Booking.com tells hotels it’s not a zero-sum game

Pepijn Rijvers knows more than most about Booking.com’s meteoric rise.

Last April, Rijvers became CMO of Europe’s largest online travel company, which also happens to be the key engine behind Priceline Group’s recent growth.

But back in October 2008, when Rijvers joined Booking.com as a director of business development, the company was still relatively small. Its whole IT department was only about 30 people.

Rijvers has seen — and helped to drive — the business’s spectacular growth. Tnooz sat down with him while he was at the Phocuswright Conference in Florida last week to learn more.

He talked about Booking’s new B2B tool Pulse, why Booking is still the best distribution value for hotels, and other hot topics.

Tnooz: What can we expect from Booking.com on the marketing front soon? What’s news to update?

Rijvers: If you listen carefully, both to interviews that I give, speeches that Darren gives, or what we talk about, there’s two words that will continue to surface, which is “experience” on one hand, and “diversity” on the other.

Being a global platform, especially with our enhanced mobile tools, we see such a literally humongous opportunity for us. That’s our task, really, to make the travel experience fantastic. Focusing on the user experience, and focusing on a diversity of offerings, can get us to the next level.

We can now not only look-to-book, where we’ve always invested our attention. With mobile, we can also be really part of your whole journey, which for us, is like a Valhalla, a Nirvana, right? We can literally do so much to make your travel really fantastic thanks to mobile devices being with you in the moment…

What’s happening now is a lot of price competition. It almost feels like everybody’s competing for price….

To me, anything that commoditizes the hotel, honestly, is the enemy of Booking.com. We feel deeply passionate about how each of these lodging experience actually are worthwhile having and unique, in essence.

For us, anything that goes towards commoditization is pretty weird and against our spirit. So we’re gravitating enormously the other way.

This is where diversity and experience come to life…. As a vendor, we de-commoditize what we offer.

What some critics misunderstand is that we’ve always had a world of passion for the customer in the way we’ve built the business. It’s really always driven on customer experience.

Mobile really allows us to improve the product that way. What you can expect, from a product front, as on the marketing front, is that we’ll be doing more talking about that, showing that, bringing the product to life.

Tnooz: Talking more about mobile? Talking about user experience?

Rijvers: Yeah, talking more about the user experience that we’re driving, and mobile facilitates this often.

An example is we launched an app a couple of months ago called Pulse. Pulse is a partner-facing. Our property partners can use it. It is meant to facilitate instant messaging between the property, the guest, and us.

Instant messaging is a very important element in today’s type of communication. I am starting to find emails pretty obsolete and old right now because it can just be so much more effective through a messaging platform.

What you see there, basically, is the back-end work that we’re doing to allow consumer to have instant conversations with property owners across the globe. We will facilitate, of course, with either helping out, translations, speaking the right language, of course, as the platform. It’s been downloaded by over 100,000 property partners now. Which is like a 16% adoption rate within only a couple of month’s time.

Tnooz: It acts like an extranet? Or, is it…

Rijvers: Yeah. It’s very much geared around communication, but we do…

Tnooz: Communication with the regional managers…

Rijvers: The property owner, or it could be front-of-house, it really depends on where they would put it…. We can show you how we’re hosting the conversation with the customer. It has daily updates where you see today, you’ve got so many guests checking in.

Or, you see that you’ve received a new booking, you’ve got a new review.

We’re basically trying to bring alive how that property lives on our platform. We get already standardized responses and questions, surface questions from customers.

If someone wants an extra bed, or you want to change the bed type, you want to book a meal, or stuff like that is all functionalities that we’re building on top of that platform right now.

That, of course, because it’s an object, in a sense, like, “I want to change my bed type.” Okay, into us, that’s standardized information…

Tnooz: Okay, cool. Would you be able to talk a bit more about the supplier side? Pulse is fascinating for me, and Gillian Tans has spoken about what the Hotel Ninjas acquisition means, what BookingSuite means. Is there anything else that would help suppliers that you can talk about?

Rijvers: What we’re seeing, generally — and what we want to solve — is that there’s an enormous amount of friction in hotel tech markets. It’s super-fragmented; it’s typically pretty expensive: so, either monthly fees or commission percentages.

You typically need to have a whole tool set built on top of each other, to be communicating with each other, like the CRS, CRF system, channel manager, rate management, BI, BMS, calendering.

Tnooz: How many more vendor products can the hotel manager handle, really?

Rijvers: Exactly. Since there are no tech partners, what you typically see is that they under-invest, at first, to then build up legacy that puts them in a spot where it’s very hard to move.

Also, I don’t see a lot of incentive in hotel tech partners to make their products really user-friendly by front-line staff. I actually see a lot of incentive to make sure equipment stays antiquated and that they just add more partners to the existing platform.

Also, the client server technology is dead, as far as I’m concerned. Cloud-based solutions are something which is inherently more scalable. We can innovate easier, we can keep the portal live more easily.

Therefore, there is an enormous opportunity for us to help our property partners with just basically coming online, literally coming online.

Online does not only mean being available in travel agencies. It means literally digitizing their entire business process. At first, aimed at … I think where a lot of core strength for us is is in the long-tail and in alternative lodging.

The smaller properties — I doubt we would ever to be able to assist franchisees of Marriott, for instance. They, of course, have a lot of reasons why they have their proprietary systems. I’d make a strong case, I would like to go as far as regional hotel chains that have up to 100 properties and that have maybe three, four people front-of-house.

Tnooz: Or a group that may only have 20 or 30 hotels around Europe?

Rijvers: For instance. I think also, given the 178 offices Darren also spoke about us having worldwide, and the amount of staff that we have locally helps us. We already have all the core information that we need.

Effectively, you are already digital in our world. We already have a CRM, 6,000 people operating it. You know how it works, you know how web works. That’s a good opportunity.

Also, because it’s particularly the combination of the three: customer experience, coming online, as a platform where we can then have PMSs fire stuff out, like, “This is the room number, this is the WiFi code, this is the check-in details. Oh, we’ve, by the way, already in the background, settled the payment for you. Here’s the bill.”

No one has to touch this. I see a lot of opportunity for the industry, literally here and for us as well. Does that make sense?

Tnooz: What’s on the horizon? And what are misconceptions about Booking.com that should be called out — or parts of its story that haven’t received proper appreciation?

Rijvers: I’d say there’s two things I’d call out there, which I think are interesting, to say the least, in this sector.

Let me start off first with: the travel industry is inherently a competition market. No one can survive on their own, everybody needs each other. That’s also true for us, it’s true for hotel partners.

Fundamentally, I believe that, as an owner of a business, as a responsible person for a business, you need to do two things: you need to acquire your customers in the most efficient way, so at the lowest cost with the highest volume. That’s one.

Then, second, you need to then drive whatever it is you do in such a great way that they come back. If you do those two things well, then you’ve got a great and scalable business, and you’ll be successful.

Booking.com is the most efficient way to buy new customers globally, at scale. I challenge anyone to find something cheaper that drives more volume, because it’s not there.

A misconception in the industry is that if people click on a travel product, that whomever answers to that query, the conversion will be the same.

Some paths convert better than others.

It’s not a zero-sum game. This whole relentless focus on the whole battle between OTAs and hotels, I totally don’t get.

There’s another reason, and I’ll use an analogy for that. What I find is … Do you do sports?

Tnooz: Not well.

Rijvers: When you were younger?

Tnooz: Yes, I did.

Rijvers: What did you do?

Tnooz: Football, soccer.

Rijvers: Soccer, okay. You were playing soccer, there were spectators. You were good at it, you had a lot of passion for it, it’s just what you did.

Then, today, extreme mountain biking is very popular. You take your bike, you go off a mountain in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. Look at any Red Bull kind of movie, it’s like, “Whoa! What are these guy doing?” It gets lots of spectators.

Here comes the funky thing: I’m now writing on sports, and my question to you is did you miss the mountain bike opportunity?

You go, “No, of course not. I’m not a mountain biker, I’m a soccer player.” Weird question.

Though, in the travel industry, we ask this question all the time. Have hotels missed the online revolution?

Well, they are not marketers or technologists, are they? It’s pretty funky to actually assume that they should be graded by how well they do online marketing.

Trust me, it’s really a trade-off. You need to spend a lot of hours to become really, really good at it. Then, still, you don’t understand it, and it’s changing so much.

Why would any hotel chain, regardless of the investments that they make, become the best in online marketing? Really? Better than Amazon, Apple, Alibaba, or Booking.com. Really? That’s a fantasy, will never happen, of course.

It’s the only thing we do at Booking. I think that’s a very weird misconception, on top of that, that hotels should compete with us. We can acquire customers more efficiently here…

Tnooz: It is a misconception, you say, that hoteliers should be playing in the marketing game?

Rijvers: We are, of course, a large part of the P&L (profit and loss) sheet for any hotel chain, I get that. Any marketing is the largest part of the P&L for any consumer business.

We ourselves spent $2.7 billion on marketing last year.

Take any business, they’ll typically spend the majority of their cost on marketing. Then, everything else is labor, or people. Then cap-ex: buildings, utilities, etc. That’s not at all strange.

Has the marketing mix has changed over time for hotels? Yeah, it did. It significantly did.

Did the ADRs (average daily rates) improve over time? I think so, too.

Think of the traditional wholesaler model. If you look at the margins that were made there, compared to working with us 15%, I’d say that things have improved quite dramatically, compared to the 25, 30%, whatever the margin was that more traditional businesses did.

Or, if I may, that mid-sized chain. I deploy lots of salespeople that go to conferences in places like Dubai to attract some business bookers to come into my hotel specifically.

I’d argue that 15% per new customer is a lot more efficient than that particular marketing investment. If, as an owner of a hotel, if I don’t change my marketing mix, I continue to put guys in suits in Dubai, and I look at Booking.com’s invoice every month, of course that’s not the right balance. I get that.

Tnooz: Why has Booking.com stopped passing customer information back to the hotel so that the hotel can have an opportunity to upsell, target, or better understand the customers walking in its doors?

Rijvers: We haven’t stopped passing. To protect PII (personally identifiable information), we encrypt the email address but the hotel can still communicate directly with the guest once they made a booking via our system.

In today’s day and age, with fraud and so on, we felt a need to protect PII better, and therefore host a conversation.

That’s a move that we made, I think at end of 2014, so that we know when we share the email address of a customer with a hotel, for instance, the hotel gets a hashed variant of it, but still, you can communicate.

Tnooz: When you mentioned the 15% as a starting commission. It’s just 15% to play. But is that the full picture?

In a way, as far as paying for placement in the sort order for search results, it’s a little bit like at a concert. The first people stand up, then everyone else behind them has to stand up to be able to see the people on the stage.

Some hotels are afraid that the 15% is what it is now. Then, in order to get to the top three listings, you’re up to 19%, everyone else feels like they have to rise and pay more, too. As market share grows in some places, Booking.com in Germany may be like half, or whatever.

Rijvers: Of the online booking.

Tnooz: Of the online bookings, not the whole total in the industry.

Rijvers: Which is still small.

Tnooz: Relatively small, yes. The perception is that the dynamics are running that you guys will be able to use market dominance to all-but-set rates. It’s something that keeps coming up, especially in the French and German press.

Rijvers: I think that is a bit of a misinformed position on how our ranking really works. The ranking is driven by consumer behavior. The foremost ingredient affecting ranking is conversion, it’s actually not that much of a rocket science.

We’ve got other treatments on ranking, to protect us, for instance, from hotels that do massive cancellations, or to protect us from properties that create humongous amount of customer service issues.

Those are all really small increments in part of our ranking formula, but conversion is the core thing. A hotel which has a very good location, a very good price, a lot of availability, good content, and has good pricing, that hotel will convert very well.

People are looking central locations with good price and good content, that’s all.

Being available helps, because if you’re not available, of course, your conversation is zero. We’ve always shared with partners, by the way.

This is how our ranking algorithm works. We have a base concept for it, and we share with partners. We show you, “These are the things that you can do to improve your pricing, availability, content, or your extra features.”

A property that offers rooms that are flexible cancellations will convert better than a hotel that doesn’t. A hotel that doesn’t not ask for a deposit will convert better than a hotel that asks for a deposit, because we don’t like deposits.

There’s all sorts of things that you can do to convert better on our platform, but they all make sense.

Let’s assume that there’s a destination, and their whole ranking only exists at two hotels. Being in the number one position, you get all business, being in number two position, you get zero, just to make the argument a little bit easier.

There’s two hotels. There’s one hotel that that’s completely optimized for conversions. Converting the best, has a good location, had a good product.

Then, there’s another hotel which is slightly outside the city center, so it’s not, take New York, it’s not in Manhattan, it’s in Queens.

Still interesting, but maybe not for the majority of people that think about New York, they think about Manhattan. It doesn’t offer free cancellation rooms, only has a nonrefundable.

The conversation of that hotel will inherently be worse, because it’s just a less appealing product. Let’s assume that the conversation of the good hotel is 5%, and the bad hotel is 2.5. Then, the ranking will be five and 2.5, in my example.

Now, they both pay the same commission. The way our commission override works is that if you, for certain dates, think, “I need more business”, just like with Google, or other advertisers, we allow you to up your bid.

Let’s assume you pay now 35% more commission, so you go from 15 to 20. That’s 35% more commission. It works at a multiplier. Your 2.5 would now go 1.35 times 2.5.

Tnooz: It’s linear, okay.

Rijvers: Literally, now I’ll take an example, in New York, we’ve got 700 partners. You’re on page four, you’ll be able to go to page three. You’ll never go to number, one, two or three because you don’t have the qualities to out-impress guests compared to the 100 best hotels in the city.

You’re objectively never going to be ranked on the first page if you went directly to consumers and we weren’t involved at all.

I’d argue that yeah, a couple of people are standing up, to use your analogy, but most are actually looking at a different kind of concert.

There’s only a few hotels that compete for people looking for Manhattan. It’s the large ones, it’s the ones with great locations, great pricing.

In Europe, Accor Hotels is a brand that I salute a lot because they have a lot of great product and great marketing of their brands, great stories behind their brands with consistent execution, for instance. There’s others there as well.

Then there’s also product, let’s say Mercur, which is a little bit more in the business district, or in the suburbs.

(Tnooz’s paraphrase of Rijvers’s point: There’s nothing the hotel could do with any online travel agency, not just Booking.com, to get in position number one as best hotel in the city because objectively their location is inferior to a bunch of other central options.)

No, there’s not reason for the whole room to stand up, really there is not. You are all looking at your own concert here.

I also tell hotel partners, “Don’t do it, there is no point. Invest that money in a better product so that your review score goes up so that maybe, you’re now attractive to a little bit of a different audience, where you can build up a different position.”

It’s pretty irrational, I think, to do this.

Second, as a hotel, you need to understand also, and we educate our hotel partners on this, only very few, a low, double-digit number, I think it’s somewhere around 15% or so, of the people go into a search result and only look at the search result as-is.

The majority of people start filtering, sorting, ordering in some way. Also, we change the results depending on the click behavior that we see.

If you click on a five-star, and she clicks on a two-star, if you go back to your search results you will see that we’ve introduced an additional tile under the hotel you just clicked on, that, in your case, shows this five-star has a better location.

This five-star has a higher review score, or this five-star has a lower rate. We assume, “Hey, you clicked on a five-star. Apparently, you’re looking for that kind of product, so let’s help you.” That, in itself, is a ranking game.

Hotels need to fundamentally understand that. We provide them with tools to do so so they can optimize for their individual ranking game in their true comp set.

Maybe, in some cases, if you want to be in the top three spots for hotels in that suburb with that review score, then actually, that Mercur hotel I just talked about already is in page one.

(Tnooz paraphrase of Rijvers’s point: There is no commission override that could make hotels jump to number one, two, or three at Booking.com or, indeed, at any other online travel agency. It is just simply impossible.)

Tnooz: Just to follow up as a part two on that, you mentioned there are some tools that you give to the suppliers. Hotel managers, as they said, have got, say, 70 vendor tools.

They’re running around, and some of them may not have come up in a background of thinking mathematically and analytically, this kind of mindset.

Is there anything that Booking is doing to help people understand the concert within the concert, the ranking game within the ranking game?

Rijvers: Yeah, that’s probably the most important thing. We’ve created, and this is actually the last thing I did as director of hotels at Booking.com, is create an expert system which is completely data-driven and based off of user action on our website.

The values of certain actions change all the time. As an example, we’ve learned that hotels that have pools, but do not have a photo of the pool, lose, on average, 20,000 euros a year in TTV. That’s a really expensive cost for a lack of a picture, right?

We tell them that, we show them. “Hey, dude, get a picture of your pool, you’ll get a lot more bookings.”

Everything that we learned through validation, we expose, then, to the partners. “This is the value of this particular thing.” Then, they get to decide whether they do it or not.

We’ve opened that expert system up now with a partner-facing layer. You can just go in, say, “What do you advise me to do today?”

We will say, “Do this, do that, do this or that.”

We innovate all the time. As an example, we’ve introduced last-minute optimization tools for property partners a year or two year ago. We learned at the last minute, like literally super last minute, a couple of hours before arrival, that it’s way more mobile.

Inputting credit card details is a nightmare on mobile, so it was just skipping that step. Had a lot of conversion-positive impact, which, again, means it’s not a see-or-sell market, we can’t actually drive people to really say, while others be like, “Nevermind, I’ll get an Uber.” And just drive home for an hour.

Tnooz: It’s pulling in new demand that wouldn’t have been created otherwise?

Rijvers: Yeah, it’s just taking friction away. That, in the end, increases the amount of people that participate.

Anyway, as a hotel, you’re not offering that sort of no-credit-card-required for last-minute-reservation option yet. The minute we build it, we going to expose to a partner that has opted-in. Tick a box, and then you optimize yourself again. That’s essentially how it works.

Tnooz: It does make sense, as a higher-level strategic, yeah. On a different topic, I’ve always wanted to ask this: Who invented, within Booking.com, the idea of posting a little message on the consumer booking screen that says “Six people have looked at this property in the past 24 hours”?

Rijvers: That’s a very good one. Let me think, because we have that already for so long. When I joined Booking.com, this is a little over seven years ago, engineers would basically run with their own ideas, just put it to the test through A/B experimentation, and the user would guide you as to what worked.

We learned really early on that we, as human engineers, are just too stupid to understand even the slightest fraction of reality, and that our predictions about customer behavior, if we would do the inverse, would have a high likelihood to succeed.

Tnooz: Betting against yourself would produce better answers on average?

Rijvers: Right? “It seems like a great idea to us, so we should probably not do it…. I think this really stinks, that’s probably gold.”

This also came to life through engineers, for sure. That went like, “Hey, I’ve got some social signal here.” There’s a lot psychology behind how people make decisions.

I know that there were some books that we were reading back then, so this is literally talking 2009, I think. Then, we said, “Hey, this is an interesting theory. Let’s put the theory to the test.”

We did, and I think we were surprised. I remember I was having a conversation about it, about the power of social validation. That’s when we discovered that apparently, people were looking at the hotel thinking, “I must be the only idiot that’s going to stay here, right? Is this website even legit?”

There’s all these fears that people have for maybe the right or the wrong reasons. Then seeing, “Hey, there’s six other people looking at this.” For me to go, “Oh!”, that’s good. We learned that there are some really powerful psychological concepts behind shopping…

Tnooz: Yes.

Rijvers: It’s a fantastic environment to work in, as well.

Tnooz: It does sound like it, … the willingness to experiment, test hypotheses.

Rijvers: Well, yes. Culturally, we don’t have big egos. We see it as an enemy, even.

Tnooz: How have you scaled up this culture? As you get a more bureaucratic organization as the cells disperse, how can you make sure that experimentation and transparency and customer-centric thinking stays a core part of it?

Rijvers: This has everything to do with CEO Darren Huston, of course.

I even see a little bit, as a task for myself, to be a bit of the idiot in the leadership team, really. I have to watch how I talk internally. Just challenge everything, even it’s the the foolish and stupidest thing to say. I need to model the behavior of questioning our assumptions.

We have invested a ton in the culture of Booking.com. We select our people based on this, it’s probably the most important thing….

Basically, when we hire people what we look for is, “Is there cultural fit there?” You could be the most brilliant manager, and because of your brilliance, you’ve also built up the ego that comes with it. That wouldn’t work for us, if you have the attitude, “I’m always right,” and you’re quite loud about it as well.

We had a great guy, at some point, running some department that was like this. His results were fantastic, but we said goodbye. It just doesn’t scale for us; it’s an inherently a dead-end route to do that.

Then, also, if you empower people at the lowest possible level to run with ideas and experiment them, you need a good boundary control system.

Of course, conversion, loyalty, impact on customer service, or those type of things together make for a great boundary control system. … Data really is a friend for this particular culture.

Tnooz: Darren, on stage, had said, “Hurry, but don’t rush” is a mantra. It sounds like the boundary controls work for that. Is that the idea?

Rijvers: Totally. He’s probably mentioned on stage before, “Workhorses versus show ponies.” Workhorses are focused on making a better product for customers.

On a better product, on more availability, on better pricing, on better usability, on more content.

If you rush, it typically means cutting corners. It typically means crappy code, it means not all-to-well planned decision-making, maybe.

I always say to people, “For me, I don’t care about deadlines. I honestly do not care about deadlines and time. What I do care about only is that we move as fast as possible.”

I care about the quality of the effort, only. Then, the output will be whatever it is.

Tnooz: What’s been a source of inspiration for you?

Rijvers: Google has always been a source of inspiration for us, particularly in the beginning. Now, more and more, also we are becoming a source of inspiration for it. That’s nice to see.

Particularly, we share a lot of common values, culture-wise. Focus on data, focus on the user. Hypothesize, rather than debate. Experiment, rather than decide.

Tnooz: “Don’t be religious, just look at the data.”

Rijvers: Exactly. Which is weird, as well. For me, as an executive, sometimes I want them to move in a certain direction. My folks might go, “Meh.” Then, it doesn’t happen.

So, I have to build a team that will build what I want.

Sometimes, it’s hard also to move and migrate a crowd toward something.

Tnooz: How about books? Any books that have inspired or informed your views?

Rijvers: There’s a book on leadership style, or at least what’s written in it about leadership, that I value a lot. It’s “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins.

It talks about the five levels of leadership, particularly level four leadership versus level five leadership. If you look at the theory, as he plots it there, I have a ton of passion for level five, I have zero respect for level four. That’s basically what it boils down to.

If you talk to anyone, our churn rate on engineers is in the low, single-digits on a yearly basis.

The reason for that, I believe is because of that culture. Also, our ability to attract top talent has a lot to do with that culture. It’s a bit quirky, it’s as bit weird maybe, sometimes.

Good to Great described it very well, as to what the difference is between the two, and how they found through their research that great companies that can endure CEOs and phases of a marketplace typically thrive on level five leadership styles, which is more from the back, more collaborative. More feminine, I would almost argue, less masculine maybe.

Tnooz: Everyone has 24 hours in a day. But you’ve used yours more effectively than others. Starting back in 2009, there were a lot of other people who understood the importance of transactions of online booking, not just in travel.

Somehow, you knew what to emphasize in the course of your day. “I want to put deep focus on this for a couple hours.” Or, “I want strategic project X prioritized.” “I’ve got 140 emails, but this is how I prioritize.”

Is there any light that you could shed on how you optimize your own work flow, or how you think in terms of this, “This is really going to deliver, and I can ignore this other stuff.”

Rijvers: There’s a couple of separate stories I would like to tell on your question. For me, personally, a lot of this had to do, and I tell this to my team a ton as well, is make sure, and my job is only 75% percent of my time, before anyone, I’d argue, make sure at least 20 to 25% percent of your time, you spend looking outside.

Regardless of how busy you are and everything that you need to get done operationally, executionally, I get that, but make sure you spend 20, 25% percent of your time looking outside. Otherwise, at some point, you find yourself in a place that you didn’t realize you were there.

Everybody else did, and they’re moving away from that, and for the right reasons.

Follow what happens in the industry, follow what happens in tech. Follow what happens in retail, follow what happens in commerce, science, data. From Techcrunch to Tnooz to CMO Weekly, I follow everything and digest the best of it.

Second, one of the dangers, particularly also of our culture, could be that people focus on incrementality only. Experimentation lends itself well for incrementality, not for big, bold stuff.

I challenge my people to at least always … Of course, we execute, that’s fine. I see doing your job well as table stakes. That’s not where the big reward is. Of course, you do your job well. That’s why you have it.

Tnooz: But you need to do deep work on something bold?

Rijvers: The real challenge comes in how do you pivot either the business or the process? Or, how do you help others pivot their business?

Or, how do you maintain a very holistic view of the whole company, while you execute a piece of it? Execution-wise, you think cross-company, or actually globally, not even in the company.

We have discussions about competitors like Airbnb and Expedia Inc and the others all the time and we look at them on all fronts.

Tnooz: Understanding of what?

Rijvers: Where’s the friction? Where’s the friction in how we scale, and how can we solve that?

Actually, that has let us, at least me, to cement even more the instantly confirmable, instantly bookable nature of our product as a really core asset because it solves so much customer friction.

You might call it, “What’s your moon shot?” What’s the thing where you’re aiming to do? Hypothetically, you might set a goal for your team to hit a super-ambitious revenue growth target that may be beyond official forecasts.

When you set really ambitious goal, again, I don’t give a shit whether we reach it or not, not at all. It focuses our efforts, and therefore the quality of that effort, to the right thing.

If I say I want go grow to my maximum ability, everybody goes, “Yeah, right.”

Tnooz: “What is that? 5% growth?”

Rijvers: Of course. What is that? They might forget pretty easily, but I continue to hammer down what my goals are through the organization. They’ll know, “Wow, but that’s almost unachievable.”

Then, I leave the room and everybody goes, “Are we going to do that?”

We did the same thing in hotels. When I started with supply, people were telling me “There is no more supply, we’ve got everything.”

I went like, “Bullshit! It’s just not true. You don’t even know what you’re saying here.”

Also there, I said stuff like, “We need to double within one year’s time.”

People went like, “No way! That’s not possible.” But we did, actually. We doubled back then, in one year’s time.

Tnooz: It’s easy to say work smarter, but how do you operationalize that?

Rijvers: Dare to make mistakes, dare to fail. Dare to screw something up, which is not important enough, actually, for you to care so much about doing it well …

I’ll separate two different concepts which are maybe subtly different, but on the aggregate, a little bit the same. Failure, for me, is about stuff didn’t work out.

Tnooz: You had a hypothesis and it turned out not to be true.

Rijvers: Exactly, that’s failure. Even though people commit their egos to their ideas, and therefore, failure sometimes internalizes into, “I failed.”

Gillian said at one of our events, brilliantly, “Don’t let success go to your head, don’t let failure go to your heart.” I totally agree on that, that’s the failure end of it.

Then, we’ve got stuff where I say to my people, “Don’t be afraid to let stuff break. Why? Because you’ve prioritized your efforts on something more important than that.” Particularly, for managers and people that have roles, either in my teams, or in their teams, that is very counter-intuitive message.

Then, I get no noise on your performance, nothing went wrong in the past year. You also didn’t achieve something really big, as a result.

Prioritization is painful. I’m quite happy with that, by the way. I’m very clear of what my priorities are. If that means that there will be a massive massacre somewhere, so be it.

This, of course, requires you to fundamentally have a lot of trust in yourself, smile when things break. You get the heat, because there’s heat involved, for sure. It comes with the job.

In the end, that’s the only way to achieve great results. If getting, he send me an email, like, “Dude, you didn’t respond to that one thing that I value. That’s very important, for two weeks now.”

I go in my own head, like, “Yeah. Let me think of what I can do. It didn’t get the attention that you wanted it to have, but it caught all the attention I thought it deserved.”

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.

 

Comments

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  1. Valentin Dombrovsky

    Finally, I’ve got to the end of it.
    Thank you for such long and insightful interview, Sean!

     
  2. Sylvia Johnston

    A fantastic read! Insightful, accurate, thought provoking. Puts a totally new spin on how we can educate our clients in the value of booking.com as their marketing partner in their business

     
  3. Ian R Clayton

    Fantastic Interview! 2.7 billion worth on information – Will digest all these nuggets soon and be sure to “Experiment, rather than decide!” Thanks for all this

     
 
 

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