Kafkadesk is a proud partner of the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit, organised by Polish-American Women Entrepreneurs and Cultural Vistas, that will take place on October 17 in New York City. By bringing together 350 business leaders, innovators, changemakers and entrepreneurs from across the USA, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Germany, the exciting new initiative promises to be the largest and most important summit of its kind.
We had the chance to speak with Czech entrepreneur Ivana Hronová, co-founder of Travel a la Carte, an AI-based travel agent all in one travel app, who will be speaking at the event about her experience starting and scaling up a business.
You are the co-founder and CEO of Travel a la Carte, as well as the founder of Arta&Design, a digital agency providing digital marketing advisory and services. Could you tell us a bit about what motivated you and how you got started?
After not being able to complete my studies, I left school and I didn’t have idea of the direction I wanted to take my career. After traveling some bit, I saw a gap in the market with at the same time quite a big demand for digital marketing and website development. I started Arta&Design providing services to other companies in marketing before transforming it into a proper marketing company, designing campaigns, billboards and websites, as well furniture. Currently, my sister is overlooking this project as I focus my full attention now on a second project of mine: Travel a la Carte.
Tell us more about that second project of yours.
Travel a la Carte came up as a sudden idea. I used to travel a lot and always found myself in trouble, so I imagined an app that would help me with everything while travelling alone. It was just an idea, like a stone you throw to the sea and make a wish, it was really only with my co-founders Kim Najman and Olga Grillova, and the team that it started to shape into something more concrete.
What were the first challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
There were a lot of challenges and still are. I would say that in order to win, it is really important to learn how to lose, and I think I have become a great loser! We develop in discomfort. You must try and if you fail try again but better.
The notion of ‘winning’ and ‘success’ has arguably changed meaning in recent years. How would you personally define ‘success’?
I would say that everyone sees in success something different. For me, success is growth and personal calm and happiness. It is great that something you are putting your energy into is growing under your hands and you have a happy team around you.
Figures show that still today discrimination poses a major hurdle to women who seek business funding. What are according to you the main challenges women entrepreneurs face?
To be honest, in this past year, I have seen more positive feedbacks from women who seek business funding than ever before. There are more and more funds supporting woman in business… as well as funds supporting just business! I can’t imagine seeing a fund supporting only men… that would be discrimination! So even though there are still some inequalities in the work places between men and women that we have to work on, with salaries, for example, on the side of funding, especially in New York, there is a really big improvement.
Would you say these challenges are more prominent in the start-up industries? Has it changed in recent years? Why is that?
I think so, because you have a lot of young founders, not that experienced who have to face situations and lead a company, which is something they have never done before. Sometimes, we even don’t even know what we are doing. There is no experienced manager above us who we could ask for help or to correct what we have done, we have to do it and take decisions, even if sometimes we are not sure about the outcome. But that is how we learn. I think we learn much faster than in corporate companies. We succeed or feel the failure on our own skin. There is no one else who would take the responsibility for us. Failing is much more bitter, overcoming challenges much sweeter…
How would you compare the start-up ecosystems in the USA and in your native Czech Republic? In what ways can the two countries learn from one another?
These two countries are really different in business, at least in what I was able to experience. The Czech Republic is such a smaller market than the USA, there is less competition then in the Sates, but less opportunities as well. The startup scene is much smaller and not that developed as it is here in the USA, where there are so many VCs, startup events, incubators … a whole ecosystem. We are not at this level in the Czech Republic, nor in Europe, but we will get there, hopefully. What is unfortunately different as well are the prices. It is so expensive for us to do business in the States. The opportunities are huge but you have to pay for it. This is what is beautiful about Prague. We have a great tech background, life is affordable at good prices, same as labour. It is in Central Europe, so close to all countries around us, which is a great place for products like our B2C travel app.
You’ve also lived in Shanghai. How would you describe your professional experience there? What can we learn from China?
Shanghai was a great experience, I was there mainly to open our branch and slowly launch our app on the Chinese market. I had a business opportunity to try to design and create furniture with designers hired in Prague. We tested it out with one Chinese company in Shanghai and they liked our designs so much that we started cooperating and we will be launching these new products in mid-November in China.
What can we learn from China?
It is completely different than the USA or Europe, everything is in Chinese. For some Chinese, Shanghai is not even really considered as “real” China as it is very international. But I feel there are a lot of opportunities for us in China and Asia. I would also however say that it is one of the most unpredictable markets.
The Czech Republic boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and highest job vacancy rate, but businesses face increasing difficulties to find applicants to fill open positions, especially ICT (information and communication technology) positions. Do you ever see yourself going back?
Filling ICT positions at this time is really difficult, we started some cooperation with tech universities which we think will help us regarding this. I am actually now present in the Czech Republic as I need to take care of our team there and administration as we just launched on European market after a long break, where we were dealing with legislation of EU. I would like to come back to the States, maybe full time, hopefully in 2020. We will see how it goes on the European market.
What advice would you give aspiring women entrepreneurs from the Czech Republic and Central Europe? What words of caution?
Hmmm… Maybe be open to any opportunity that comes to you, there is not only one way to get where you would like to be and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, especially in the States. You cannot be shy. I find Americans unbelievably good at asking for what they want. And if you don’t ask, someone will do before you!
Ivana Hronová will be speaking at the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit on October 17 in New York. Tickets are on sale here. Don’t forget to check out Arta&Design and Travel a la Carte online to learn more about Ivana Hronová’s projects.