by Evrim Oralkan
I spent years of my life working in the hotel industry, moving up the ranks until I was managing a luxury hotel in Miami. The work was stressful, demanding, and grueling at times — especially working nights, weekends, and holidays — but I had a passion for it that made the work interesting and fulfilling.
When I finally ventured into entrepreneurship, I knew I had the experience and skills necessary to run a company and manage a team.
Managing a luxury hotel may seem wildly different from running an online flooring boutique, but I was surprised by how many leadership lessons learned in the hospitality industry applied to startup life as well. Here are just a few:
1. First and Last Impressions Matter Most
In the hotel industry, it’s critical to make the right first impression and a memorable last impression. That’s why so many hotels have pleasant doormen, beautiful lobbies, and eager bellhops. If the first and last impressions are powerful enough, everything in the middle can be forgotten.
The same applies to other industries. If you impress clients from the start and leave them with a positive lasting memory, any fumbles that happen in between can be forgiven.
2. You Must Be an Effective Communicator
I learned very quickly in my career that being a great leader depends on effective communication. Leaders must be able to communicate ideas, tasks, goals, and feedback to employees and clients. It took me a while to strike the right balance of meetings, memos, and pep talks, but once I did, everything ran much more smoothly.
No matter how talented your employees are, they’re not mind readers, so you must figure out how to communicate with them consistently and effectively. You pick up tricks for relaying information as you go, but you can minimize problems early on by finding ways to create a continuous flow of communication with your staff.
3. Your Culture Should Focus on Exceeding Expectations
In the world of hospitality, a happy client is the key to a successful business. The guiding principle of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is “delighting our guests.” We strove to not only listen and respond to clients’ needs in a competent, accurate, and timely manner, but to anticipate and fulfill their needs before they even voiced them.
While your startup may not have the same clientele as a luxury hotel, you can still focus on exceeding their expectations from day one. Creating a company culture around this mindset will pay off in the long run — especially as you grow. Lead by example, and encourage your employees to maintain a customer-first attitude.
4. You Need Airtight Systems From Day One
Just out of college, I managed a prestigious hotel restaurant called Pump Room in Chicago. Because of its reputation and rich history, the service at Pump Room was always expected to be impeccable. Therefore, it was necessary to establish a series of systems for everything from communication and scheduling to purchasing and service to keep the restaurant running smoothly.
It’s incredibly important for a company to create systems and processes for everything from the beginning. If everything is just “in your head,” it’s very difficult to scale your company quickly. Build systems as if you are serving the most detail-oriented client possible, and discuss the details with your team to make sure everybody is on the same page.
5. Hire for Attitude, Not Experience
Over the years, I’ve learned that some of the best employees don’t have years of experience or extensive education when they’re hired, but they do have the right attitude and a willingness to learn. Your customers don’t care where your employees were trained — only that they have a friendly, helpful attitude. So when building your team, look for those who share the same values that you wish to exemplify in your business. Experience will come with time and training.
Though my hospitality background is vastly different from my business’s specialty, my startup has benefitted greatly from the time I spent in hotel management. Good communication, strong systems, and excellent customer service matter in every industry, and mastering these things from the get-go can put you miles ahead of the competition.
Evrim Oralkan is the founder and CEO of Travertine Mart, a boutique online flooring company specializing in premium-grade travertine pavers, tiles, and pool coping. Until Travertine Mart’s founding in 2007, travertine could only be found in brick-and-mortar shops. Travertine Mart has provided a cost-effective solution that brings high-quality travertine straight to your door. Travertine Mart was named to the Inc. 5000 list in 2012-2014 and was a nominee for the 2013 Edison Award.
Victoria Winters | Courtesy of Evrim Oralkan