Last Wednesday, the 11th May, I attended an event co-hosted by the APM Women in Project Management group and the RBS Women’s Networks – Focused Women & Women in Technology – to hear the story of how Nena Chaletzos founded the luxury travel company, Luxtripper. I had been fortunate enough to interview Caroline Van Praagh of Peers Communications, who handle the PR for Luxtripper, so I had taken the opportunity to view the website in advance (very handy for planning this year’s summer holiday!).
Unfortunately, due to traffic and leaving work with slightly too little time to spare, I arrived late to the event. I hate being late to anything, but this is even more exaggerated when I’m planning to write about it afterwards! Thankfully my desire to hear and share Luxtripper’s story outweighed my annoyance at arriving late as I found the entire evening to be far more than worthwhile.
I rushed into the room on the 11th floor of the RBS building to hear Nena define the difference between a start up and a small business, with a start up being “a movement, driven by passion and focus”, and it was clear that Nena embodied these attributes. She spoke in an animated, approachable way, and encouraged everyone to become participants in an interactive session, rather than simply sharing factual information about how she built a £20million luxury travel company over the last 3 years.
As the event was co-hosted by the APM, the focus was on using the Luxtripper story to demonstrate how project management skills can help successfully deliver a vision or project, and also inspire the next generation in the process. Nena cleverly drew comparisons between her journey in building Luxtripper, and that of a project manager – essentially a start up is aiming to fix a problem that exists, building something to make things better, which clearly aligns with the nature of project management, which aims to implement new solutions to old problems.
The problem Nena was aiming to solve was the amount of time it takes for people to book their holiday – approximately 80% of people book holidays themselves online; collectively we waste 20 billion hours a year to achieve this. Although not from an IT background (Nena’s previous role had been Group HR Director for companies like Calvin Klein!), she developed an algorithm to simplify the process for holiday-goers to choose their trips. Nena recommended using expert advice to supplement gaps in your knowledge, rather than expecting to know everything yourself. She also recommended that, where possible try to focus on one thing and do that well – define the problem, then implement the solution.
The best way to stay on track to achieve success is, according to Nena, to “nail that Business Plan” – she dedicated 3 months to assessing the landscape and potential competitors, as well as the economic climate, all while developing the technology to align with the objectives of the business. In project management terms, the preparation of a project management plan or project execution plan can be critical to achieving the success of the project, even if it appears to be a laborious task at first. As Nena put it, you “need a plan to know where you’re going”.
Nena spoke of the value of engagement – not just of employees, but of suppliers, investors, and the market – people need to want to be a part of whatever you’re doing. Your project needs to excite them in order to get people involved, whether it’s to part with their time or their money. She recommended starting small and then building from there, explaining the difference between growing a business, where both costs and revenue increase simultaneously, as against scaling a business whereby you increase capacity without increasing expenditure. Metrics are key to demonstrating performance and showing where bottlenecks could appear. Nena spoke of how they celebrate failures at Luxtripper more than successes, as innovation and failure are inextricably linked; businesses cannot learn and grow without them
Nena spoke of the challenges she faces as a female CEO of a technological start up, she often has to overcome people’s perceptions in order to gain the respect she deserves. She also admitted that she is not a natural networker, but that she needs to do it for her business, and so she takes brave steps such as telling the original founder of eBookers that he is going to be her adviser! She also counts the Chief Technical Officer of Betfair as an adviser as well! There are clear benefits to forcing yourself to network, even if you’d rather not!
Despite a brief interruption thanks to a faulty fire alarm, a lengthy Q&A session ensued, with extensive interaction between Nena and the audience. She shared her tips for maintaining energy and enthusiasm at work – including daily meditation and taking natural supplements, such as a Vitamin B12 spray! Nena even stayed on long after the session ended, talking to people on a one to one basis, answering more questions and sharing her perspective.
In addition to getting to speak to Nena and Caroline, I also made some connections with a few of the attendees, and stayed until we were asked to leave! As I said, clearly a worthwhile session that I’m glad I managed to get to, even if I was a few minutes late!