Target the long term vision and then make it happen, the rest can and will be sorted out while on the way, but keep the same clear target all times.
Nathan Zielke is founder and Managing Director of DreamCheaper.com, an innovative hotel price optimization service. It is dedicated to customers looking for the best rate for their planned business trip or vacation. Although branded as “the most hated startup in the hotel booking industry” by TechCrunch in March 2015, DreamCheaper is actually a helping hand for hotels to regain sales channel share from expensive platforms like booking.com and expedia.com. Most importantly, customers save time and money – 15% on average for their existing hotel bookings, without any risk.
Nathan founded his first company at the age of 17, moved on to support the founding of an online-gaming platform and became early-investor in one of the largest online payment providers. In parallel to his startup career he worked for Lufthansa Airlines, was Principal at the top-management consultancy Arthur D. Little, restructured the Swiss Railway as member of their board and currently serves as Co-CEO of the largest Hungarian cargo railway operator.
Where did the idea for DreamCheaper.com come from?
I started DreamCheaper.com to give customers the good feeling of having found the best deal when booking a hotel. Nobody wants to overhear someone at the pool on their vacation say they have paid less for the same room. It was just too time consuming to compare multiple pages and you still didn’t know if the price would become cheaper a day later.
The idea to set up an algorithm doing all the price comparisons over time to make sure to never miss the best deal came up when I was preparing a journey to South America – but now works all over the world.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In the startup business no day is like the other, there is always something new and unexpected – in a good and in a bad sense. When I wake up the first look is at my mobile’s inbox to check if any urgent matters arose during the night, and to see how many new bookings were forwarded into our system. I then squeeze a fresh orange juice and start to work, which usually is a mix between skype conference calls, research, calculations, negotiations and strategy work. We run our company entirely in the cloud, no local IT. This enables us to see all data, schedules and todos in real-time to make sure everything is taken care of.
A well structured task list is essential to successfully run a startup. As MD I need to prioritize, delegate and structure the work to keep DreamCheaper running. To make it grow I need to develop it further and talk a lot to other industry players, partners, suppliers and investors.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always had too many ideas, so most importantly you need to prioritize them. When it comes to large ideas like founding a new company it’s essential to challenge the idea with people you trust, at least 10, the more diverse the better. If it is about smaller ideas it comes back to prioritization as you need to discuss those ideas with your team to determine which one could be brought to life quickly. I believe it is better to fail quickly than to follow up on one idea too long, unsure if it ever takes off.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
In terms of digital services I am thrilled about personal support services. IT is made to make people’s lives easier. There will be systems automising many things which currently are done manually, e.g. hotel booking, personal paperwork, meeting scheduling, planning, shopping…
Another great trend is 3D-Printing which will dramatically alter many industries that currently are not yet overlooking the potential impact.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One feedback I received from colleagues and partners throughout my career was that I am faster than most other people in doing things. I love to optimize everything, cut process times, eliminate unnecessary steps and find solutions to make things more efficient.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
There is no bad job as long as you are working with great people. Of course there were ugly tasks in some of my jobs which include the preparation of endless (and potentially useless) backup documentations for some consultancy projects, participation in unstructured and long meetings or doing manual things because we were lacking the necessary IT.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start even quicker, take a higher risk of failing. The e-commerce business is dramatically fast, there is no time to wait and prepare – go live immediately and solve the rest later.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t think about problems, think about chances. An entrepreneur should never stop himself from existing hurdles, on the long run those hurdles are irrelevant. Target the long term vision and then make it happen, the rest can and will be sorted out while on the way, but keep the same clear target all times.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Make sure it works before you promise that it does. We invested a lot of time and money in proving and fine tuning our model before offering it to the public. In our business the utmost important thing is customer satisfaction and recommendation, that is how we grow. Therefore I always focus on making sure it works.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
You should not wait for IT. IT always takes longer than planned, always is more expensive than forecasted and never is finally ready. I learned that I better start with semi-manual approaches to finetune the processes before fully automising them. There is no need, not even for a startup, to be 100% scalable on day 1. Better make sure to be quick and have enough time for test-runs and adaptions – and then automise stepwise afterwards in an established environment.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One still unsolved problem is, that you always miss people and/or events and only see what happened after it happened. Most social networks today are reporting, not planning. I don’t want to see that a friend of mine was in Paris on the very same day I was there, I would have loved to know in advance that he will be there to be able to catch up. I also don’t want to read about a concert I missed, I want to be informed in advance – recommended by people I trust. There were some attempts already trying to tackle this issue but no real service emerged…
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It actually was 110 USD but that was invested in a great guy in India. We found him online to solve an urgent issue with our payment process overnight – he did it within hours and helped us a lot.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I really love Google Drive, it helps you to organise your entire life. For people travelling a lot it is a great tool to have all what you need with you on a fingertip. No need for paper any more. For me a software needs to be simple, I don’t like digging into tutorials and learning a software – it has to show its benefit within seconds.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Losing My Virginity” – The biography of Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. He is one guy who did whatever he thought might be a good idea. He failed, he succeeded and he tried a lot. And, he disrupted industries without being afraid of their reactions – that is one attitude all entrepreneurs should follow.
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