- Build emotional intelligence to get the best from your people.
- Find a balance between operational excellence and innovation. You must have both.
- Stay uncomfortable. If you want to grow you need to embrace change.
Matt Welle is the co-founder of Mews, the Hotel Property Management System company based in Prague. In this interview, recorded shortly before the COVID-19 Crisis, Matt discusses his personal leadership journey.
You can listen to the interview with Matt in full here.
Growing faster than I could have imagined (until CV-19 that is)
Mews is growing pretty fast and faster than I’d ever imagined it would be. We started 2019 with about 170 employees and we’re today (February 2020) at about 400 (now unfortunately reduced to 250 people due to the current crisis). We were growing at an incredibly rapid pace, which has been exciting.
Leadership for me is about finding talented people and helping them be the best they can be.
I always wanted to be working in hotels and to manage people. I’ve always been good at finding talented people and figuring out “how do we get people to focus on their talents and really deliver value?”. For me, it’s really been about honing my emotional intelligence. I don’t consider myself a specialist in any field. I’m pretty average at pretty much everything. But I can talk about most things. And I can use that with emotional intelligence to really focus on the people that have the talent to actually deliver and then drive better performance. I also have the ability to adapt constantly to new situations, which happens in a startup that moves into a scaled up situation. If we look back six years or seven years, when we started, I was selling, I was implementing, I was doing support, I was involved in every single thing that had to happen. And then as the company grew, suddenly I was managing people or managing people who manage people, and you need to have the ability to constantly change and I thrive on it. I enjoy doing something different today than I did yesterday. But it’s not for everyone, you have to really have that right personality.
I don’t normally call out our guests on their comments in the podcast, but I just want to set the record right. I don’t recognize anything average about Matt. He does some commonplace things uncommonly well. He understands people and how to get the very best out of them. And that that is not average by any means. Stephen Millard.
Embrace failure and learn from it.
I will admit very quickly to making mistakes, or failures on my behalf, and I’ll admit that openly and then we debate it. If someone in our leadership makes a mistake, we will call it out. We’ll debate it, we won’t hone in on that particular person, but we will ensure that those same mistakes never happen again. And I think again, goes back to emotional intelligence because it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you call each other out on it and then have a safe space to correct it going forward.
As the business grew I absorbed everything I could about how to run a business from an HR perspective, because I didn’t want the kind of structure I’d see in hotels.
I remember when we were 50 people, and I knew that within that year, we were going to be 100 and we actually ended up with 150 that year and we were very resistant to HR, because I only had really bureaucratic experiences with a human resources team in hotels. But I also recognised my lack of experience in that area and didn’t think I or the business were ready to scale. So I joined a HR community that I found in Prague. And once every three weeks I would sit in a room with the HR heads of big companies in Prague, and I just switch off from work and just think about scaling the people and that really gave me a lot.
In the end we hired a few people through that community because it’s a very unique group of people. So for me, it was figuring out that I had a lack of knowledge. I educated myself by joining this community and really debating what we should be doing or what we shouldn’t be doing. I looked at the big corporates and the things that didn’t excite me, which gave me great insight on what I shouldn’t be doing.
Hiring Game Changers has been a game changer for Mews.
One thing we’ve really focused on in the last two years has been hiring Game Changers. And that’s a word that I’ve heard from Notion a lot. They repeat that all the time, “where are your game changers”?! So we put recruiters on finding these people that were able to accelerate our business from the Series A to the Series C, people that have been in the journey before who have the answers already rather than us googling our way through life. Hiring some of those really key people in our business has accelerated the level of growth. If I had just stuck with the core people that we started the company with, we probably wouldn’t have scaled at the pace we have. Because we just didn’t know what we didn’t know and, well, you can only Google so much in life before you hit a roadblock.
My personal journey from co-founder to CEO is built on learning to let go.
In the early days, you end up doing everything and I thrived on that. Testing systems, talking to customers. But as you grow, you just can’t do it all. I remember a few years into the journey, I had this headache that wouldn’t go away for a few weeks. And then Richard said, “I think we need to get you to the hospital , just check it out”. They did a CAT scan and said, “you’re actually completely fine, you just need to work less”. That was the point where I realised I’m not that scalable as a person and I’ve got to trust others to step in. That was really a pivotal moment for me from going from scrappy startup to professionalizing the business and moving into a scaleup where we hired people to do the jobs I was trying to do in my every hour of every day. It was hard for me. But we found really phenomenal talent, for example we hired a lady Teodora who joined our support team a few years ago and she’s just been incredible at giving support, much better than I would have been. So part of it is admitting that I’m not the best at everything, and that it’s okay to let other people do those jobs and then giving them the trust to actually do that. That was probably the biggest learning from me as a CEO, going from being a manager to a real leader
Letting go still terrifies. I want to control everything. I like structure, organization and control. And it’s probably still my biggest struggle today.
We have developed a culture that is open, supportive and fun loving but at the same time highly driven and competitive.
Our culture emerged from our behaviours. From the beginning we have had a desire to win and have fun. We have had some really, really hard times along the way but we kept that spirit. We were founded in Czech Republic, and it was hard to find funding. We ran out of money and sometimes we didn’t pay the guys for two, three months, which was really rough. But we had our vision to reinvent the hotel industry and its an ambition that people rally behind.
I thought it was normal and that we were just lucky. But when Scott Moran, our COO joined he told me that the relentless focus and drive we have was unique. For me, it’s just natural, because we’ve grown this business from day one and of course we want to win! But he was adamant, “No, it’s unique. I’ve been in other companies. And the focus that you have to win is incredible. And you don’t accept mediocrity. And if you see it, you’ll call it out and either fix it or that, you know, we have to, you have to make sure that it gets solved in some way.”
We don’t always see it so it’s great to have outsiders coming in and then say “this company is special.”
The focus on quality and growth that we have, comes down much to the dynamic between Richard (Richard Valtr, Founder) and I. We were friends before we started this company and we disagree vehemently on pretty much everything! But that’s a good thing. He has very different skills to me, with a focus on ideas. When we’re in a room together, we will fight, we will battle out our ideas, but we will always walk away happy, like brothers, because we know that we both have good insights, and it makes the company better.
Because we have shown that behaviour and set that example, it has leaked into the culture which I think is exciting. Richard and I have a lot of fun. We have a really sarcastic sense of humor, and that kind of feeds into the culture too I think.
Maintaining operational excellence and a high level of innovation is incredibly important to us.
I like execution and getting things done. I thrive on procedures and making sure that everything is followed up on and I never miss meetings. I’m always there.
Richard is the absolute opposite. I’m sure he reads the entire internet every night and he comes in the morning with all the great ideas that he’s read about. And well, not all of them make it to the front line, but there’s some phenomenal ideas in there. Some of the best products we have today come from the ideas that he’s brought into the room that I rejected. He has so many ideas, but when he persists I take notice. If he keeps talking about it, I know I need to focus on it. Some of the ideas that he’s had in the early days, may take us two years to adopt and then suddenly I’ll realise, “Oh, yeah, he did see this and he did say that. But I rejected it”. You have to make space to have these great ideas and debate them until the time is right to actually implement them. And I think it’s the mix of me and Richard that made our company unique.
Loonshots, by Safi Bahcall, has been a revelation for us.
Richard reads a book a week and if he finds something he really loves and then he goes on Amazon and buys 20 copies and sends them around the company.
Loonshots, by Safi Bahcall, was one of those books and has really persisted and had a huge impact. At the heart of the book is the idea of having pods outside of the standard operations, where you get to nurture ideas. We’ve taken that concept and created separate ‘Loonshot’ budgets, so every leader gets to have a Loonshot project to cultivate one of their ideas. We give a budget for two, three people that you can hire into that. And we’ve got some really exciting things going on. Some of them may not work out at all but that’s okay. But if it does work out, that could be a real winner for us as a company.
We think this was a really great way to cultivate ideas that otherwise, if you were just looking at operational excellence, wouldn’t survive. Loonshots allows leaders the space to create their own innovation, while insulating the rest of the business from unnecessary disruption.
Looking back I didn’t focus enough on marketing funnels and sales enablement. I wish I could go back and fix that.
Looking back we underinvested in marketing. We just hired our chief marketing officer, and we’re really scaling already. We should have looked at that area earlier, because we were doing a lot but not thinking about funnels and how we drive more pipeline for our salespeople.
So no. 1 is professionalizing marketing earlier.
Then on the sales side, a roadblock that we’re hitting today is sales enablement training. We recently hired people in 10 countries and we don’t have a great sales enablement program in place to make sure that they are successful.
So that’s no. 2. Invest in sales enablement.
I’d love to be able to go back a few years and get those two areas right.
My advice to Founders and CEOs is to stay uncomfortable.
I like to be very comfortable, to be in control. But what’s good about Richard is that he constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone. And I probably do that to him too. And that does drive me to do better in my job.
One thing I always say to myself is, “is it scalable”? Whenever we debate a product or what we should be building, I always think, “is this going to drive more revenue”. I always have that at the forefront of my mind without, I hope, seeming like a money wolf. I actually just want to make sure that whatever we spend time building, it’s a scalable and valuable product.
Maintaining a balance in my life is critical to success: exercise and sleep as well as work!
Looking forward I find it hard to imagine how I will change. I’m happy right now. And I’ve been happy throughout the journey, but I’m probably happier now than I’ve been before. Because I’ve been able to prioritize the balance in my life. I choose sleep and exercise. And try not to make bad decisions on food. Sleep and exercise are really critical to me. And through that I found a balance.
I hope I’m able to scale myself to the next stage and to say no to enough ideas to allow myself to be scalable. I think I can get there but I know I’ll have to constantly get out of my comfort zone to make sure that I keep improving.
I get restless very quickly. And I think that’s a good thing in a scaling company. You know, if we were to if our growth were to stagnate, I don’t know how well I would perform. I thrive on the constant change and constant growth, but it does require a certain personality for that, I think.