Entrepreneur interviews: Michael Riegel, Wimdu
Filed under: Career
In an inspiring new interview series, we talk to some top young entrepreneurs to discover the secrets of their success. First up is Michael Riegel – the 24-year-old co-founder of international social travel network, Wimdu Global, and CEO of Wimdu UK.
Talk us through your career background and how the idea for Wimdu came about.
My passion for business and entrepreneurial flair developed when I was studying Business and Economics at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management, which is the leading business school in Germany. The school nurtures entrepreneurialism and during my time there I founded my first two companies, one internet business and one offline venture. Following this I came to London to study for my masters at the London School of Economics.
The idea for Wimdu came from two fellow WHU graduates who were a few years my senior and had already had success with their own internet business start-ups. All of us co-founders share a love of travelling and so we looked for big business opportunities in the market. When the idea of Wimdu came to fruition, I had actually just returned from a trip to South America and learnt the appeal of social travel first hand. We've tried and tested it ourselves, so we knew how to make it work.
The idea of social travel essentially came from looking at the travel market from the experiences perspective of a traveller but with an analytical business mind. It was a very structured approach.
What have been the biggest challenges so far in setting up and growing Wimdu?
Launching a company in many countries simultaneously tests even the most straightforward business model, and Wimdu was no exception. One of the biggest challenges was managing the expansion into a worldwide company. We wanted to be present in numerous countries, all at the same time. Finding the right teams and aligning them across different countries was extremely challenging.
In association with this came the structural complications of growing from a very small team to having mover 250 employees in just six months. I'm not sure if I slept at all in those first few months!
Have you made any mistakes that have taught you valuable lessons in business?
My policy is that mistakes are necessary. We will all make them and it is unrealistic to think that all can be avoided. But of course, it's not the mistake that's important but what you make of it. I've learnt the hard way that you have to pick yourself up and work harder each time. Know that you are a better person, with more experience and knowledge, after each one. To use the old cliché, never make the same mistake twice.
What do you consider to be the three key personal attributes to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
The first would have to be curiosity. You need to ask all of the questions (even the stupid ones!) because after doing so you will be better informed to make decisions. Don't be afraid to be curious. Curiosity makes your mind observant and open to new ideas, without it the ideas may pass you by and escape you entirely.
I also think that directness is key. A successful entrepreneur must know how to be straight to the point. When building a business people will often tell you things that they think you want to hear, but if you can master the skill of being direct without being rude, then you can cut out the waffle and get to the heart of the matter.
Last, but by no means least, would be empathy. This might seem an unexpected answer as it hardly fits with the image of a ruthless entrepreneur, yet that is exactly why I consider it to be important. When building up a company it is important not to lose sight of things lower down. You need to relate to your employees and empathise with them; it can make all the difference between a good team and a great team.
What advice do you have for people to turn a great business idea into a successful venture?
When it comes to taking an idea and turning it into a business, it's all in the team's execution. Behind every good business is a great team.
Anyone can have good ideas but in the end what matters is that you and the people you are working with are driven enough to make things happen. The best team can start with a bad idea and will manage to make it a success. It will be tough, the business model will need adapting and rethinking, but if the team is strong they will find a way to success. My advice would be to spend as much time on the teaming as the actual idea. Wimdu has been a success not because of what it is but because of who is behind it.