Have debates in the team. We believe in open debate to arrive at good decisions in a short time. Whenever we have an important strategic decision to take, we bring it for debate in the management team. This helps us view a problem from different points of view. Additionally, our recruiting decisions are made in panel debate. We’ve learned that two things are important here: 1) To get all opinions on the table, it is good to let the more junior team members talk first. This way they can voice their opinion freely, even if it might be different to the more senior team members. 2) A debate culture should not be confused with a consensus culture. Once all opinions are heard, there should be one decision-maker and everyone should buy in to the decision once it is made.
I had the pleasure to interview Johannes Siebers. Johannes is the CEO and co-founder of Holidu, a search engine for vacation rentals (www.holidu.com). Johannes studied International Business Administration in Tübingen, Madrid and Sydney from 2004 to 2009. Before joining Holidu, Johannes worked at Siemens, in Munich, within the area of venture capital. There, he oversaw the successful development and growth of various startups before eventually branching out to co-found and lead his own startup.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
The idea for Holidu came to me and my brother, Michael (CTO) as we searched for a vacation home for a past holiday in Portugal. We found that often the very same rental appears on multiple booking websites — at different prices and availabilities, which was very confusing. We then began to develop a metasearch engine that allows users to find and book any vacation rental from hundreds of partner sites in a single search.
Since it was founded in 2014, Holidu has seen rapid growth and strong internationalization and is now available in 21 markets. More than 30 nationalities are represented within Holidu’s 150+ Munich-based employees.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When we were searching for a holiday home for our holiday in Portugal, we found out how intransparent this market is. We asked ourselves: If a transparent comparison engine for flights and hotels has long been possible, why not for vacation homes? And this was missing, despite the fact that the market is worth billions and is one of the largest digital markets in the travel sector! That question was the initial spark for us to found Holidu. We have set ourselves the goal: This gap in the market must be closed.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In July 2014 it finally happened: The first domain, www.holidu.de, was launched, and in September we were able to complete our first seed financing. As a result, Holidu was presented in various startup media, and my brother and I as founders were already talking about the planned internationalization. Unfortunately, this led to resourceful domain collectors reserving all available Holidu domains a few hours after the reporting. Afterwards we had to recapture these domains laboriously and not completely free of charge. Our learning was not only to think ahead, but also to act in time.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
We implemented OKRs already when our team was still small, and it helps us tremendously now as we have grown to 150+ employees.
The magic lies in the first two weeks of the quarter, where the prioritization and alignment between teams is happening. It is a lot of work and requires tough choices, but with this process we make sure that we work on what matters most and that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. We also host OKR events every quarter during which each team presents their achievements and their learnings in order to facilitate communication and awareness between teams.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
I think the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical regions is to integrate all employees, no matter where they are, into all of the company’s activities in order to make everyone feel a part of the team. Additionally, good and effective communication as well as structured processes are the key.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
To help others thrive, CEOs need the right amount of responsibility, and from my point of view, it should be just a little bit more than they think they can handle themselves. In a startup, it is easy to deviate from this precise measure in both directions. As a founder, there is a natural tendency to want to be involved everywhere, which may lead to giving too little freedom. On the other hand, when the business grows a lot, it may require managers to grow into new responsibilities very quickly, which can be overwhelming as well. Therefore, the role as CEO is to frequently check in and make sure, everyone has stretched but manageable responsibilities.
What is equally important is the fun part within the teams. Our HR department organizes e.g. hiking and ski trips for the whole company. To connect our multi-national team from more than 30 nations, we arrange tandem lunch groups on a voluntary basis. It’s nice to see that the employees are not only enjoying the offers, but also create additional events of their own initiative.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Retaining our top talents is very important for us, and I agree that the relationship to the manager is decisive here. We invest in leadership trainings for our people managers and take feedback very seriously. Last year we established a quarterly feedback structure which keeps employees motivated and even increases motivation as everybody is given a voice and heard.
We also know that one of the key retention drivers are a positive team spirit, and here we are very fortunate to see how many friendships have formed within our company. Many of our team members have recently moved to Munich and have found like-minded people at Holidu with whom they enjoy working and with whom they also spend their free time.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
Set clear expectations
Setting clear expectations may feel awkward, because it is something we are not used to in private life. However, implicit expectations are always there, so it is only fair to make them transparent and explicit. If your team members don’t know what is expected of them, chances they will achieve it are very low. At the same time, knowing the expectations of your team members is crucial to make them thrive. Acknowledging the importance of expectation setting, we already start with it during the onboarding process, which includes mandatory written expectations from both the manager and the team member.
Frequently check-in on results
Managing a startup is a constant race against the time and one cannot afford to go into a wrong direction for very long. Therefore, it is important to check-in on results frequently. This is something we have gotten better at over time. In the beginning, we were using quarterly targets as part of the OKR process. However, we learned that realizing at the end of the quarter that something is not working is too late. We have since switched to weekly targets for most teams, which helps us to learn faster and react quicker. For example, by implementing weekly recruiting sprints we were able to spot issues with application channels and solve bottlenecks faster, resulting in a 50% increase of developers hired by month.
Foster a feedback culture
Part of our company’s culture is to be “hungry but humble.” That also includes striving for personal growth and accepting that we are all,as human beings,far from perfect. At Holidu, we have implemented quarterly bi-directional feedbacks. We focus on the strengths, but we also require one area of growth to be identified. On top of the formal feedbacks, we champion frequent informal feedbacks and offer regular feedback trainings.
Have debates in the team
We believe in open debate to arrive at good decisions in a short time. Whenever we have an important strategic decision to take, we bring it for debate in the management team. This helps us view a problem from different points of view. Additionally, our recruiting decisions are made in panel debate. We’ve learned that two things are important here: 1) To get all opinions on the table, it is good to let the more junior team members talk first. This way they can voice their opinion freely, even if it might be different to the more senior team members. 2) A debate culture should not be confused with a consensus culture. Once all opinions are heard, there should be one decision-maker and everyone should buy in to the decision once it is made.
Have attention to details
Winning in a competitive online business requires getting the details right and having operational excellence. Therefore, we also expect our managers to be in the details of what their team is working on and to be at their side doing it. The best way to reinforce great work is to compliment on it and the best way to train is on the task at hand. Also, knowing the details will help connect the dots in cross-team communication and be faster in decision making.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At Holidu we have a team of over 30 nations working together and I am a big believer of the power of diversity. Travelling is another great way to bring people from diverse backgrounds and different corners of the world together. With this in mind, I like to think that Holidu is already part of a movement to make the world more open, connected, diverse and by that also better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You should rely more on your gut feeling.” This is relevant because it is important to make decisions quickly when growth is fast. And, “Only those who have a genuine passion for a topic can fully penetrate it and find better solutions.”