All entrepreneurial stories have a catalyst moment – a reason or realisation that kickstarts the journey.
For well-travelled investment banker Vivi Cahyadi Himmel, it was relocating for her roles at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers that kicked off her entrepreneurial journey.
Having relocated many times, living in more than 11 cities throughout her life and career, Vivi became aware of the challenges of relocating and launched AltoVita with co-founder Karolina Saviova in 2018.
“My co-founder Karolina Saviova (COO) and I were frequent business travellers and have lived in over 20 countries between us,” says Vivi. “This made us acutely aware of the challenges that come with relocating, including the challenges of how to find verified and vetted corporate accommodation, the cost control, and tax implications.
“In light of this, we founded AltoVita in 2018 to provide a technology-powered solution layered with a human-centric approach, to ensure duty of care across the corporate accommodation sector.”
Now an award-winning technology, AltoVita creates a cloud-based bridge between the highly fragmented property distribution system and Global 2000 companies, SMEs, and business travellers, reducing the legacy 48-to-72-hour bidding process down to just a few minutes.
Since launching in 2018, London-headquartered AltoVita has expanded rapidly and has a global footprint spanning 165 countries and 1,554 cities, with regional offices in Singapore and Dallas, Texas.
“So far this year, we’ve celebrated 367% year-on-year growth, driven by our successful expansion into the US and APAC markets, and launched our customised offering for start-ups,” says Vivi.
Vivi is listed in the 2021 Global Mobility Top 100, is an angel investor, and a Limited Partner in several venture capital funds in the UK.
To celebrate World Entrepreneurs' Day, we talk entrepreneurialism and leadership with Vivi.
Describe your entrepreneurial journey – the challenges and wins
I’ve lived and worked in many locations across the globe. I was born in Solo, Indonesia (to second-generation Chinese parents) and have since lived in 11 cities across Europe, Asia, Australia, and the US. My career started in investment banking, and I then moved on to spend eight years working in real estate portfolio management. Here I was often dealing with complex commercial and industrial assets. Naturally, I was drawn to the sexy residential asset class with a hospitality element. Having had to juggle large balance and capital risks, I loved the notion of an asset-light model.
Since launching AltoVita, the main challenge I faced as an entrepreneur was having a clear vision for redefining global mobility, but no experience of how to run a technology company. I had to learn everything from scratch.
My advice for fellow founders would be to surround yourself with people who you admire. Learn and deep dive into specific subjects too, whether that’s product management, product market fit, fundraising, scaling up, or leadership. An example of this is when I took coding classes to learn more about the complex technical details behind our platform. Not only did this massively improve my own understanding, but it’s allowed me to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with AltoVita’s talented tech team.
What does it take to survive and grow in the market during uncertain times?
Mental agility and flexibility are key to navigating uncertain times. There’s also no place for half-heartedness when it comes to standing strong in light of market volatility, but this relies on a successful talent recruitment strategy.
For AltoVita, finding the right candidates with competency fit is a plus, but finding a cultural fit is a must. Define your unique company DNA, build a strong company culture, and then hire the right talent who will be your brand ambassadors of the company culture. Having a strong company culture is especially important within a remote working environment.
As CEO, what are your main priorities?
Our mission is to build delightful housing solutions for employees anywhere in the world, and all strategic priorities are geared toward achieving this mission. That includes building the largest global footprint in corporate housing as well as positioning AltoVita as the go-to corporate accommodation platform.
We achieve this by making the AltoVita brand synonymous with safety, security, compliance, and duty of care. As the CEO of AltoVita, my role is to drive the strategic and product vision of the company, as well as continuously recruit the best talent to successfully bring this vision to life, and build a thriving ecosystem for AltoVita, be it clients, investors, or hospitality partners.
What do you consider to be the qualities of a good entrepreneur and leader?
At AltoVita, we have driven the implementation of a humble, thoughtful, and diverse culture which underlines the entrepreneurial spirit throughout the company.
In the words of Kimberly-Clark’s former CEO, Darwin E. Smith, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”. For example, at AltoVita we encourage our employees to be tenacious and entrepreneurial, challenging leadership is welcome, and we have created a culture of discipline with entrepreneurship ethics. Knowing when and how to admit mistakes and lead by example is key to strong leadership.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stay curious and continue to learn would be my top tips for individuals wanting to excel. This goes for any career, not just technology. Equally, a focus on articulating problems and market size is essential. The best companies are founded because they’re a solution to a large and real market or pain point.
And your top tips for successful leadership?
“Great things in businesses are never done by a person, they’re done by a team of people” – Steve Jobs. Different companies have different growth trajectories. For a scale-up like AltoVita, our priorities are driven by growth and our obsession with solving real pain points of the corporate accommodation space. That said, team alignment trumps any priorities. Successful leadership means that everyone in the company is in sync with the company’s mission and vision and working toward shared goals.
What one thing would you tell your younger self just starting out?
Finding the right partner is still and always will be the most important decision in any business. I found the best partnership with Karolina as we share the same vision and work ethic. It takes us minutes to align, and we focus the rest of our time on execution and growth.
AltoVita – point of difference and future plans
AltoVita powers the corporate accommodations sector with enterprise software layered with a human-centric approach, providing every traveller with exactly what they need.
To modernise the sector’s inefficient legacy processes relying on manual email and PDF, our multi-award-winning technology reduces the 48-to-72-hour accommodation bidding process down to a few minutes and creates a cloud-based bridge between the highly fragmented property distribution system and Global 2000 companies, SMEs, and business travellers.
This results in an 82% process cost efficiency. The AltoVita platform provides a network of 1 million housing options to our clients, who can then source and book fast, efficiently, and within their company policies. We have also built features that solve specific pain points, such as an RFP (“request for pricing”) builder, live and responsive data analytics, and filters for desirable features such as safety and sustainability.
AltoVita recently launched its customized offering for start-ups. Committed to ensuring businesses of all sizes can find affordable corporate extended-stay accommodation to meet their business objectives, AltoVita For Start-Ups provides discounted booking fees, no transaction fees, no security deposits, and consolidated billing statements and management. The start-up offering is available to companies less than 10 years old with under $5 million in annual revenue.
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