Abhinav Kumar, the young country manager of Hotel Quickly, talks start-ups, risks, and aspirations. By Reena Karim
Meet Abhinav Kumar; he is lively to the point of being animated, sharp as a tack, focused and did I mention a country manager at just 22? When we meet at his office in Silom, Kumar is a little nervous; this is his first ever magazine interview and secretly he hopes I don’t throw him any curveballs.
The youngest child of a family of four, Kumar, originally from India, has been on the move with his family since the age of 10, first in Brazil, then Singapore and finally Switzerland, where he graduated with a specialisation in entrepreneurship from the prestigious Les Roches International School of Hotel Management.
Kumar always thought he wanted to work in the hospitality industry however, it was only after he actually interned and worked at a hotel did he decide it was not for him. So, when an opportunity to work for a new hotel-booking app, Hotel Quickly (HQ), came by, he immediately took it on as an intern and eventually became the country manager.
Here, he explains why he loves working for a start-up, the risks involved, and his hopes and aspirations for the future.
What made you switch directions?
As a result of travelling so frequently with my family, I fell in love with the idea of working in the hotel industry. It was only untill I actually worked in a hotel did I realise that it was not for me! The lack of satisfaction and disappearance of my social life resulted in my shifting directions. I was still passionate about the travel industry (just not hotels) so I decided to shift gears and move into the online travel space. As part of my course in Les Roches, I had to do three internships. I did my first two in hotels in Spain and India and for my final internship I worked for an online travel agency called Splendia in Hong Kong. I loved the experience and knew from then on that this where I belong. It was just my luck that I came across Hotel Quickly. I’ve always wanted to work at a start-up as I knew the work culture is more suitable for me as opposed to the stiff corporate environment. As a side note, I can’t even remember the last time I wore a suit!
Why mobile apps?
I already have a good knowledge of how the industry works however, I was curious about the impact of mobile bookings. If you look at trends, mobile booking is increasing by the year. More people are booking at the last minute as compared to before when they would go through travel agents months in advance. It has changed because it is much more accessible these days with sites such as Make My Trip, Agoda etc. that give people more choices. I knew I would be entering a space that was disrupting the industry and revolutionising the way people book their hotels and I wanted to be a part of it.
Considering how rare it is for a start-up to be successful, aren’t you worried about the risks that come with it?
The travel space is a very competitive market, and just in general, for a start-up it is tough to get noticed. We have a big vision, but to make things happen always takes time. At first it was hard to get hotels to sign up with us as we were a very new concept. We have basically replicated the model of Hotel Tonight and saw that as an opportunity that could work in Asia. But at the same time, getting funding and hotel partnerships is always difficult because you have no track record. It’s challenging. Since our launch, we have received support from the travel and tech community in promoting our product, which has resulted in a consistent growth in downloads and in turn, bookings.
Then there is also the notion that you earn less.
I think when you are working for a start-up there are a lot of other factors that are driving you other than salary. It is progressive and when you first start, you do have to put in a lot of time. It’s like a personal investment; you grow with the company. So I am not too worried about the money at all.
Are there any cons of working with a start-up?
There is constant change in start-ups. We always aim for this and end up going for something else, so you have to be very flexible. We have our vision and goal and in order to get there we are constantly working with different people and hotels, mixing and testing. So you have to adapt to change and see what other opportunities are there. It’s frustrating and exciting at the same time.
What is your role at HQ?
I am the Thailand country manager. I am responsible for making sure we have a good inventory in all our cities and launching strategic partnerships and campaigns that can push us forward into being the top-of-mind solution for last-minute hotel bookings here in Thailand. I am solely responsible for the numbers and the targets which we have to hit, [responsibilities] I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else, especially since I had just gotten out of school.
You are probably the youngest country manager ever; does that work to your benefit or a hindrance?
I am a one-man show, but I do get a lot of help, considering that I don’t speak Thai. If I need something I can always reach out to my CEO who is really approachable. To have such a big responsibility at such a young age can be a bit overwhelming, but I have good support around me. In general, I am this immature, class-clown kind of guy, so when I go into a business meeting I have to be a bit more serious. But I don’t see it hindering me or my performance. When you go there, they [hotels] will take you seriously if you have a point to make. You go in there with an objective and you try to achieve it. Yes, sometimes they are surprised at how young I am, but I take that as a compliment.
What do your parents think of your job?
My parents are happy that I got a job after graduation. Even though they are not into this whole start-up culture—my dad expected me to work in a corporate job—but they have always been supportive.
What’s your five-year plan?
In five years, I want to learn five languages, visit five countries in Africa, and more importantly, be five years older. I am almost there in terms of languages; I speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Malayalam. I am also not afraid to venture out into social media and marketing. In five years, I would like to have my own business. I would like to learn from these guys, because they have been successful. I find myself incredibly lucky to have found this job, have so much responsibility and work in such a fun environment, I couldn’t have asked for more. I would have hated myself working in a five-star hotel.
Published in Masala Lite magazine, June 2014
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