Panel: Travel Startup
November 19, 2018
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The following post was written by junior and Tisch Center social media student worker, Haley Park. Haley is a Psychology Major and Economics minor in The College of Arts and Sciences at NYU.


On November 15, 2018, the Tisch Center’s Hospitality and Tourism Society and HFTP Chapter hosted a Travel Startup Panel with five distinguished speakers: David McGloin, Director of Business Development at OTA Insight; Joan Lee, Vice President of Operations at Travel Tripper; Monica Chambers, Chief of Staff at Stay Wanderful; Steve Rubin, Executive Vice President of Operations and Partnerships at LodgIQ; and Ben Beinecke, Head of Credit at UpLift. Faculty, students, and outside guests gathered to hear about the world of startups from key industry leaders. Professor Karaburun led the panel as the moderator.

The first question posed, “What challenges did you face when creating your business model?” was very well-received. Steve started out the conversation and said, “you have to find a hypothesis that is safe and not going to be taken over by other companies such as Amazon, Google, Expedia, or Airbnb. Doing so can sometimes be difficult.” Ben further added, “it’s easy to focus on the long-term hypothesis and vision of your company.” As companies grow, he stated that the challenges change from focusing on growth to other dimensions of the business. Joan concluded by referring to the culture of a business. For a company to be successful, you need to have the right people and sometimes finding that talent isn’t easy.

When asked what career advice they would give to current students at NYU who want to pursue a career at startup, David said, “be prepared for long days.” However, Steve said although the days are long, there is a lot more flexibility in your work schedule. Monica emphasized the importance of critical thinking skills. She said, “you need to be able to take data and analyze them, and understand the core of what’s driving the question.” In terms of characteristics, she emphasized ownership mentality. An employee has to be willing to own an area, in other words, being able to learn on the fly and overall being voracious, willing to try and experiment until you find a solution. David further added, “be prepared to input your own ideas.” Lastly, Steve said, “learn to be resourceful and challenge the norm.”

Working at a startup is very different from working at a traditional corporation. Several of these speakers have experienced working at both a startup and in a more corporate environment. When asked about what key differences were between the two, Monica talked about the distinct onboarding processes. At a startup, the onboarding process will be minimal and you are going to be expected to hit the ground running on day one. However, in most large-scale corporations, a new onboarded employee is typically guided throughout the first few weeks, and learning takes place by observing. To add, Ben described the corporate environment as very structured, an aspect that is undervalued at startups. Startups are flexible, fast-paced. He gave advice to students, “when considering different careers, think carefully about the number of employees the startup has, the amount of capital they have and the age disparity between employees among other things.” Joan added, “think about which environment is best for you.” Finally, David concluded, “if you can work well independently and want to learn yourself, it might be a good fit to work for a startup.”

Professor K then asked an interesting question, “Why do you think that startups fail and what are those reasons for failing?” Joan started off by saying, “if you’re not listening to your clients and adjusting your product, then it will fail.” On a different note, Ben highlighted the importance of the financial markets. He said, “the structure of the financial markets is not well set up for 80-90% of startups.” On a lighter note, Ben half-jokingly said some of it is just luck. He shared that a lot of brilliant people come up with brilliant technologies, yet they are just too early – the market might not be ready for them yet. However, failure is loosely defined. A company that shuts down may seem like a failure to the outside world however that may not actually be the case. David added, “a company’s morale might be low, but after getting those first couple of deals, the atmosphere is uplifted.”

The panelists were then asked to share their best piece of career advice to students. Monica said, “know yourself.” Many young, ambitious, smart people can get drowned out by the noise but when thinking about your career early on, consider passions and skills. The earlier you look into yourself, and the faster you go after that, will be beneficial. Steve shared a piece of advice that we often hear yet often forget, “don’t get discouraged.” He said, “you will face a lot frustration and challenges but you must stay persistent throughout.” Joan added: “don’t be afraid to fail”. In addition, she shared the importance of networking and not burning bridges. Ben concluded by saying, “the world doesn’t work in straight lines”. He said, “I encourage you to pursue the weird, eccentric corners of areas of your interests which often work in unexpected ways.”

For the last portion of the panel, Professor K opened the floor for questions from the audience. One audience member asked about how the panelists’ respective companies are aligning to their culture to accommodate to millennials. The speakers touched on aspects such as a more relaxed working environment and how an increasing number of millennials in startups has added a positive value. Another audience member asked about the predictor of success for startups. None of the speakers focused on the product itself, however they shed light on other aspects. Steve said it’s about knowing people and enhancing social capital. Joan emphasized the importance of cultivating a great company culture, specifically making sure that each personality can build, define and grow the company.