[00:01:16] A.J. Lawrence: So please, if you have the opportunity, just go leave us a review. We would really, really, really be happy. Especially if it’s like a five, you know? Then I’ll sit there and clap and say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
[00:01:28] But I really like talking with Matthijs because he has this background where he’s been in the travel industry for so long and so consistently that you can see where this kind of evolved into where Mews became.
[00:01:42] He was fast tracked through the Hilton management training program. He’s been a couple of other really cool companies and I think today it’ll be a lot of fun to get into where he talks about the constant need to be evolving as an entrepreneur. We talk about the growth and the consistent need for change on other episodes, but I think listening to his approach of consistently working on evolving as he grow, as things change within the company, allows him to grow. And I think that’s really interesting because he approaches it very straightforwardly.
[00:02:22] That’s a lot of fun to listen to and to take maybe some ideas from also how he uses his coaches and his board members. Very specifically, he’ll break it down, talk about how he use them for different situations where their value is. That is very, very worthwhile because I know at times it gets hard running a business to know who to ask for, when to ask. I know me. I don’t wanna ask too much of my advisors, at times I probably should ask more. So it’s really cool to kind of get into how he approaches this.
[00:02:56] And most of us are becoming remote friendly, but it’s always worthwhile to hear from someone who’s been doing it from before the pandemic. So really it is interesting when he describes how they built their culture, what it means to them and what they’re doing to expand, and what it means for him personally. Kind of cool because I think sometimes we think about it either as a cost, or the quickness, or the talent, but we don’t really approach it from the value it gets for us.
[00:03:21] Great interview, I really enjoy talking with Matthijs. So, let’s go get him on the show and hear what he has to say. All right, everyone. Thank you for listening.
[00:03:31] Hello, Matt, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate having you here today.
[00:03:37] Matthijs Welle: My pleasure.
[00:03:38] A.J. Lawrence: I know you are talking about returning to Amsterdam, but I love Prague. I haven’t been there since, God, at the early 90s, so it’s been just a little bit since I was a student over in Eastern Europe, so I’m really jealous of all the great beer you get to have.
[00:03:53] Matthijs Welle: I don’t think it’s changed much since the 90s. Like the buildings, the fridge and the castle, they’re pretty much the same. The coffee’s got better since then.
[00:04:03] A.J. Lawrence: Yes, I’ve heard great things about the coffee and just all the sort of like more of the digital nomad crowd that you get there now. That didn’t really exist back when I was studying in Budapest, but taking the train and the buses up to go drink for weekends up there in Prague.
[00:04:23] But no, I mean, it’s really great to have you because I’ve been diving through Mews, and as I was just telling the audience a second ago, it’s such a cool company. The way you’re doing is one sense very straightforward yet, the value you guys create is really, really interesting. I would not have thought of that. Because my career and everything, other than going to hotels, just never really thought of that value creation.
[00:04:53] So that’s what, given the background and your partners and everything, I think is so cool. Where do you see yourself now on your own journey here as the CEO of Mews?
[00:05:03] Matthijs Welle: It’s a hard one because it changes so rapidly. If you built your own business and it does well, you constantly shape-shift into a new version of yourself. And I love that.
[00:05:14] I love the constant change and I almost get bored when I don’t feel that I’m moving up or changing fast enough. But I constantly think that I’m about to retire and I tell my friends, like, in five years I’ll retire. And then here I am five years later, thinking five more years is when I retire.
[00:05:33] And I think that’s what the beauty of this business is – just this constant evolution. As long as you can keep up with it, then there’s a space for you. And it is my worry, will I be able to keep up with the growth of the company or will I hold them back? The moment I start holding back the business, that’s for me, the point to actually exit because I will hold back the value of the company and I’d be in a better place to just be on the board than to run it. But for now, I’m in a good place.
[00:06:01] A.J. Lawrence: I wanna get into that, but before that, you said something that I loved because I’ve heard it used in other situations, but never in talking about this. But becoming a different shape of you, that’s just such a cool way of thinking about it especially as an entrepreneur because I mean, you still are yourself. So how do you see yourself in different situations becoming a new variation of you?
[00:06:26] Matthijs Welle: Like I posted the other day about being a micromanager and I love to be in the detail because as an entrepreneur, I really dive into the detail because I’m passionate about what we do. But when you have, we now have almost 700th employees, I just cannot do that and I cannot set that example that I should be in the detail.
[00:06:45] I need to set the strategy for the company. So I don’t instinctively know that I shouldn’t get involved and the moment I get that urge, I need to tell myself, actually, no, that isn’t your job. If I feel it is my job or if I feel I need to get involved, there’s something wrong with the underlying structure of the organization and I need to address that specifically.
[00:07:03] We just came out of a leadership meeting where a topic came up and I wanted to have the discussion. I got excited about the topic, but I was like, no, we shouldn’t be discussing this at our level. "How did it get here?" became my question to that discussion, not "how did we solve that situation" but "how did this topic get to us?". It bypassed several layers of management to get into our room.
[00:07:25] A.J. Lawrence: I like that because that does get very much done to the second part of what you said as sort of evaluating it. In your post where you talked about working on your micromanaging and LinkedIn, everyone, you talked about working with a coach. How do you make sure that you are one, keeping, you know, and you work with the coach, but then two, as you said, you keep rolling forward your five years, how are you evaluating not just your value to the company, but your desire to create a man and develop that value?
[00:08:02] Matthijs Welle: There’s not a real strategy to it, to be honest. So what we do is we’ve got a coach for the individuals in the leadership team and then she coaches us as a group as well at the same time. I’ll go to that meeting often thinking I don’t know what I have to talk about, I think I’m good. And I walk away two hours later thinking, whoa, we just talked about these topics because she asked really punchy questions about how we’re managing situations. And through that, I myself discover that we have challenges and then I end up walking away with much more.
[00:08:35] So in the day-to-day, I continue to think that I’m doing a fabulous job until she comes in and asks me questions about how we structured search and decisions and what we’re doing, and it leads to a much better leadership team.
[00:08:48] One of the things we did last year was we said, well, we’ve got this constantly revolving leadership team, not natural cuz you’re growing at a pace where not everyone is able to scale up to the next level. So every time a new leader comes in, you go back to forming as a team. So what we do is every three months we have this coach come bring us together into a room where we actually spent two days in the room getting to know each other again over and over. And the level of trust that we’ve now built into our leadership is at a level where I think everyone gives each other feedback.
[00:09:20] So when someone feels that I am showing the wrong behavior, like I’m micromanaging the situation, people can tell me now because they understand that there’s a level of trust there. But the trust building is a really big thing that we’ve embarked on in the last year that has really put us at a very different level of leadership than we were a year before.
[00:09:39] A.J. Lawrence: So this trust building, is this from the outcome of working with the coach or is this something specific that the management team that you and the man and the rest of the leadership had decided to start pushing? How did that come about and sort of at what point did you realize that was necessary? What was going on that kind of pushed that?
[00:09:56] Matthijs Welle: The challenge that we, we had, um, is that you never have a perfect leadership team. There’s always one person or two people that you’re like, I’m not sure if this is his journey. And we tend to address that as fast as we see it’s not working out, which is the hard thing because every time we have to address that, that means in the interim, it falls on me as the CEO to lead that sub-department.
[00:10:25] But we made some really hard decisions in the past few years and it’s led to us bringing in real talent that have scaled through some of the challenges that we’re about to face. So we’ve really looked for these leaders that have scaled up companies several times over.
[00:10:40] I don’t know what I don’t know because this is my first CEO gig, so I surround myself with really smart people that have lived through that, but who also have the emotional intelligence to go back to square one with us and go through that and do that in a really structured way.
[00:10:55] So one is us just making better hiring decisions on the leadership team. But the other part is really consciously saying to the coach, we need to talk about the relationships inside the team. Whenever I ask our coach, "how do we manage that? I know that there’s friction between these two people", then it comes down to trust.
[00:11:17] And that’s where she drives the discussion to. Really understanding each other’s motivations personally. So last time we had an offsite we did an exercise where she said, talk about an experience in your earlier stage life that has made you who you are today. And it led to people sharing really personal fragments of their life and it really underlined why they do things the way they do them today. And it brought us all so much together. It was such a simple exercise in hindsight, and I’m like, ah, why didn’t we do this way sooner? But that’s what you bring a coaching for.
[00:11:49] A.J. Lawrence: I like that. And just to kind of dive a little bit, also for the audience that are listening here, about what size or what was going on in the company that you decided to bring on that coach? Or to begin this process with coaches, about where were you?
[00:12:11] Matthijs Welle: We were about to embark on a massive growth spur. So we’re a hospitality tech company, Covid hits and like 70% of our customers physically closed the doors on their hotels. So we went through a complete transformation. We had to let go unfortunately of 220 people, scaled back to half the size.
[00:12:30] And then after a few months realizing, actually these hotels, this is the perfect time for transformation. So we went from scaling back to rapidly scaling up. At the worst point of the Covid, we were 200 people and today we’re 700 people. So you can imagine the growth we’ve gone through in the last two years and what an impact that has on the organization.
[00:12:50] About a year and a half ago, our Chief People Officer said, I think we need to bring someone professional in to help us really shape our team. And I thought that was a really good shout and we’re so glad that we did that. But it does matter who the coach is. There has to be a unanimous liking of that coach that you’re willing to share your personal.
[00:13:11] It was really hard for us to find someone who connects well with the tech people, but also with the finance people, and also with the people people. That’s the really hard thing, to find the right coach for the right team.
[00:13:22] A.J. Lawrence: No. I’ve worked with some coaches and I’ve worked with what I consider one gold standard coach, some very good coaches. I’ve had exploratory with a lot of others but the difference between a really good one who just understands and it’s sometimes just so simple, what they’re telling you. Yet they’re saying it in such a way that resonates with everyone involved.
[00:13:51] Matthijs Welle: And the price tag is scary, right?
[00:13:52] A.J. Lawrence: Yes!
[00:13:53] Matthijs Welle: If you’re an entrepreneur, you know, we had really tough years and like every year I would turn over, I’m like, oh, do we wanna spend this? And suddenly I’m spending huge sums of money on these coaches. But the value is really there and it is an investment into the most important leaders in the company. If you invest in them, there’s a return on investment. But that bill, when that bill hits every month, it hurts me deeply.
[00:14:21] A.J. Lawrence: No, I remember that. It is that crazy. You’re looking at everything and it just sits there because it’s always that thing where so many other bills that are really bad are just automated or pretty straightforward. It’s coaches and a few other things, I always remember you have to like actively engage with and it’s just like, ooh, this is…
[00:14:49] Well, given the benefit you’ve got in this almost like a rebalancing and then faster growth of the company through working with coaches, what other things have you felt have had a huge impact in your ability to be the CEO? In this period of time, what else has helped you?
[00:15:11] Matthijs Welle: One is the ability to shape your own team, and I think that’s where my relationship with the founder of the company is really strong. And whilst we’re wildly different in how we stand in life, we have real agreements on the direction of the company. And having someone there to work with you through some of these really tough decisions has been critical. I, on my own, wouldn’t probably be where I am today without Richard being in the room. And I think having a partner in crime is a really important aspect to the role.
[00:15:45] Our board members, they do a lot for us, way more than I ever thought. I remember in the early days of Mews when I was like, do we really need a board? Like what are these people gonna add to the business in some way? And initially, we were just looking for money.
[00:15:59] We just need money. We know what to do, which was true in the early stage. But at some point as you start scaling, you don’t know how to scale and you don’t yet have the talents or the money for the talents that you can bring in.
[00:16:14] And we got a really serious investor in the SaaS space, just the network that they bring in where they can help solve challenges themselves or bring in people, they’ve been so instrumental in the boardroom. Asking really smart questions that I don’t always like answering because they’re really smart questions and really difficult answers to give to that. But having a really good board member will really push you as an entrepreneur to the next level because you have to find answers and you’ll dig deep to find them. Cause you don’t wanna disappoint the board.
[00:16:43] And that’s really been quite transformational and every time we do a funding round, we really try and get the right investor in. We don’t just look at the valuation. We actually look at who’s the one that’s gonna be in the boardroom, and is that a person that I can imagine working with for the next 10, 20 years because we’re doing a slow growth, massive enterprise business. It’s probably easier to get out of a marriage than to get out of an investor, that’s what I’ve been told. So we really think three times about the person that we’re bring in that room.
[00:17:15] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I’m an LP in a few angel and VC funds, and then I’ve been advisors to a few CEOs and I had a good friend who grows company did all this amazing stuff and yet he had given up, I think, too much control. And it was amazing looking at the contract, just the amount of control the investors had. And it is all relative to the type of deals you put together, the type of growth you have, the situation when you’re raising. If you got lucky and raised early last year versus now, big differences. But the type of control and the type of investors is always going to be funny.
[00:18:03] I’m in the middle of buying a company, a marketing service will leave it there cuz I’m still in due diligence. But it is funny and just talking to potential banks, potential partners and just what’s out there on one level. As you said, it is just like, oh, what’s the money? What’s your ability to just help me do X? But then when you look deeper, it’s like, oh, can you help me go further? Can you help me position this? That extra value around doing that.
[00:18:35] Matthijs Welle: So recently we brought some strategic investors, and they’re smaller investors, right? They didn’t have a board seat. But we found because they’re strategic, they opened doors that we couldn’t open ourselves. And it is important to not obviously overload yourself with a bunch of investors, but really think about some of these smaller investors that are very keen to prove their worth. Because they will work harder sometimes than some of these really big investors because they have a whole portfolio, and we found that that strategic investors actually have real value to our business directly.
[00:19:08] A.J. Lawrence: Is it because they’re helping you find new deals? Are they helping hire? What is sort of the value you’re seeing?
[00:19:16] Matthijs Welle: So we have, for example, a strategic investor that have links to some of the bigger hotel companies. So they have backdoor access to CEOs of hotel companies, and we wouldn’t sell to the CEO of a major hotel company, but we get information and there’s a voice coming down from above. And we will still work, you know, the management companies that sit behind there and the hotel owners, but having that access to C-suite is really valuable down the line.
[00:19:43] A.J. Lawrence: Cuz in the end of the day, the further along you can make the strategic value of it, the easier it makes for their usage of you. Pre-show, you talked a little bit about what you were gonna be doing soon, but before we do that, where are you looking to take Mews now? Like what is the big audacious, your BHAG for the company right now?
[00:20:14] Matthijs Welle: One of the big shifts that we’ve made is going from SMB to enterprise or mid-market, we call it. And most of the cloud providers in our industry, they start in the SMB segment, small hotels, and then they try and grow there.
[00:20:31] We’ve always wanted to go into the enterprise segment, which is where I’ve come from. I’ve worked at Hilton and I’ve seen the incredible pains of legacy technology and we really know that there’s a massive opportunity there. Oracle was the number one there and we’re there to take them out because they’re not doing a good job and they’re doing a disservice to hotels.
[00:20:50] I’m a hotelier and I deeply care about hotel experiences, they’re just holding our industry back. They’re holding it hostage almost. You see startups struggling and it’s where we started as a company ourselves. We just wanted to build a light app that was gonna change the guest experience, but good luck trying to get hold of an API in our industry.
[00:21:11] You’d have to pay €50,000 to get access to an API and integrate and then still get through certification. So we just said, let’s just build that. Let’s build that enterprise layer in the organization with an open API. And it’s been really transformational for the hotels that we serve today. But there’s a mission. We’re probably not even covering 1% of the market today, so we have quite a few years of hard work ahead of us.
[00:21:37] A.J. Lawrence: So you’re becoming a shark basically. You’re on the prowl. I like that. I mean in that industry it makes so much sense, you know, with just more familiarity of size and sort of dominance. That does make sense cuz it gives you a nice, straightforward goal. It’s like, okay, what are we gonna be? We’re gonna be them.
[00:22:05] Matthijs Welle: Yeah.
[00:22:06] A.J. Lawrence: That’s kinda cool to point your team towards and create more value. I like that definition. Definitely makes it more there.
[00:22:16] You’ve talked about the coaching you’re bringing in, you’re talking about sort of the team building and trust, moving sort of the efforts down funnel, what type of things do you think are gonna change? Especially now that you are evaluating again on the next five years. What do you think is gonna change as you attack this premier player in the space? How do you think the company’s gonna have to change yet again from where you are now?
[00:22:50] Matthijs Welle: We’ve obviously gone from startup where it was just a bunch of guys in the basement drinking and coding, and that was fun, to us being a real professional organization. But we’re definitely not at the level that we should be in order to own this market. And I think there’s a professionalization that will happen in our culture and in our organization structure and dealing with enterprise customers.
[00:23:16] They expect us to have real stakeholders that can do cross-departmental management. And that’s the thing that we haven’t done before. Like you had a salesperson, you had a CS person, you’re good to go. But suddenly there’s so many stakeholders involved that you need to manage, and we don’t have the organization structure for that today. But we’re building the groundwork to in order to support these big accounts that we really do have these stakeholders that can enter and support an account for multiple layers. And that’s gonna be quite a shift in our organization where we’re hiring much more senior talent.
[00:23:52] There’s always space for junior talent to come in, but we have to really have a strong VP layer that can own those relationships. In the last year, we’ve really made a number of VP hires that we didn’t have before and we didn’t need. And now it’s really building in the structure around those people and the organization to support the growth that we’re about to experience, like the growth for this year will almost double what we’ve done in 10 years. So it’s incredible to see the speed at which we’re now accelerating, but things will break along that way and you need experts that can very quickly help step in and fix that. So I think that’s really the biggest shift that we’ll see in the next few years.
[00:24:32] A.J. Lawrence: Having built an agency in the past where we went from being what I always called, we were feasting on the small business units of large companies but as we grew bigger to all of a sudden going into the Fortune 500. And it was like, oh. I actually can’t just be super smart and have some really good people. We need people who can dot the I’s and cross the T’s and do all the work to make everything sort of stay there.
[00:25:04] I noticed when I was reading about Mews that you guys are proudly headquartered in Prague, but you’re hiring around the world. So are you finding these VPs from around the world? Where are you finding your team now?
[00:25:17] Matthijs Welle: So pre-Covid we were very much, everyone in an office. I want a CEO working and our senior leadership needs to be in those offices. And as Covid happened, we actually learned that we didn’t need that at all. We have people in 20 countries. Our leadership team is a group of 10 people and we’re in five countries, and that covers multiple times as we’ve got people in the US, in Europe, so we’re really spread out. And it works. Like our organization’s just set up for it.
[00:25:48] So we’ve gone, not for a remote first, but a remote friendly talent first. So we really deeply care about the talent that we bring in, and we’ll figure out how to hire you and how to support you afterwards. So we have a product team, for example, in our B2C team that has a Tech Lead in Nashville, a Product Manager in Sydney, and then the developers are sitting here in Prague, and it works. They just figure it out.
[00:26:13] These are smart people. It’s their responsibility to deal with the time zones. Somehow they figured it out, that’s why we brought this talent in. And what it does, it gives us access to a whole different level of talent across the world. And that 10x is the speed at which we can develop our products versus having to just fish in a small pond. You might get the best person in that pond, but it’s not the best person to push the company forward and compete against real massive global companies.
[00:26:43] That was really a decision we made two years ago and you can just feel the level of talent in our organization has just gone up significantly in that time. And it’s a more exciting organization to be around. If you’re ambitious and then you wanna be around that. It’s not for everyone, right? Some people want to have a job from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, know that there’s a desk for them, and exactly what their job is gonna be. And that’s not us.
[00:27:08] We work really hard. Everyone is smart around you. So if you just do your work, you’re not gonna stand out in our organization cause everyone else is smart. But I thrive on it. They make me smarter and they make me work harder and I love that.
[00:27:22] A.J. Lawrence: That is very cool. And it’s a fun situation because over the past few years, I think a lot of people have been reevaluating and considering the work and what is work. And that’s fun and good, but the idea that, look, there are these benefits to find the right group of people, the right reason to kind of push in and grow for what you can then both create in the moment, but then create of yourself from your skills, capabilities, let alone financial resources you gain from that. But still, that is really cool. You’re creating that and creating that environment.
[00:28:01] You had mentioned, now of a certain age that you’re looking to go back to the Netherlands, go back to your family roots. I guess in tangent, cuz you now said management’s all over five country, what are you hoping to do on your own journey? Like, what’s going to be super successful for you on this journey as an entrepreneur here?
[00:28:29] Matthijs Welle: So, I was not necessarily setting the right example. So I was in Prague, which is where the head office is, and I was like, no, I need to be around here. But then I find myself at home working most days because I’ve also adopted to this new environment. And I thought, why am I not going home? Why am I not being close to my family? Because it does matter. And I learned that in the pandemic.
[00:28:52] I actually enjoy talking to my family and I miss my friends very much, especially when you get cut off for a few years because of travel restrictions. And I don’t have a great work-life balance, I’ll be honest. I work 60 hours minimum every single week. And as I get older, I don’t make new friends. I just work harder.
[00:29:12] And as friends leave and they go do other things, your circle gets smaller and smaller. And I just realized that I need to make time for my own personal life. So I think if I look forward for a few years, I need to make better decisions to get a better work-life balance. So I’ve hired a Chief of Staff, for example, who can step into some of the strategic conversations or the rooms that I can’t be in all the time.
[00:29:40] I added a PA this year because I realize I’m too busy planning all my flights and hotels, and I’ve never felt the need for it. But now that I have that person, she makes my life so much better. I’ve got to a better place, but I’m not in a good place. So there’s work to be done. .
[00:29:58] A.J. Lawrence: All right. And I like that because I think for a lot of us, it is that practice. Cuz same thing, I’m now working with a virtual assistant. Sometimes I’m like, oh yeah, but I can do that. Yet, the fine little bit of extra, like it’s done. In my cases, I’ll be thinking I’m leaving on one day and then the day before I thought I was leaving, re-looking at my ticket going, oh, I’m leaving tonight. It’s like yes, having someone else take care of that.
[00:30:37] Matthijs Welle: It’s even silly things where I ask her to find me a seat in the front of the plane every time. And it’s such a hassle to then do with the pangs of it. But every time I’m the first off the plane, I save 10, 15 minutes on my day and it’s worth it.
[00:30:53] A.J. Lawrence: Always. I miss airfare in Europe because in the US, it’s crazy and super expensive. But yeah, that little bit of pang like, okay, sure, I’ll pay 15 more euros to be in the first two rows or something. It’s not that you get a better seat or anything on a lot of the small flights, but it’s just so much nicer getting off.
[00:31:25] That’s great. I’m excited to see what you are able to do here, because Mews is such a cool company and going to Amsterdam is, oh, sorry, the Netherlands. The three cities, the triangle, and then Harlem’s sort of up there, right above it. I miss the time.
[00:31:45] I also studied in Copenhagen years and years ago, but every weekend I used to go just because of the clubs and just the scene in Amsterdam was so much better. Copenhagen has become a really great city, but when I studied in the early 90s, it was nice, but nowhere near as much coolness from that. So I’m jealous that you’re heading back there.
[00:32:08] Matt, I really appreciate you coming on this show today. This is really cool. And as you guys move forward, love to have you back on because I think you’re facing and sort of the process of how you’re building your team is really interesting, given a lot of entrepreneurs are sort of moving towards that idea of the complexity that you’re handling at this point.
[00:32:31] So thank you and love to have you back on down the road.
[00:32:35] Matthijs Welle: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:32:42] A.J. Lawrence: This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.