Captain’s Log: 5 Years Behind the Wheel
“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.”
Three years ago, I wrote a post that started with the same quote.
It was 2014, and I was two years into my journey with HotelQuickly as the CEO. My co-founders and I had taken on a great challenge: shake up the hospitality industry and go head to head with some major competition. Looking back, we have come a long way, and yet the truth in that piece of wisdom rings as clear today as it did then.
Today, HQ is one of the last independent OTAs in the world. We are a key player in last-minute bookings in APAC and have expanded our services globally and vertically.
To get to this place, we grew our footprint beyond 15 countries in South East Asia, raised more than $10 million in funding, acquired a company in Japan and attracted millions of users. We built tight partnerships with thousands of hotels and connected travellers with places to stay around the world.
Like our namesake, we executed quickly and scaled quickly. What a ride!
Surfing the wave of growth
All this would not have been possible if it was not for the calibre of talent that joined our team. HQ grew from 0 to 100 people in the first two years we were in business, and this rapid growth taught me the importance of two things:
- Building a culture based on shared vision and purpose, and
- The science behind better decision making.
If you have been following my posts over the past few years, you know that l am passionate about these two topics and anything related to building a better company. Whether we achieve it through goal setting, breaking down silos or making continuous learning part of the every day, getting to the fast experimentation mode of “fail fast, fix fast, learn fast” is what ultimately leads to success.
A crew that is headed in the same direction and is equipped to make the right decisions is one that that will see you through thick and thin.
Your people are what propels you forward.
Teaching myself to navigate
As I was setting the direction for the company in my role as captain of the HQ ship, I was also teaching myself the ropes. Although HQ is the fourth company I have built, believe me when I say that I have had my fair share of “learn fast” moments. Through them, I have come to great insights on:
- Getting to the heart of our “whys” and our purpose
- Aiming for big goals and setting high-level plans
- Creating transparency for the team as we worked through company-wide issues while measuring performance in the short run
- Modelling the company’s culture, values and behavior
- Attracting, recruiting and developing really talented people that joined HQ and making sure the right people are doing the right thing
- Helping people develop their skills and talents, individually and in teams
- Designing better processes for feedback and continuous improvement
- Building and leading our great senior executive team
- Allocating our capital to the company’s priorities
- And much more…
Every day brought a new lesson and every day delivered a new challenge. The best you can do as captain of the ship is be prepared for what’s around the corner. One day the water might appear calm and smooth, with little competition and plenty of wind in the sails, and the next day the ocean turns choppy, and the skies look dark.
New journeys and adventures
There were definitely times when I sensed that a storm was on the horizon. Competing OTAs and their products were catching up in their speedboats, and the sea of mobile and online travel was becoming a lot rougher.
Despite the challenges, we carried on our journey.
We built a lighter ship and focused on tightening the HQ crew. Earlier this year, we rolled-up our sleeves, rebuilt the company team structure, aligned everyone to push for profitability and worked hard to make it happen.
We also welcomed new investors, set up a new leadership team, groomed our best talent and sought out experts we could learn from. I’m looking forward to seeing the year of work come into fruition!
HQ is headed towards its destination on a new route with a re-energised crew, and this carves out a new role for me as well. In mid-September, I decided to hand over the reins to a new captain, the Executive Chairman of our company. I will put down my hat as “CEO” and wear the hat of a Board Advisor and continue to be involved in HQ’s business strategy over the coming months, making sure HQ is making a dent in the travel universe.
I decided to hand over the reins to a new captain!
Five years as CEO has been an incredible experience
A good education can give you the tools to make better decisions, but being a good CEO is something you can’t learn in business school. What counts for most of it is character — your own and that of the people around you.
I am incredibly grateful for all our partners, customers, investors and everyone who delivered their best to get us to where we are today. To all my co-founders: Michal, who was the first full-time co-founder to relocate to Bangkok (in less than a week!) to join our mission. To Mario, Raphael and Christian who followed suit shortly thereafter. To all our amazing employees who believed in our dream and made the Odyssey unforgettable and rewarding.
I’m excited about what’s ahead
While I do not know where my next adventure will take me, I know that I have learned a lot about myself and the people who I would like to work with.
I know I will take my time to decide where my full focus will be, and I know that whatever I commit to will be aligned with my purpose and values.
Entrepreneurship and leadership is something I can’t shake.
I will probably be involved in the space of rapid growing business for a long time, either in South-East Asia or globally. Working with people who dream big and enabling them to change the world, quickly.
I am going to end this post with another quote, but one that doesn’t usually get delivered in the full length. Mark Twain did say “you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did.” People tend to end there and miss the best part of it:
“…So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbour. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
If you’re dropping anchor in Bangkok or Singapore in the upcoming months, drop me a line and we can swap stories.
In the meantime, I challenge you to look forward and keep the desire to explore new horizons. The desire to dream big - I certainly will!