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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

“We entrepreneurs and startups have a special mission”, Sergio Mendoza, Airnguru

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First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times? 

Healthy so far. We have been quite disciplined with the health safety measures here, but you never know how the virus can make its way through. My son, who lives on his own since a couple of years now, my two daughters, and I are also lucky that we can all work from home, given we all work in the tech industry. That makes things a lot easier. Nonetheless, these are the hardest and most uncertain times for most of the industries and for most of the families in decades, maybe in a century, so these have been times of forced, hard adaptation for all of us.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company

I have engineering and physics background. My early professional years were devoted to science and R&D (from theoretical particle physics to speech recognition). Then I migrated into the corporate world. My latest corporate experience was at a large airline group, LAN Airlines – LATAM Airlines Group, where I really enjoyed learning, developing and leading the Pricing and Revenue Management practices, and the Commercial Systems area. This was a unique opportunity to innovate, deploy the most advanced core business technologies and form high performance teams. However, the entrepreneurship bug was bothering me since several years before I left the airline.

I finally decided to depart in 2013 after co-founding Inzpiral in 2010, an effort focused on developing SaaS solutions for corporations. Inzpiral became a “SaaS company builder”, mostly funded by angel investors and some state R&D and innovation grants. We have created 7 startups under the Inzpiral umbrella, 4 of which are still operating and growing.

In 2015, under the Inzpiral umbrella, I co-founded Airnguru, the last of our startups, in order to solve the biggest headache and frustration we had in the Pricing arena at my time in the airline business. I invited Daniel Pizarro to co-found the company as CTO. I met Daniel a few years earlier. He worked at Inzpiral Labs (our early R&D and MVP team), where he did amazing magic using Big Data in the Cloud to solve some hard challenges for the supermarket industry. Daniel helped me build a prototype in order to test the power of Big Data applied to the airline Pricing problem. Results were promising. We gathered feedback from several airlines, which confirmed our belief about the relevance of the problem that we were trying to solve, so we decided to invite investors and start the company.

A short time after foundation I invited Javier Jiménez to join us as CCO, initially on a remote, part-time mode. I had recruited Javier at LAN Airlines several years before, where he developed a relevant, hands-on experience in Commercial Systems, Pricing and Revenue Management. He had just resigned to LATAM Airlines in order to pursue his MBA at LBS. While Daniel formed a strong tech and R&D team in order to build our proprietary Big Data architecture on the cloud, Javier helped us sign our first contract and later took over as Product Owner, which became key steps towards the development of our core product.

How does your company innovate?

a) We hypothesize and look for challenges in our target industry, typically untackled revenue or efficiency opportunities that could be solved with our know-how and technology;

b) We talk to several potential customers that are good representatives of the target industry, in order to intersect their needs and pains with those of other players in the target industry;

c) We prioritize the challenges and potential solutions based on potential benefits for our target industry and for our own business, based on risk and effort required from our side, based on our potential customers’ willingness to pay for the solutions, and based on how aligned those challenges are with our strategic roadmap;

d) We select from the top-scored potential initiatives the one (or ones) that generate real traction;

e) We recruit a launch customer for the solution (basically, “no customer – no solution”), and

f) We use agile methodologies to develop an MVP with the customer, and then a full blown product.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

We serve the airline industry, and we were heavily investing in growth, so we were severely affected by this crisis and the lock-down of the airlines industry. All the negotiations that we were holding with new potential customers were frozen. Even one implementation that was under way was frozen in an early stage (though this one was recently resumed). The first key action we took was to quickly and dramatically reduce our fixed cost basis by downsizing, reducing our salaries and eliminating all unnecessary spending. The second key action was to look for opportunities to leverage our capabilities in other industries. We are not done yet, but we now see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

We made very difficult decisions and hard choices. Some lessons:

a) nobody is going to come and save you, you need to take immediate action once the tsunami appears on the horizon;

b) always keep cash available for the unforeseen;

c) be empathetic, fair and equitable with your team;

d) some people are in a more vulnerable situation than others, help them through;

e) recognize those that having choices, voluntarily stay firm with you through the crisis.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and your company in the future?

I deal with stress and anxiety by practicing sports twice a week (though interrupted by quarantines), doing daily exercise, trying to get good sleep at night and ingesting healthy food. I never stop thinking and looking for new opportunities, I read what’s happening around, what’s happening in the world, what the new pains are, what the new trends are. I read about science, I read and try to understand what is happening at the frontiers of knowledge, science and technology. I get inspired by real, heroic entrepreneurship stories, by those who were able to do amazing things beating all the odds and beating their initial adversities and handicaps. I always think that I am in such a privileged position, that I am very lucky. I always think that many people have done much more than me with much less odds and less resources than me, so what am I waiting for to do my part? Finally, I always think that I have a responsibility to inspire others in this hard journey of entrepreneurship.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Our competitors are big players in the industry, like Sabre, Lufthansa Systems, and SITA, which offer a broad set of solutions for airlines. We plan to stay in the game and thrive by continuing to do what we do best. We’ll focus on providing the best-in-class pricing solutions, with the best-in-class service. We will keep investing in R&D to guarantee the best benefit-to-cost ratios to our customers. We will support our customers through this crisis and beyond, being creative, adapting our skills to help them quickly adapt to the new context. We will be agile, lean, and close to our customers. We will work with our customers to design our solutions together. We will make sure we recruit, motivate and retain the best and most committed talent, so our customers really enjoy and appreciate working with us.

Your final thoughts

These are terrible times for most of the people on Earth. Generations will remember this crisis for a century. Probably millions of people will die from the virus before the vaccine gets manufactured and distributed. Probably several more millions will die from hunger and stress and poverty caused by the economic aftermath. We entrepreneurs and startups have a special mission to accomplish here, with our creative momentum, with our skills and our resilience, we can do a lot to help the world come back to its feet, and we must help the world improve and run in a much better way. We have a mission, and that is to make this world a better place. Let’s do it.

We are a team of writers passionate about innovation and entrepreneur lifestyle. We are devoted to providing you the best insight into innovation trends and startups.

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