As HotelQuickly turns 1, Co-founders reminisce the highs and lows

Sad Skype calls, moments of uncertainty, and the inevitable pride of pulling through the first year — the 5 Co-founders of HotelQuickly recount experiences in a candid interview

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Happy birthday, HotelQuickly! The Hong Kong-based last-minute hotel booking app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry 10 devices is celebrating its first-year anniversary today.

Even though it was incorporated on the December 15, 2012, the solution was only launched in six countries (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) on March 20, 2013. Two months later, they had expanded to five new locations (Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand). In August 2013, the company received its first external investment of US$1.15 million from angel investors, which was used for expansion within the region and product development.

True to its name, HotelQuickly then swiftly expanded to the Philippines in January 2014 and released a re-programmed Android app. Finally, in February 2014, it claimed to have reached 2,000 partner hotels. It is now operating throughout the world with an office in Bangkok, Thailand.

Now, HotelQuickly is looking to create a completely re-programmed iOS app which will be released in April 2014. More destinations will also be added to the app as it continues to grow.

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e27 spoke to all five Co-founders of HotelQuickly — Tomas Laboutka (CEO), Christian Mischler (CMO and COO), Michal Juhas (CTO), Mario Peng (CFO), and Raphael Cohen (CSO) on reaching the one-year milestone. Here are few excerpts:

It has been one year. What was the:

- Happiest moment?

Laboutka: “Everyday, when I get up in the morning to build this amazing company, with such a great team. Everyday when I get up to challenge the aged models and shake up the industry.”

Juhas: “Closing the first series of fundraising, which meant we’re doing the right thing, with the right people, at the right time. And staying in Bangkok!”

Cohen: “Finally launching the app in March 2013, after months of preparation. We postponed it multiple times as we couldn’t get everything ready, but at some time we just set a fixed date and launched, even though not everything was perfect.”

Mischler: “Getting Tomas, Michal, Raphael, and Mario to co-create HotelQuickly. I have been immensely lucky to have these bright, experienced, and hungry individuals around me to collectively push towards the vision of HotelQuickly. I’ve never seen a more powerful co-founding team.”

- Saddest moment?

Juhas: “Only being able to have Skype calls with my newly-born son before I finally moved my family to Bangkok.”

Cohen: “When we saw some of the big OTAs starting to bully some of our partner hotels and attacking us, a few weeks after launching. In our industry, the big players do everything to maintain their market dominance, price fixing to maintain the oligopoly they created, and keeping any startups out of their markets.”

Laboutka: “Whenever I see our great talents with whom we embarked on the adventure of building HotelQuickly leave to pursue other opportunities. But I know the time has to be right for both, the company and the individual team member whom we saw shining for that period of his or her life.”

Peng: “It’s saddening to see that even though we have a clearly superior product over OTAs, offering cheaper prices and a smoother UX, travellers have been numbed to the marketing propaganda of travel websites. It is hard to neutrally place the message that we are on an average 28 per cent cheaper, there is a natural misbelief towards these messages.”

- Scariest moment?

Cohen: “The first fundraising round, when you get turned-down by many investors, and meet many people who tell you it’s not going to work. But we proved them wrong in the end.”

Laboutka: “The first step. The first step to get started. The reversed feeling of “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. But looking back, from that moment on, it has been an amazing journey.”

Mischler: “Launch. We worked day and night for months to get ready, and we still were really just ready. There were a lot of bugs in the system, and operationally we had to correct a lot in the weeks following the launch. Even though it was scary, it was also the most liberating moment.”

Juhas: “Just recently, one of our scripts had a bug and after deploying, it was quickly deleting our hotel and room photos (the original ones!). Luckily we managed to cut it off after it deleted a few hundreds of photos only.”

Read Also: Singapore-based travel search engine Wego talks Thai travel trends

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What lessons have you learnt from the last year?

Laboutka: “During the course of building up the company, we figured in the dynamic and amazing markets of APAC, one has to constantly balance scaling and localisation to drive the sustainable growth of the company. This comes down to the team set-up, product adaptation, building partnerships and marketing efforts. The whole lot. And still, we want to build a great company at an unprecedented speed.”

Juhas: “It’s really difficult to manage Asians with a European mindset. In Europe, we’re pretty straight-forward and have clear answers. On the contrary, here I need to ask 4x the same thing with different words to check if the person really understands what and how to do a task. Simple ‘yes’ just doesn’t always means ‘yes’.”

Mischler: “Before HotelQuickly, I co-founded a number of companies in all sorts of industries. Now, even though these startups were incomparable to each other, I realised that many of the past challenges appeared in HQ as well in some shape or form. The past experience helped to remain calm and to continuously sail around the cliffs.”

Cohen: “It takes time to build up such an amazing company and product. It applies to all sides of the business: sales/inventory, marketing, IT/product, finding the right talent. But the more progress we make, the easier it becomes. When we were pitching to our first hotels 1.5 year ago, we used to get a lot of declines, now hotels call us up to sign directly — things have changed.”

Peng: “I joined HQ coming from investment banking respectively private equity in Switzerland. This experience equipped me great functional experience, but once I joined the team in January 2013, I realised that the speed in a startup like ours is many times faster than what it is in the corporate world. Entrepreneurship allows, no, requires you to take shortcuts wherever you can; you constantly take risks, make quick decisions, and push forward every single day. This has been a rejuvenating lesson for me.”

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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