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May 19, 2021,

Rockaway Insider with Michal Tůma, CEO of Invia CEE: Business needs clear limits and simple rules

Rockaway Insider with Michal Tůma, CEO of Invia CEE: Business needs clear limits and simple rules

Michal has been connected to Invia practically from its very beginnings, so it has gotten under his skin more that virtually anyone’s. For fourteen years, he worked as the internet travel agency’s marketing director, and the last three years he has been running the entire business in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia as CEO. And yet he admits to an interesting “fun fact”: as opposed to some of his colleagues, who travel abroad even ten times a year, the last time he was at the seaside was on his honeymoon eight years ago. In Cuba – because, as he says, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”

What key thing has 2020 taught you?
The importance of adaptive leadership. To adapt to a changing environment, to be prepared for unpredictable challenges, both in business and in society. The way out of a crisis always requires adaptive leadership. You can’t be afraid to make a number of changes, even changing the entire business model if the situation warrants it. Invia succeeded as much as it could in this test of adaptability. During the course of a weekend we changed our call centre, which had hitherto only been selling vacation packages, so that it could provide people information about Covid. We thus helped the state at a time when nobody knew what was in store. In one month we succeeded in changing the website and creating a high-quality offering for selling tours and accommodations within the Czech Republic, a product that up to then we hadn’t been concentrating on at all. We made massive investments into digitalization, into on-line sales of vacation packages. In short, we succeeded in quickly adapting our business to the needs of the Covid era.

What is the number-one rule that you follow at all costs in your business?
You simply have to trust the company and the product. Our aim is to create high-quality and unique services for customers. That’s why I always first imagine myself in the client’s position. Would a particular service interest me? Would I want to buy it? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, I abandon it. I have to believe in my projects.

One learns from one’s mistakes. What mistake taught you the most, and what, specifically?
Business needs clear limits and simple rules. The most basic one is “something for something”. And if you want to follow this clear rule, you can’t rely on the other party automatically fulfilling their obligations. Even though it may be someone you wouldn’t expect to behave like that. For example, last year we helped the state and created the aforementioned call centre. It was necessary to act fast, we also wanted to help and trusted that the state would fulfil its obligations to us. It was a specific time, so to help accelerate the process we didn’t insist on there being a contract, and started working on it right away. Later this turned out to have been a mistake, and the entire affair cost us several million at a time when we had practically no revenue.

What is your most important piece of advice for new entrepreneurs and start-uppers?
The worst thing about start-uppers is that they make products that aren’t scalable and useful internationally. That’s why you have to think about whether it will work abroad right from the start – or perhaps with minor modifications. It’s important to have a plan so that the product works globally, and not focus only on some local thing. And above all, start-uppers have to be able to present themselves. Investors are impressed by self-confidence and when a start-upper knows what they’re doing.

What do you consider the greatest benefit of your business for society?
I love this business – among other things also because it’s hugely beneficial for society. We work non-stop so that others can go on vacation. So mainly in the summer, when most of the team can’t take time off and go to the seaside. Over the years, Invia has become a synonym for a care-free vacation. A place where clients can pick the best place, for the best price, and the quickest. After all, often the most important life events take place during vacations. They often result in engagement, meeting a new partner, or unforgettable moments with family and children. We’re glad that we can accompany our clients during all this.

What question are you asked most often, and how do you answer?
Haha, that’s easy. Where should I go on vacation? What’s funny is that I basically don’t travel at all, so my knowledge is purely theoretical, as opposed to our specialists, who have travel as part of their job description and are able to literally discuss with clients how fine the sand at a beach is or where they should go for ice cream. Due to Covid, that question has of course taken on entirely new dimensions. know where flights are available, what conditions for entering a country are, returning back home to the Czech Republic, and so on. We of course monitor all this and it’s not as much fun as tips regarding the best ice cream.

What life hack helps you most in your work?
My life-hack is really simple – I carefully alternate business life with leisure activities that have nothing in common with work. In my time off I do gardening, I’m a member of an RC club where I meet up with other fans of RC models, and love spending time with my family – I play Fortnite with our three sons, and now even my wife has joined in.

But when I’m at work, I deal only with work. I have a fantastic ability to switch modes and focus on what I’m doing. You need to separate the two thoroughly. Now that we’re working from home, I invested a lot into my home office, in which I’m alone, no-one is allowed in, it’s my space. I see one dangerous thing on work from home as such – people schedule meetings from morning to evening without pause, and in the end you have these eight-hour calls. That’s why our “life hack under preparation”, which I’m looking forward to a lot and which we want to implement, is a total ban on meetings – at least one day a week. It helps you focus, something I firmly believe in.


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