Ruzwana Bashir, co-founder and CEO
As co-founder and CEO of Peek, Ruzwana Bashir has steered the tours and activities company through a number of funding rounds in recent years as well as the acquisition of rival Zozi in early 2017. At The Phocuswright Conference 2018, she will join an executive roundtable on tours and activities.
In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Los Angeles this month, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...
What one mistake do you witness others making more than anything else?
Not putting enough time and attention into hiring truly exceptional people into their organizations. The success of a startup that is growing really fast so often comes down to the team and the culture they create. You need to find and hire brilliant, passionate, dedicated and hard-working people to survive the tumultuous startup journey, and A-players recruit A-players. To this day, me or my co-founder still personally interview every single new hire at Peek.
What are the gaps in your experience and knowledge of the industry?
While I'm a travel fanatic and have been to over 50 countries, I didn’t start Peek with decades of experience actually working in the activities industry. On the one hand I view that as a positive thing since it has allowed me to take a fresh perspective to solving the age-old problems of our industry.
At the same time, we've been diligently working on becoming “students of the game” by bringing onboard savvy industry veterans like Brad Gerstner as investors and bringing people into our team who have helped to scale similar businesses.
When was the last time you spoke to one of your customers and why?
Today! As the largest independent booking platform in the world, we have thousands of businesses partnering with us and we make sure we meet them very regularly for feedback. My co-founder, Oskar Bruening, has visited over 100 of our partners in the last 18 months. This feedback is incredibly useful to help us continually improve our product and ensure that it remains the most innovative platform on the market.
Why isn't the travel startup survival rate higher?
- Strong incumbents: There are a few very large incumbents with huge marketing budgets, so any startup (especially the B2C ones) must be well-funded and incredibly capital efficient or else they risk just being outspent until burn-down.
- Low repeat purchase rate: The relative infrequency of travel means that it’s hard to build high consumer loyalty (and therefore drive repeat bookings) without significant geographic scale, which is often difficult for small startups to achieve fast enough.
- Clear monetization plan: Many travel startups spend too much time focusing on the inspiration piece of the travel journey, without outlining a clear path to revenue. Raising money isn’t easy, so without a way to actually cover your operating costs at some point this can be a dangerous path.
Do you agree with the often used phrase "travel planning is broken"?
I don't think travel planning is "broken"; consumers just suffer from having ether too many options without enough guidance (i.e., most hotel or airline search), not enough inventory online in real-time (i.e., tours and activities) or just an overall bad UX (i.e., many legacy OTA/GDS systems). Thankfully there are a lot of really smart people working on fixing all these problems, so as an industry I believe we are headed in the right direction.
What travel industry development or brand do you wish you’d thought of first?
Am I allowed to say Google search? Given the immense influence search has had in shaping travel over the years, as well as the billions of dollars Google has made along the way, that would be an easy pick!
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If you weren’t in travel, what industry/company would you like to be part of and why?
Direct-to-consumer e-commerce because of the ability to quickly disrupt huge markets and create value for millions of people with a better consumer experience.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
To take risks earlier in my career (instead of taking safer jobs at big-name companies to prove I was capable and competent). There is definitely a balance between risk and reward, and the roles or opportunities that push you out of your comfort zones are the ones in which you learn a great deal and really empower yourself. I wish I’d gone into startups straight out of university.
What do you consider to be the most important invention in the digital world in the last 20 years?
Describe your desk and working environment?
It’s very messy! I can only take solace in Einstein’s comment that "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"
If you could teach everyone in your company one concept, what concept would have the biggest positive impact?
I am a firm believer that people need to fully understand the impact of their work to be motivated and achieve their highest potential. At Peek we're growing like crazy right now and hiring lots of new Peek-sters, so helping everyone understand our mission and vision (to connect the world through experiences) is critical.
To this end, in our new hire onboarding sessions and every all-hands meeting we try to help the team appreciate how the work they are doing is fundamentally transforming the $150 billion activities industry and empowering thousands of small businesses to succeed.
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