Global Success

The Business Leader Series: The Luxe Nomad's Stephanie Chai

Posted 12 October 2016 | BY Sansan

The Luxe Nomad is Asia-Pacific’s leading online villa and hotel booking agency, offering clients a carefully curated selection of luxury villas and hotels in Asia and beyond. Launched in 2012 with a team of just three, the site now lists over 1,200 villas in 12 countries, with new properties added daily.

Currently based in Hong Kong, founder and CEO Stephanie Chai now has about 10 full-time employees – all women – with several contracted workers as well. Here she talks about the challenges of running this unique business.

What are some of the challenges your company faces and how do you solve them?

Chai: For any company, finding the right talent is a challenge. For small companies such as ours, sometimes the senior management comprises just one or two people who are so busy trying to do everything that they don’t have the luxury to sit down and create a perfect HR system. It’s definitely a growing pain but something I have seen improve year after year, getting better as the company grows and strengthens.

A second challenge is being an online company that competes in the global market. Compared to American companies that have access to millions of dollars to go global – such as Uber and Airbnb – it’s difficult for a small company in Asia, where it's harder to fundraise and be internationally competitive.

One way we overcame this was to focus on our niche, which is luxury travel, instead of attempting to compete in the mass market. We have been more strategic with our costing and expensing. For example, we maintain some of our operations in Malaysia, where it’s much more affordable, where quality talent is available and where English is widely spoken. It really comes down to thinking outside the box, and while some might be see it as a challenge, we see it as an opportunity.

How do you network or build new relationships for your business?

Chai: Having come from the fashion and television industries, I have witnessed countless models and celebrities trying to get ahead through pushy networking. I try to be contradictory to that, and never go out socially with the intention of networking. I don’t want to give off the impression that I’m just looking for people I can benefit from. At The Luxe Nomad, our mentality has always been to help others and, because we have this attitude, we have had others help us in return. We like to help smaller companies that reach out to us, even if a cross-promotion doesn’t benefit us to the same degree as it does them. We never forget that we're all small fish in a sea of big fish and we like helping good people who are doing something great.

One strategy I use is to reach out to people through LinkedIn. Even if they are the CEO or high-level executive within a company, there’s no harm in touching base because sometimes they do reply. Secondly, I post on Facebook to see if anyone I know works for a brand I need to contact – you never know who your acquaintances might be able to put you in touch with, unless you ask.

How would you prefer someone to reach out to you?

Chai: It’s easiest to get in touch with me through LinkedIn or Facebook Messenger, but I don’t have a particular preference.

What is your most effective tip for increasing the sales of your service?

Chai: My most effective sales tip is to be friendly and positive and to never oversell. It’s also important to respond quickly and thoroughly. Put a little intelligence and flair into your answer, have some common sense and be personable.

What is your most effective tip for improving your own productivity?

Chai: My most effective tip is to delegate more and avoid micro-managing.

What do you think about a business card management service such as Sansan?

Chai: In our increasingly online world, I think it’s about time someone invented a way to make business cards digital, and Sansan is doing just that – effectively.