“Go your own way”

Mentor Interview Michael Levie, Founder & Chief Operations Officer citizenM

1) What can you contribute as a mentor? What experience can you share?

Getting educated or gaining experience – one of the two is often lacking in startups. Either they have a great education or there is some experience, but there is never enough of both.

I’m fortunate to have seen and worked in many different countries as well as in many different businesses and business conditions. So I hope that the balance between my academic background and the experience I gained gives a perspective that hopefully offers a point of orientation for the startups to navigate from. I’ve always spent a lot of time with students at schools, coaching people and making sure that they get the best out of themselves – I want to bring that experience to the table.

2) Where do you see the biggest need for digitization in the food and hotel industry?

Technology is definitely an area this industry has not excelled in so far. In our day to day lives, so much depends on technology and there are so many new types of organizations – take the online travel agencies or all types of digital components that are available. For various reasons like lack of education, lack of experience, because it’s new or because they are not adapting I think the industry is just not ready to deal with all that.

Instead our industry is still very traditional and old fashioned, its lagging behind and it probably needs to adjust quite a bit. I believe that this is of great importance in our industry today.

Also the way service was scripted in the past so that it could be properly measured – for example standardizing a lot of processes – is another field that is changing right now. Today people are way more interested in genuinely friendly and more human service. For that you need to change your business organization top down as well as through empowerment. This is another field where the industry needs to make some changes and where digitalization can definitely foster those changes.

3) Are there any innovations that have gotten your attention recently?

The ability to bring our systems together, the fact that with the right middleware, the cloud tools all talk to each other, is remarkable and totally fascinates me. This technology has unlocked a lot of information that for years was sitting locked in our systems and is now available.

The other thing that has caught my attention lately is that as distribution is taking up such a different angle, it is very important for hotels to have aggregated data in real time. There are some new and promising technologies starting up in this field as well.

4) What is your professional advice for every startup?

One advice is to follow your own passion. Whatever it is that you create a startup for, don’t listen to anybody while doing it your way. When it comes to what you do, why you do it and the passion behind it, that’s all for you to decide –100 percent. Go your own way.

On the other hand, when it comes to financial and strategic advice as well as input regarding the operational elements, listen to others as well and ask people with experience in those fields to assist you. Here other people might have more experience than you do. In those fields you can and should take advice.

Michael Levie has worked for various international hotel chains including Sonesta Hotels and NH Hotels. He is the founder and Chief Operations Officer of CITIZENM HOTELS.

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