity with as little manipulation as possible in the process of making it”, he says of the blend, which presents elements of different grapes, besides pinot noir. The product can only be acquired via Laurent himself or in a single store located in Brooklyn, by his approval. The entrepreneur tells us why. “The production is very limited and demand for it outgrew supply almost instantly. So, if you’re in that situation, how do you choose whom you sell to? Rather than raising the price, which is the legitimate capitalist approach, it seems more interesting to sell only to people who truly enjoy it”, he explains. “It’s also better for building the brand when your clients are your brand ambassadors”.
It is a smart and moderate way to handle the economy and marketing challenges that small companies often face. Just like Tablet Hotels, Maison Vernhes is the result of an entrepreneurial approach to a personal passion. “I do not think one should aim for universal appeal because it puts you on a path to the lowest common denominator. I am looking for a soul and being true to myself. The deeper you dig, the more chances that you will touch others”. Which is the same as saying that the more personal a creation is, the more universal its appeal becomes. And that is a trump card many other independent creators and producers know how to play in their favor. Laurent is the kind of person who is far more interested in the journey than the destination itself. When he travels, usually an impulsive last minute decision, the first thing he does when arriving somewhere is to wander around. No rush, no plans, destination point. If his academic excellence led him to a nomadic life, his nomadic existence led him to acquire knowledge through experience, whether bad or good experience, like his trip to the Marquesas Islands, especially Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva, which he points as some of the most magical places on Earth.
Despite being too busy reinventing Tablet Hotels and heading a small champagne company, the entrepreneur makes time to be with his family and plan his next trip – “It is what keeps me inspired and energized”. He wants to continue taking chances and innovative actions, but without ever taking himself too seriously. ”If you do so, you’ll find it harder to get over your failures, which means you’re less likely to take the risks necessary to change your world. It is fundamental to take risks unless you accept to live in a world defined by others”.
Photos: Evol Content Group