IFE Welcomes Alumnus Guk Kim, COO of lastminute.com

On April 5, 2022, Professor Michèle Favorite and the Institute for Entrepreneurship hosted alumnus Guk Kim, for a talk called “Leading Growth in Online Travel.” Kim graduated from John Cabot University in 2009, with a B.A. in Business Administration. He is currently Chief Operating Officer of lastminute.com.

Guk Kim

Guk Kim

Kim began his presentation by introducing his career background. Between 2005 and 2014, he founded and managed three technology companies that were later acquired. Between 2014 and 2017, he served as General Manager for one of the acquiring companies and for Citymapper, a London-based company. Kim joined the lastminute.com Group as Chief Growth Officer in 2017.

Founded in Milan, lastminute.com became a startup in 2004 and was originally a very simple website where users could compare flight prices and book tickets. The company grew organically and in 2012 was acquired by Rumbo, which doubled the startup’s size overnight. After the company had its best year of sales in 2019, the CEO of lastminute.com took over 1,000 employees on a celebratory trip to Ibiza. The CEO knew that this was a good investment to build company culture and motivate employees.

In 2019, their systems were receiving only 100 requests per day for cancellations that could easily be accommodated by live customer service agents. After Covid hit, cancellations started piling in due to travel restrictions, and thus what Kim called the “painful process” of handling cancellations began. After restrictions eased, the company quickly rebounded and is currently back up to par with its pre-pandemic performance. Kim said that this success can be attributed to the amount of money that the company invested in branding and marketing in the past.

Having founded his own startup companies at a young age, Kim is an expert on how to build a successful business and offered useful advice to students. He said that experimentation is paramount to creating a successful company because it allows you to evaluate what is working and what is not. Kim also said that it is okay to look elsewhere to see what successful businesses are doing. Copying “is not bad” however, “you need to learn how to copy properly,” he said. Kim emphasized that it is important to not just be a “follower” of a successful business path but to rather find inspiration and create your own trend from it.

Another aspect of building a successful startup is what Kim called the “50 shades of dangerous,” a term he developed that refers to the idea that sometimes “we need to do things a bit out of line, so it is important to be bold in what you do.” In order to have growth rates, “you must try things that are not common.” Kim said that the “best ideas are the ones that sound crazy at the beginning, then they start to not sound so crazy.”

Kim said that there is a lot of literature to help you start a company. He said to “focus on the company 100%,” because if you focus too much on multiple things at once you can lose sight of your main goal. Kim also urged students to take the Business Communications course, as he recalled how much this class helped him arrive at the position he is in today. As a corporate executive, Kim said that having people in the company who know how to communicate is essential. He currently sends potential candidates a 150-page document to be synthesized in order to judge their ability to communicate. He explained, “sometimes I do not even look at the document because I see simple mistakes.” Kim emphasized that even if the content is good, low skim value will not cut it. Skim value is a term used in Business Communications to describe how easily a document can be understood without reading it entirely.

Kim’s dream is to own a “unicorn,” or a business that has generated over a billion euros. He urged students, however, to “not work for the money, work for success and making an impact, money will always follow success.” Kim said, “my invitation to you is to launch a startup now while you are young,” because it is much harder to quit a career and start from scratch with no resources later in life. Kim also explained that investors are now more than ever willing to give money to startups, so there are many opportunities out there.