Maximilian Lober founded the company Voila Travel GmbH together with Florian Stege. Their Voya app works like a smart, personal travel assistant and aims to break into the market for business travel bookings. We asked how things were going.
Mr. Lober, the travel market is already overflowing with products. Does it really need a new one?
That’s a cliché that comes from the consumer market. It’s a different story with business travel, where nothing much has happened over the last 15 years. That’s why we were quick to receive a great deal of encouragement and interest in our service after our official launch in April 2016. We’ve built on that and have extended our partner network. With our product apparently being so well received, people are frequently recommending us to others.
What do people like about Voya?
Nobody wants to spend their Friday evening planning a business trip for a last-minute meeting the following week and have to laboriously sift through hundreds of thousands of options. Our app saves travelers this hassle. Time, flexibility, and therefore money will once again play a more important role in future – and that is where our very individual approach fits in so well.
How did you go about founding the company?
After presenting our concept, it only took a month for a group of business angels to make the initial investment, because they were quick to recognize how much potential our ideas had. Then, after founding the company, we gave ourselves some time. We disappeared off the radar for five months because we wanted to enter the market with a product that worked properly.
How long did you wait until the market launch?
First, we needed a working prototype to receive money from the investors. Once we had that, we used those five months to carry out a “hands on”
, the customers, and their requirements. During this process, we tested Voya’s features on the different kinds of devices – smartphones, tablets, and computers – that our customers would be using. What’s more, we processed bookings from day one. So by the time we officially launched, we already had 500 customers who had flown with the app. analysis of the market
What do you do differently from your competitors?
Once a customer has created a profile, he or she can make a booking in seconds. Our developers put an immense amount of work into the technology behind this process – and that’s our greatest strength. We work with Human Assisted Artificial Intelligence – in other words, our employees train our software every day. They consider how a perfect customer service tool for business travel might look and set it up accordingly. The longer we do this, the better the suggestions become and, as a result, the better the communication is with customers. At the same time, in our team we count on the experience of people who’ve been in the travel business for years. Users who have tried our service and confirmed their first booking in just a few clicks on their smartphones have told us that this kind of service and speed has, up to now, been missing on the market. What’s more, they appear to love the fact that we respond to their requests for improvements and are therefore close to them as customers.
Where does Voya need to improve?
Alongside my day-to-day work as managing director, I like to stay close to the business by regularly dealing with customer requests. That helps me to obtain direct feedback and discover approaches with which we can make further improvements to our service – in other words, to become more precise, more convenient, and more straightforward, step-by-step. This can sometimes be frustrating, for example, if we have to rely on another company after 6 pm, can’t reach anyone, and therefore aren’t able to provide the best service on our site. This is something we need to work on with our partners. There’s a further issue we sometimes struggle with, too: while many of the processes and solutions in the travel industry have been tested millions of times, they were essentially developed over 20 years ago. We are often faced with the difficult decision about whether to take an existing solution that isn’t as good and then build something around it, or whether to do something
, which, on the other hand, would cost a lot of time and money. completely new
Stressful situations often cause conflicts. How do you settle these within your team?
We have a rule that doesn’t only apply within the company, but outside it as well: the focus has to be on communication rather than confrontation. We communicate in an honest, transparent, and direct manner, and that often prevents conflicts arising in the first place. At the same time, I find it incredibly important that people can voice their opinions. For me it doesn’t matter how much experience a person has or how long they have been working at the company.
What would you like to achieve with Voya over the next five years?
We want companies and their employees to see us as the most digital and most straightforward provider for booking business trips. Hearing someone say “I use five different apps during my trip, book through our office management, and phone the airline to cancel flights,” will hopefully be a thing of the past.
Image credits: istock/michaeljung, istock/xijian