What do Airbnb, Booking, Uber, Opodo and Expedia have in common, besides the fact that they are all related to the travel and hospitality industry? The answer is that they are giants but possess only an original idea, a platform, and an aggressive digital marketing strategy. Nonetheless, they are big players that have already contributed to a deep transformation of the US$6.7 trillion travel and hospitality industry.
What can young entrepreneurs learn from these ideas-truned-into-huge-marketing-and-booking-machines? What do these teach us about life and business in the twenty-first century? How can we study them to understand the big changes taking place in the travel industry and in the global economy as a whole? Is this yet another feature of the seismic revolution called the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Will the world be the same as it was thirty or even twenty years ago if you can, with a credit card and a smartphone, book an airfare ticket from Düsseldorf or Birmingham or Bergen to Marrakech, rent a furnished apartment therein, have a car with a driver come to pick you up at the airport, and pay for a trip to the Maasai land or the High Atlas Mountain while you are having a bite at the joint next door to your office or home? These and dozens of other questions would not have been asked had there not been this great upheaval happening that is making the experiences of more than one billion travelers around the world way different from the way it was two or three decades ago.
The game changers in the travel industry are original and innovative ideas of people and teams that have dreamt a new world and have worked hard and smart to make it come through. They are savvy entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity, seized it, came up with a genuine innovative idea, and created a working tool to make it happen- they did not get stuck at the million ways it would not work, but focused on the only chance/way it would succeed; they worked hard to see it grow and mature, build reputation and cultivate trust. And they are ready to defend it against entrenched interests.
Here is what young entrepreneurs, ready to achieve and conquer, could learn from these ideas-turned-into-big-marketing-and selling machines.
Seize the day
The famous poet Omar Khayyam, the master of Carpe Diem, wrote in now-world famous verses: “One thing at least is certain, this life flies. One thing is certain, and the rest is lies. The flower that once has blown forever dies.”
Khayyam refers to life in general and the need to live the moment, to savor it, for itself, as such, without looking back to the past or fathoming out the future. That is easier said than done as the evanescent nature of the NOW is soon a thing of the past, superseded by an ever-encroaching future. In business, the need to seize the opportunity that presents itself in a flash of genius is essential. Seize the moment and expand it beyond the future: that is what the creators of those ideas-turned-into-success-stories did. They studied the market and its trends, they looked at how consumer behavior is changing, they analyzed technology development and tools, they monitored how the travel industry had been evolving. And then, when the idea struck, they seized it and transformed it into a working solution. Entrepreneurship is also the art of catching “crazy” ideas flying and turning them into not-so-crazy success stories.
It’s the idea that counts
Ideas are the engines of invention. Everything was an idea, an imagined future reality. The Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi said: “What you possess of skill, and wealth, and handicraft, wasn’t it first merely a thought and a quest?”
Focus on the idea first, build the details later. “How can I sell hotel rooms on internet without owning a single brick?” or “How can I turn peoples’ homes into ‘hotels’ and make everybody a winner?” or “How can I turn cars into taxis, and car owners into taxi drivers making extra cash during their free time and keeping customers happy?” These are simple but revolutionary ideas. Genius manifests itself sometimes in turning something as mundane as a car or a home into a money-making tool. Great ideas are transformative- they magically turn something simple and boring into a small business, a cash generating little machine.
Money is not everything
Money does not make a business- it’s vision, ideas, people, values, organizational culture, and so on, that make (or unmake) a business. Money is an input like time, effort, strategies, and actions- anything that entrepreneurs mobilize and invest into the organization to create results. But it’s the vision that matters most. Tony Hsieh, an American internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, said: “Chase the vision not the money, and the money will end up following you.” The founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, had to make cereal brands using Obama and McCain names (in 2008) to make $30,000 to jumpstart the business. But lack of money did not deter them from their idea which turned later into a vision, and then grew into a worldwide $2.6 billion mega business.
Swim against the tide
Uber is controversial in so many countries, but its disruptive operating method based on a collaborative model has changed the way people use urban transportation forever. Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the founders of Uber, were not intimidated by taxi owners’ strikes, government bans, or “controversies that knocked down its valuation from a lofty $70 billion to $48 billion in its last funding round” as stated by Dan Blystone, Story of Uber. They knew they were disrupting an established order, but they know also that it was only by swimming against the tide that they could get more business and open new territories.
How did Ryanair, which is not part of the businesses that don’t own anything, become Europe’s Number 1 airline, carrying over 130 million customers per annum on more than 2,000 daily flights from 87 bases, and connecting 211 destinations in 34 countries? By being disruptive, by flaunting established tacit rules, by subverting perks and privileges, by contesting ill-perceived regulations. In disruptive businesses, swim against the tide and you will end up having to lead, having the tide turn your way and it will end up flowing to your favor.
Use the best tool
For Uber, Airbnb, Booking and others, the tool is the business itself. That is how they communicate, advertise, and sell. They use the best tool in IT to build apps and interfaces that are customer and client friendly. Airbnb uses Lottie to produce an “open-source software [that] has been adopted into work flows at Google, Uber, the New York Times, and Instacart” (Mark Wilson, “The Airbnb Tool That Is Changing UI Design”). Uber uses the best tools for geolocation, mapping, SMS and notification and payment to create the highest performing apps. The idea is as innovative as is the tool used to make it work. The tool IS the business.
We live in a revolutionary age in the real sense of the word. Old systems are receding, and new paradigms are emerging. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here and it’s already changing habits, lives, and consumer behavior. The winners will be those who will embrace change wholeheartedly and those with the boldest ideas, most powerful visions and the most effective tools.