George Hadjigeorgiou is CEO of UK startup success story HouseTrip. Since joining the firm in early 2012 he has played a defining role in developing and executing the company's strategy to address accelerating demand for unique, easy-to-book holiday rental accommodation. We spoke to George on the topic of how he defines innovation, and how he views tech startups and investment risks in general.
TechRadar Pro: What's your definition of innovation?
George Hadjigeorgiou: Innovation is often thought of as embracing the latest, coolest, most disruptive technologies. Almost by definition, hungry new startups – particularly in the tech space – are businesses that are making use of technology in some way, shape or form.
But our definition of innovation is a bit different. Imagine a Venn diagram with technology on one side and a customer problem on the other. Innovation lies in the sweet spot in between, where players are harnessing existing solutions to improve or resolve real-world issues. I define genuine innovation as a better way of solving an existing problem with proven technology. Our raison d'etre is to make the whole experience of booking and staying in a holiday home fast, easy and memorable.
TRP: So you're advocating innovation, but not for the sake of it?
GH: Correct. I believe that trying to be 'too innovative' and focusing on disruptive technologies will hinder rather than help a startup. In popular perception, startups are typically synonymous with innovation. Getting the balance right between familiar technology and wanting to labelled as innovative is a big challenge for any startup.
One of the most important things that entrepreneurs should focus on is deploying trusted platforms and services which your customers recognise, which won't crash. At the end of the day, the key lies in creating a brilliant user experience that customers want to return too.
And that's it – concentrating on creating a simpler, easier experience for users to enjoy is a more important (and more successful) strategy than blindly applying the latest tech just to prove your company is 'innovative'.
TRP: In this tech-fuelled age, is it naïve not to put tech investments first?
GH: The internet has disrupted and transformed almost every consumer experience and business model, from grocery shopping to takeaway ordering; from finding gig tickets to choosing a new winter wardrobe.
Holidays are no exception. The first wave of change came in over 10 years ago, making it easier to find and book holidays online, all but killing the high street holiday shop. The next wave of change is now upon us. Consumers don't just want to turn to the internet to search for their next holiday destination – they want web-based companies to work for them. However they don't necessarily want to be forced to use new tools or techniques to find relevant information – they want companies to do this for them at the back-end.
Investments should be made wherever this will result in the biggest benefits for customers. If customers would benefit from investment in another area, such as expanding your customer service team, this should be prioritised.
TRP: Do you think wasted technology investment is one of the reasons for high failure rates in startups?
GH: There's no denying that starting a business is hard and keeping it growing is tough. According to Bis.gov, of the 400,000 companies that were set up in 2012, 80,000 failed within 12 months. Defining the technology requirements for a startup is often one of the trickiest steps a new company has to take. This is often due to the fact that so much of the technology products and suites available are designed for large organisations.
A startup's technology goal is to adopt the services that will help you get things done and support your most immediate business needs. There's no need to plan technology for the next two to three years before this point. The best tools are those that you can grow out of rather than grow into. Pinpointing the right, proven technology is crucial for a startup as it helps keep costs down (critical for a new business), improves efficiency and prevents investment in a service that won't be required or is outdated 12 to 18 months down the line.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.