Chris Hemmeter, Managing director
A well-known figure on the travel startup scene through his venture firm, Thayer, Chris Hemmeter is a "dragon" at The Phocuswright Conference 2018 in Los Angeles.
In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event Los Angeles in November, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...
What are you like outside of work?
Very much the same as I am inside work – curious, enthusiastic, silly with a choppy attention span. I like to think of business as a three-dimensional board game.
At the end of the day we all turn to dust and none of this will really matter all that much. Once we see that for what it is, there’s a degree of peace and freedom that follows.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is not take ourselves all that seriously!
San Francisco, U.S.
What was your childhood aspiration?
My childhood aspirations were focused on extending my curfew or jumping off a higher sea cliff or body surfing a larger wave. I grew up in Hawaii where aspirations were very much an “in the moment” thing.
Later in life when college in the Northeast crushed my dreams (just kidding) I aspired to be a doctor, a child psychiatry specialist to be exact!
In fact, I graduated pre-med from Cornell and had every intention of attending UCSF Medical School (full disclosure, I did not apply so have no idea if they would have taken me).
I clearly made a pivot right after graduation, long story, and have never looked back!
Who is the person you most admire within the industry?
There are so many, but I have to say that the person I admire the most is the “prototypical entrepreneur” (how’s that for a punt!).
I admire risk takers, without them we would still be hunter gatherers clubbing each other as we compete for the largest cave. Risk taking has contributed more to human development than any other factor, in my opinion.
Every great act, insight and bold idea has come into this world through the spirit of risk. It is hard to take chances because failure is so much more likely than success, yet entrepreneurs somehow find the strength to take on the odds and give it a try.
The ones who dust themselves off and keep taking at-bats are my favorites. My father loved to say, “The definition of success is the ability to overcome failure” and I wholeheartedly agree!
What travel industry development or brand do you wish you'd thought of first?
I graduated from business school in 1995 and moved to San Francisco, good timing I think, and went on to start a restaurant company. Oops!
Would have been a more effective use of my time to start, say, Priceline? That said, you have to say the team that identified and executed the acquisition of Booking are the real champions in that story.
What would have become of Priceline had they passed on Booking? We’ll never know!
Your best 3 days out of your office this year!
What is your proudest professional achievement?
My proudest professional achievement is shutting down my startups that didn’t work. It’s easy to “perform” when you succeed but how you act when you fail is a real test.
I worked hard to build a large team and subsequently had to downsize back to zero in painful increments. What I learned during that time was that we were all in it together, including my investors and my board, and we had all made the same, sober bet.
On the one hand, the failure wasn’t about me but on the other hand the cleanup was. Starting a company means you take on the responsibility of taping up the boxes if it doesn’t work and that’s what I had to do. It was very hard emotionally and challenged my sense of self-worth but in the end, it was okay and I learned more from it than my successes.
Years later, one of the GPs at the venture firm that lost a pile of money with me actually invested in me again. That meant a lot to me and reminded me of the importance of integrity and leadership when things go bad.
What book do you recommend to others and why?
I recently read The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, and loved it! No, not a boring business book but a fantastic read and journey through time that reminds us how trivial our 100 years really are.
Again, I think it’s good to remind ourselves that we are not all that important in the great scheme of things.
What do you do to alleviate stress?
I am an exercise nut, no better way to alleviate stress (especially when the bar is out of mezcal)! I used to race triathlon and finished two Ironman races.
Now it’s just 45 minutes on the Peloton, a scamper around the block and interval training with weights that are so small I can see the young guys laughing under their breath and pledging “never to be that guy” when they get old. Time will take its revenge!
What's your morning routine?
It’s the only time to guarantee a workout. After guzzling two large cups of coffee and reading the BBC on my phone, I hit the bike.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
I would tell him that he will be 30 before he blinks so stop trying to achieve everything before he is 25! I would persuade him to “pay his dues” over the next five years at a minimum and work at a place and for someone where he can learn and develop skills.
I would urge him to learn to delay gratification. I would also tell him to buy as much Intel as he can in 1989 and put a down payment on a house in Pacific Heights!
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
Perhaps that I am more of a butterfly-chaser than a structured executive. I get the ADD nature of Da Vinci more than I get the discipline of Jack Welch.
I am also a blend of skepticism and mysticism, meaning I make room for the possibility that reality is actually very strange and not as it appears (l love quantum physics) but I also reject reactionary and poorly supported fringe thinking.
I can also hold my breath for a long time and need eight and a half hours of sleep!
What gives you energy?
Beauty, full stop. I guess that’s the butterfly chaser in me. I am energized by beauty, whether expressed in the physical world (nature, music, etc.) the intellectual world (strategic insights, new ideas, etc.) or the spiritual world (insights by history’s great thinkers).
Seeing and experiencing beauty is like a shot of adrenaline or a warm wash that clears the fog.
Describe your desk and working environment?
I don’t know what you mean - who uses a desk these days...?! My “desk” is my laptop and iPhone. Wherever they are is my office for the day.
How do you adapt to your environment when traveling?
I eat the food, make eye contact with the people and wake with the sun. I also try to exercise as soon as I get to where I am going. A good sweat resets everything!
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