Interview with Stephanie Chai of The Luxe Nomad: "Your company is only as good as your team."
With over 1,500 properties around the world, The Luxe Nomad has grown from being an Asia-based travel website to one possessing a global reach that counts in its books designer pads in Hollywood Hills, minimalist lofts in Tokyo, and private apartments in some of London's most exclusive post codes. The brains and beauty behind the business? Stephanie Chai, a former model and television personality who has gone from posing for the camera to negotiating with angel investors. Since launching the site in June 2012, the 34-year-old entrepreneur has managed to build a brand that reaches over 250,000 savvy travellers and scale the company's average booking size from USD1,000 to USD3,000. Below, Chai lets us in on the journey thus far, her travel essentials, and the challenges of building The Luxe Nomad from the ground up.
Tell us more about your decision to focus the business model of The Luxe Nomad on villa rentals instead of hotel rooms.
There were several factors that lead us to pivot from hotels to villas. Firstly, if we look at the numbers, villa bookings were more lucrative for us. Secondly, we were seeing increased demand from people who were keen to stay in a villa as opposed to a hotel. That's not to say people are not staying in hotels anymore. Depending on the occasion, I enjoy a hotel stay, too. Ultimately, what we will end up with is an industry where the traveller has more accommodation types to choose from.
What's the biggest challenge in running a startup and how do you work around it?
Funnily enough, having been in the modelling and television industry has prepared me for startup life. Running a startup is similarily competitive, but constantly evolving. You can be 'hot' one year and not the next. So even when we have a great month of sales, I don't sit back and assume the next will be the same. You constantly have to be top of the game.
What's the most memorable property you've checked into?
Naladhu in the Maldives. We had our own private villa (there are only 19 villas on the island) with a huge pool, outdoor shower, bath, and sauna. I loved that I could look over the edge of the deck to see crab and fish swimming below. But this was a special place not only because the villa was spectacular, but the destination itself was stunning. I urge everyone to visit the Maldives at least once as it really is paradise on earth.
Which three technological innovations have made your life easier?
Uber, Deliveroo, and Facebook. Facebook is not just a great way to catch up with what's happening with your friends but also what's going on in the world. That being said, you do have to watch out for sneaky fake news articles from time to time.
What's your morning routine like?
Wake up and check my phone for Whatsapp messages before reading the news, checking emails, and sleeping a little bit more before getting up to start the day.
How do you find the time to unwind? What helps you to switch off from work?
I work an average of six days a week but I try to have one day which is a clear break. Watching TV, working out (I use Guavapass, which has been great) and getting a foot massage is the way to go. Also, cycling along the East Coast on a Sunday is a perfect end to the week. There's nothing like some fresh sea air.
What are some travel essentials you never leave home without? What's your luggage of choice?
My skincare items and my eye mask so I can sleep on the plane or deal with rooms without blackout curtains. And not forgetting my Macbook Air! I have Tumi's hand-carry and check-in luggages, and they have some great design pieces that never break — which is important for any nomad on the go.
After five years of building The Luxe Nomad from the ground up, what are some of the biggest lessons you've learnt so far?
It's never always going to be smooth sailing. We usually read in the media about how great businesses are doing, but no one tends to share the tough bits. I can be honest that we started with three tranches set by our angel investor, and the last tranche was quite tough to achieve, but with a bit of luck, we managed to hit the target. Other challenges are HR-related. Your company is only as good as your team. However, ensuring everyone is treated fairly and pushing them to do their best is always a balancing act. I try to ensure that office politics is kept to a minimum as it only distracts from the job. After all, united we stand, divided we fall.