Interview with MMH Grad Christina Suriadjaja – Travelio’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer

Interview with Travelio’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Christina Suriadjaja

Christina Suriadjaja is the co-founder of Travelio, an Airbnb-style accommodation-sharing platform in Indonesia. In 2015, she founded the start-up with two other co-founders, Hendry Rusli and Christie Tjong. Since its creation, the platform has managed more than 1000 apartments and 5000 rentals across Indonesia. It has also successfully secured three rounds of financing. Christina, who was featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2017, oversees the company’s strategy, business development, and fundraising. In this interview, she talks about her entrepreneurial experiences and business aspirations. Christina will also appear as a guest lecturer in HADM 4410: Strategic Management on Oct 10, 2018 for session 1 from 1:25pm to 2:40pm and session 2 from 2:55pm to 4:10pm.

  1. How did the idea for Travelio come about?

    Travelio version 1.0 first started off in mid-2015 as an online travel agent offering an array of options from houses and villas, to apartments and even hotels but the business model was not sustainable as it required a large amount of cash to be able to sustain marketing activities as a demand platform. As entrepreneurs, it is our responsibility to adapt to market situations and amble around business ideas to find product-market fit and we were not afraid to do so. Towards the end of 2016, we pivoted our model into Travelio version 2.0 as an online home-sharing platform that actively manages retail investors and property developers vacant units in Indonesia. We give rental options to tenants looking to stay for as short as a few nights to even months at a time.                                                                  Market Conditions
    In the greater Jakarta city alone, more than 49% of the hundreds of thousands of apartments are vacant. The period saw very limited sales activities in both in strata-title apartment and apartment for lease markets. Despite weak sales, developers still retained their current asking price as they would rather lower their sales target than make cutbacks in price to avoid negative image and reputation.                                                                                                  Economic Pressures
    An apartment sitting empty does not generate any cash flow only capital gains that can be realized once it is sold. This presents a cash flow problem to both retail investors and property developers who have liabilities such as mortgage payments to satisfy.
  2. What is Travelio’s business model, and what sets your business apart from other online booking sites?

    Hospitality, Standardization and Data Transparency

    Travelio actively manages retail owners and property developers’ vacant units in Indonesia. It is currently run by a team of 107 people. There is a lot of curation and standardization that property owners have to abide in order to be our partners. From our VR cameras capturing every angle of the properties to instant bookings, Travelio makes the rental experience as smooth as possible. Properties that match our minimum requirements will be put into three categories: Travelio Standard, Deluxe or Premium depending on price point, location, furnishing, and sizes. Transparency is key in Travelio. From customer data sharing, building management payments, property audits, insurance and service payments, we provide a detailed monthly report for all our clients and partners. Our brand promise is: When you arrive, simply enter your secure keycode on our Bluetooth enabled automated doorlocks and make yourself at home. You’ll find comfortable beds to collapse in with crisp white sheets, free Wi-Fi to connect to, free food and beverage basket, and all the standardized kitchen and bathroom essentials you need. We can’t do anything about turbulence or traffic in Indonesia, but we will take care of everything else for you.
  3. In your opinion, why has Travelio been able to gain traction in Indonesia and the rest of the Asian market?

    While most start-ups focus on technological disruption to change consumer behavior, we focus on hospitality and service as our main sources of competitive advantage, of course, fuelled by our many backend software and hardware innovations created in-house to maximize customer experience. Besides confronting the inconsistencies of traditional vacation rentals, we also focus on highly localized Indonesian touches. The furniture in the units are made from Indonesian materials and every property will have Indonesian snacks and rice cookers. Our customers, whether domestic or inbound, love the familiarity of these items in our properties and that’s why over 35% of them come back to stay in our properties the next month.
  4. What have been some of your biggest challenges so far since founding the business? How have you overcome them? 
    The biggest challenge is knowing that I am responsible for the well-being of my employees and their families. I would have to think twice when making big decisions with regards to the varying business verticals, scaling up and maintaining a healthy cash level for the company. This is an ongoing challenge but I have taken more precautions mainly in terms of fundraising timelines and achieving sustainability in the business.

    The team at Travelio

  5. As Travelio’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, what are your main responsibilities on a daily basis?
    I am in charge of fundraising, investor relations, business development and strategic initiatives including but not limited to exploring new verticals, possible mergers & acquisitions, geographical expansions, and some legal implications.
  6. How has your time in the MHH program at Cornell contributed to your growth?
    Strong Network and Repute
    Even though most of my networking opportunity is fuelled by Travelio, the Cornell branding helps immensely in getting a conversation started and building immediate relations with world-class hospitality executives. For example, the Cornell brand has helped me develop relations with Marriott Executives, CFO and Founders, Hyatt CEO and other global hotel chain board members in the Asia Pacific. In Asia, the Founder’s background and school help you gain additional plus points or in some cases an “increase” in your company valuation, especially if you come from an Ivy League school.                                                                                                                                                 Forefront of Hospitality Industry & Knowledge
    Cornell Hotel School has amazing faculty and resources. I am always either updated by Professors or have read articles written on behalf of them regarding the latest trends and leading industry practices in my business – which focuses largely on hospitality products and services. This includes data, human resources practices, hardware, software, funds and developments from the leading global hospitality firms.
  7. What skills or/and character traits that you have that have been the most important to your entrepreneurial career?
    Perseverance, Hustle, Responsibility, and Integrity
    Stakeholder management, statistics, finance, and communication
  8. What advice would you give to students who aspire to start their own businesses?
    Students: Embrace your “unfair advantage,” reputation (Cornell Brand) and don’t be afraid to leverage all your resources including the knowledge and expertise of family members, faculty, mentors, and classmates. Don’t wait for things to come your way. Find it. Utilise every entrepreneurial related resource Cornell provides including but not limited to the entrepreneur in residence, E @ Cornell celebrations, e-Hub and numerous online resources they have. General: Have a high sense of responsibility as you have to get comfortable being responsible for your employee’s career path and well-being when venturing out and creating new enterprises.
  9. What is next for Travelio?                                                                                                                              Business: We are going to launch into new verticals to provide an end to end residential real estate product and service to both our customers and property partners.                                                                                      Fundraising: We are going to close our Series B funding round by early 2019 which is projected to triple the size of the previous round.