This week IE’s on location in Athens meeting with master and MBA program candidates, and hosting a master class featuring Evangelos Liaras titled “Greek-Turkish relations: the next 30 years” – which is timely given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be in Athens the first week of December.  As part of our agenda of activities, we caught up with Antonio Fiorakis, graduate of IE Business School’s top ranked Master in Management (MIM) program and founder/tech entrepreneur of Incrediblue, a successful online travel company that specializes in yacht charter and island hopping getaways and that has obtained funding from some of the most prominent European Venture Capital funds.  Below are the questions we put to Antonio, and the insights he had to share.

The Interview Transcript: Founder and IE alumni Antonio Fiorakis (AF) and Joël McConnell (JM), Director for Europe and Central Asia at IE.

JM: “Antonio, what are a couple of the key insights you might share with readers about the process of launching a successful venture in the travel and leisure industry?”

AF: “There have been ups and downs, and the process of launching and running Incrediblue has been great experience so far, and while I’ve learned a lot, I’d have to say that launching a new business in the tourism sector is no easy feat, and that managing your human resources are key.  That is to say, when my business partners and I initially thought up the concept for our marketplace we were a first mover in Europe – one of the world’s top tourism destinations, which made it a blue ocean so to speak. However, after launching this new business concept, many copycats followed, making competition in the online field fierce. However, in reality, launching a new business concept in this sector in Europe is quite difficult, given that industry structures and regulations, and the sheer amount of existing options. Then, the other big learning for us was that it is absolutely key to effectively manage your human talent as you grow from say 3 to 8 people, and then 8 to 15 – jumps that don’t seem that big, but that without a doubt bring with them added complexities. For new ventures effectively managing your human talent is absolutely a key success factor (KSF), and one that can make or break the business.”

JM: “Where do you think the tourism industry in Europe is going, especially with regards digital transformation?”

AF: “Some parts of the tourism sector are already quite digitized, and this is especially true today for hotel bookings where today something like 75%-80% of transactions are booked online, with the balance being booked through travel agents. But in yachting it’s more like 20% online and 80% through agents, which is the digitization opportunity we’re pursuing at Incrediblue. Moreover, for the part of the business that has gone digital, something like 60% of business is transacted via mobile devices, and this presents its own challenges.  How do you effectively manage customer interaction, once you’ve reached them, and ensure they have a great customer experience from the very start, when you’re dealing with one little mobile interface? And for companies with average larger individual transactions of say 2.000€ to 4.000€ depending on the season, the challenge is even greater.  Today leading tourism sector players, regardless of their niche, need to effectively manage their marketplace and their social media presence.  Apart from what we’re doing at Incrediblue, some other interesting examples of companies that are effectively managing the digitization of more unique tourism experiences include Much Better Adventures and G Adventure, in the adventure travel segment.”

JM: “What proved most important with regards to obtaining funding for your venture, especially in the early stages?”

AF: “Obtaining attractive funding and financing is no easy feat, but some tips I might share with aspiring entrepreneurs include the following…

  • If you want top investors, the kind that have the capital to invest in a really high potential business, then you have to show them you have the right team in place, and show that the team is interconnected and able to get the business going, and has the real potential (and commitment) to then make the venture successful. Having a team of diversified expertise is key.
  • You have to show investors that there is a market, and that the market size means there is a financial attractive return to be made with your business.
  • You need to have a protoype you can show investors that they can interact with.
  • Depending on where you want to start your business, you really need to be present in that market. So for example, if you want to raise funds in London, you need to be in London. At IE Business School we often talked about the importance of networking effectively, and that couldn’t be more true with regards to finding the most helpful investors.
  • My last point here would be that you need to find a champion, someone that believes in your idea and help you make it successful. Often the lead investor plays this role, especially in the early stages for the start-up.

JM: “What work and study experiences proved helpful to you as an entrepreneurs and why?”

AF: “My father always told me to hang out with people who are better than me. That’s exactly what happened in IE. Being in class with such competent people from so many different cultures really broadened my perspective and helped me grow as an individual. Beyond the people, I’d say the actual content of the MIM – frameworks, the models, etc. – were helpful later on, and helped me be more effective at work, minimize my risks and to be more agile in the market. I think as alumni we sometimes think that what we learned should be common sense, but we forget that most people don’t have the insights and concepts we learned during the MIM, so having the MIM really is a competitive advantage – especially for me as an entrepreneur.  And in my case specifically, having had the chance to participate in the Venture Lab at IE was very helpful as it was where I first tested a business idea concept that was an online marketplace, but for the digital signage industry.  And this was before the Airbnbs of the world had become such relevant players in the tourism sector”

JM: “If you were going to book a trip with Incrediblue what boat would you chose and what would be your destination agenda?”

AF: “That’s a tough one, there are so many outstanding destinations here in Greece!  However, if I had to commit to just one island hopping escape on one of the yachts available via the Incrediblue marketplace, I’d have to say I’d choose the Lagoon 45 catamaran, and I’d take a couple of weeks to explore the Ionian Sea, making stops in Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia. Low winds, nice beaches, and great food make all three stops top destinations for me when I finally get to take some time away from the office and enjoy a bit of this part of the Mediterranean.

More on IE Business School Alumni Antonio Fiorakis, CEO of Incrediblue

Before becoming a successful tech entrepreneur, Antonio worked in the corporate world and studied in many locations.  Having completed his pre-university studies between Switzerland and the United Kingdom, Antonio completed his Bachelor’s of Science Degree at the American College of Greece, and then later completed the Master in Management at IE Business School.  In his corporate life, Antonio worked for such top companies as Xerox Corporation, JTI, and Beiersdorf at their offices in Hamburg.  Now, as CEO at Incrediblue, Antonio also acts as a mentor to promising entrepreneurs via such organizations as Mobile World Capital Barcelona, AELIA Working Lab, and Start-Up Weekend.