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S2 Ep 4: Fritz Demopoulos – Life after Qunar & the future with sci-fi and technology

Even as a young boy growing up in California, Fritz Demopoulos thought like an entrepreneur, finding a way to make money from distributing flyers. That lesson in distribution may have been what started him on his journey towards building China’s first travel search engine, Qunar, with his two co-founders. And that wasn’t even their first startup together. Their exit in 2011 to Baidu drew attention to China’s travel market.

In this episode:

Can you recall a mistake made in those early days of Qunar?

“Yeah, innumerable mistakes. I mean, we're almost lucky we survived. But probably the biggest mistake that I think relates to both execution and strategy was, broadly speaking, we didn't value human resources as much as we should have. We didn't think about strategic people management from a top level. We didn't put as much emphasis on it, we were kind of like, ‘Nah, human resources…’ it's almost an annoyance, we just gotta somehow navigate. However, looking back, had we maybe spent more time thinking very carefully about our people resources – from recruitment, to retention, to smart compensation strategies – I think that would have solved a lot of problems that we faced later.”

Reason for starting venture capital firm, Queen’s Road Capital

“We want(ed) to follow our own path. Broadly speaking, I think that if you follow your own path, you can make your own decisions. Yes, we want to be challenged, and sometimes being part of a larger vehicle, you're challenged and you can learn, which is amazing. I do have an affiliate relationship, I guess you could say. But at some institutions, there's a lot of give and take and learning. I guess you're suggesting, why didn't I join a venture fund? Yeah, some of these funds, they have a very specific mandate – their limited partners require them to just focus on China, just focus on Southeast Asia. There's this geographic boundary that many of these funds have to operate within and you know, that's just how the game works. I kind of felt I wanted to do more than that. For example, I wanted to go to Berlin and explore some interesting companies there, and obviously, we know Get Your Guide is an amazing company and I'm one of the first investors in that firm. Had I been part of a fund with those geographic boundaries, I don't think I ever would have had that opportunity to invest in that company. So, we want to try different things and carve out our own path.”

Life as an investor or entrepreneur – which do you prefer?

"Well, I certainly miss the specific mission that one has running a business. That's just amazing and exhilarating, and the wide variety of things that you do when you're running your own company – from dealing with investors, to recruiting staff, to managing the daily or weekly team meetings, to solving all sorts of interesting problems to securing deals – just the wide array of things that we do, I miss that. And of course, underlying that mission of we're trying to really do something amazing. So I certainly miss that. However, as an investor, we get the benefit of, you could say, perspective. We're higher up in the atmosphere, we can see more things, we can get exposure to more things and so we get a bit more variety from that perspective, although we're not the captain of the ship. So, that's the trade-off."

On sci-fi and technology

In recent years, (science fiction projects) dystopian versions of the future. I guess that's the flavour of the month, really? Or flavour of the year? You know, before Star Wars, a lot of people thought the future would be a very clean, organised rows and columns environment. Star Trek, it's very clean, right?... like Isaac Asimov once said, science fiction is a description of humanity's reaction to technology. So, maybe some of the writers feel ,and of course many of us do feel that, maybe humanity's reaction to technology is slightly negative, ie dystopian, right? With the targeting that the internet companies do against us, and data privacy and some of these other things, you can see how there are some big concerns.

Should there be a day that extra-terrestrial life visits us, what’s the one place on Earth that you’d tell them is a must-see?

“Amazing question. I think some place that is a reflection of humanity and our values – man or womankind, however you want to describe it. So it could be for example, the Parthenon in ancient Greece, because the Greeks were the first society to really say, ‘Hey, you know, all these ethereal gods, they have faults just like humans do.’ It's essentially indirectly elevating humans and, of course, being the birthplace of democracy, I think that might be one cool place. Or it could be fast forward a few hundred years or a few I guess 1000 years to Leonardo da Vinci's workshop in ancient Florence, which is a similar trend. The Renaissance was about capturing what the ancient Greeks had captured, in humanity being the centre of that, and the value of life and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci being like an amazing renaissance man, that might be interesting. Or it could be maybe Runnymede in the UK where they signed the Magna Carta. Again, (it’s) about no one person can break the law. Even the king has to follow the law, or we're going to chop off his head. So, that might be an amazing place to show. Or it could be, the Monty Python workshop, maybe, that might be another [laughs]. I guess we want to take things seriously, but we don't want to take ourselves too seriously.”

Note: This interview was recorded in the early part of the year, when Fritz and his family were planning a skiing vacation. Then chaos broke out with the coronavirus pandemic. Fritz says he’s enjoyed spending time at home for a change. The pandemic is certainly a good time to think about travel in a different light and tech investments which he’s focused on. Like a true entrepreneur, he sees opportunities in crisis and there will be new breakout sectors post-Covid-19. Given the closure of borders and the uncertainty of travel in the near future, he thinks it’s also a good time to explore Hong Kong and be a domestic traveller for now.

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This season is brought to you by Expedia Group – Bringing the world within reach.



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