Co-CEO & Co-Founder, MadeComfy
AGSM MBA (Executive) 2013
How would you describe what you do (what you ‘make’), your specialist skill?
As a founder, you have to be an optimist, otherwise you’re going to have a tough time as you’re always playing against the odds. You need to think big and take opportunities when they feel right and present themselves, that’s where you have to play and that’s a skill of mine. I have always been more of an ‘allrounder’ without a specialist skill base in a particular area, like tech or finance. But, identifying business opportunities and influencing people to follow me, that’s something I’ve always been passionate about. Getting people excited around a common goal, getting people mobilised around a vision - that was my specialist skill during the creation of MadeComfy.
Tell us about your current role?
At MadeComfy we manage properties in the short-term rental market and rent them to travellers for two nights to six months. We carefully select properties based on location, quality, look and feel, and assist homeowners if they require support to furnish their apartment or house before listing with MadeComfy. Guests booking a MadeComfy listing expect a quirky and spacious “Airbnb” type of property but with a consistent quality, comfort and service.
We had been growing between 100-200% year on year since we launched in 2016 and before the COVID-19 waive hit us all, we were on track to double in size and revenue again. 50% of our guests have been international guests, most of them booking our properties via Airbnb, Booking.com or HomeAway.
Having both founded MadeComfy, Sabrina (my Co-Founder and Co-CEO) and I ensure we follow our vision and mission, set the right goals, develop and implement our strategy towards our goals as well as drive our company culture aligned with our four values: Agility, Empowerment, Trust and Wow. We have split our responsibilities in half, aligned with our core skills, experiences and areas of passion. I look after Sales, Technology, Customer Experience, Investor Relations, HR and Legal. Sabrina looks after Finance, Operations, Branding and Revenue Management.
How have you responded, adapted or innovated as a result of this new world reality?
Our focus has always been the acquisition of properties with all our sales and marketing activities focusing on signing up new property owners.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and international boards were being closed, it was crystal clear to me that this will impact the Australian and global travel industry for a long time and that it is likely going to change the way we travel forever. We had two options:
- Continue what we do, cut costs and hope for things to improve or,
- Manage costs and cash runway while analysing temporary and potentially permanent changes to our industry. Identifying opportunities for MadeComfy during the restrictions and after they are lifted.
Option 1 wasn’t viable for me as I saw the industry's previous "cheese station" disappear (as in "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson). As two key phrases of this book were stuck in my memory: 1. "Adapt to change quickly” - The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese." 2. "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?"
We predicted International travel would seize for months and take years to recover, impacting Airbnb, Booking.com and HomeAway heavily. Sabrina and I decided to go with Option 2 and I did something totally irrational when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
We immediately stopped any sales and marketing activities to attract new properties. Instead, we got our full sales and marketing team to focus on generating guest demand by targeting people who would still require self-contained and furnished properties - health care, aged care and service workers as well as stranded overseas travellers. While our tech team focused fully on completing the first version of a guest booking platform.
We also actioned over 60% OPEX cost savings and prepared a plan with our main investors that would get MadeComfy through the next 12 months at a highly reduced revenue while keeping our team together.
We are now working with businesses, health care organisations and our partners to further evolve our booking platform. This enabled their employees and members to avoid crowded hotels and book secure and private, self-contained accommodation with guaranteed consistency in quality, health protection and comfort at affordable rates.
We know MadeComfy will look different in 12 months’ time and I am sure that we will hit further obstacles, but I am confident that our team will have the right mindset to master all of them whilst identifying these unique opportunities.
How has your leadership style changed or pivoted in the midst of the unprecedented uncertainty we are now facing?
It could be summarised as pivoting from enabling our team to "Grow and Develop", to now "Survive and Thrive".
In detail, I would describe my leadership style prior to COVID-19 as a combination of mainly coaching and strategy with a bit of a transformational approach.
During COVID-19 however, required me to change my leadership style, leaning more into transformational and strategic methodology. MadeComfy is a start-up in the travel space and at the beginning of the pandemic in early March, it was not clear if we were able to survive this crisis. We had to make some very tough and immediate decisions about our product offerings with the consultation of our Advisory and Company Boards, but without consulting our team first – this is something we would never do in "normal" times.
Following that moment my leadership style changed. Strategically, we had to ensure MadeComfy transformed in a way that allowed us to thrive in a post-COVID-19 world. For that, it is important to have our team of over 80 in the right mind set of creativity, focus and ambition whilst supporting and motivating them to enter the difficult journey over the next few months during our transformation.
What were you able to tap into from your AGSM qualification in this new world reality that’s been most useful / impactful?
Many of the teachings and frameworks I learnt while completing my MBA at AGSM have helped me during these difficult times. The extensive network of AGSM alumni, along with some incredibly successful fellow entrepreneurs I studied with, helped me to talk through my ideas on how I could adapt the business and pivot directions during COVID-19.
As an immigrant, I did not have a strong local network when I moved to Australia from Germany . I realised the importance of being surrounded by the right people, in your learning experience as well as your business. The main reason I chose to study at AGSM was the quality of the people I would be surrounded by throughout my MBA journey. The rule about the evidence of the five closest people you have around you - that is very valid in life, but also in business.
Secondly, the Executive Agenda Year (EAY), Stage 2 of the MBA (Executive) program prepared me with multiple frameworks and practical experience by applying them to real-world cases. Now I’m able to assess the changes in our industry and prepare, communicate and implement a detailed pivot/transformation strategy with confidence. The exposure to key literature across multiple areas and the application of learnings to real-world scenarios positively impacted my career path and the success of my business, and for that I will be forever grateful.
What are you most optimistic about over the next few months?
The opportunity to thrive in the new world of travel after COVID-19 and providing a solution that helps people and businesses to regain the ability to travel in a safe and comfortable way.