Alex Weinstein is an innovative entrepreneur and investor. Back in the late 90ies, he started his business in San Francisco, where he sold travel tickets to expat communities. Now Dyninno is a Group of Companies that operates products and services in the travel, finance, entertainment, and technology sectors in 50 markets.
Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Happy to be a part of the interview series! My story started over 20 years ago in San Francisco when I began working as a travel agent. To be completely honest — I just wanted to prove myself. I was a young immigrant, and I was hungry for success. So, everything started with two phones and a few ads — I purchased ads in local newspapers, sold flight tickets over the phone — whatever it took. From there on everything is history. Now, 18 years later, Dyninno is a group of companies, operating in 3 large, independent sectors — travel, fintech and entertech. We own travel agencies, talent networks and a few financial companies across the globe and employ over 3500 people worldwide.
You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
I think my start of outsourcing IT to Riga, Latvia — I started to look for software developers and agents outside of the United States. Generally, the idea and understanding that business can, and should be not only in one location was a big stepping stone for us. We expanded our talent pool and extended the global business footprint by expanding in Europe. That was a big thing.
What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?
There isn’t one — there are many of them. I am happy to have formed a team that helps local communities; our team is responsive and reactive to current affairs and the needs of local communities globally. We take responsibility to serve the underlooked and underserved — some of the recent initiatives include providing food baskets in rural schools in the Philippines, back in December we also initiated a humanitarian initiative to help the travel agents in Cebu, the Philippines after the typhoon. In India, we are continuously initiating humanitarian help for children living in slums. In Moldova, our team has worked with hospices and refugees. Latvian team has also significantly helped refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Actually, quite a number of our global offices have hired Ukrainian refugees since.
Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?
I like mistakes! Mistakes are needed. I am a big believer that mistakes make excellent learning opportunities. If you get things wrong, you have a chance to improve your skills. To me mistakes equal lessons. Just need to make sure that each time there is a lesson learnt, too.
From our experience — we made some mistakes setting up offices. For example, when choosing one of the locations, we’ve picked a provincial city over the capital — our decision was primarily based on cost. We focused on the budget, but in the end, didn’t achieve our objectives as the desired quality of talent ended up costing more than expected. So we ended up opening another location in a more expensive city.
How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?
I did not have mentors. I was always using my own path, not comparing myself to anyone. My parents were my mentors & my moral compasses. They encouraged me and did everything to develop my talents and abilities, and I am forever grateful for that.
Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?
Not after anyone. I learn about various leadership models and methods, but there is no person who I am copying. I can of course adapt some of the ways that some people do things, but there is no single person I fully copy and adapt. I fancy the idea of a transformational leadership style; I believe there is a better way to do everything. The world and the market change so fast — you cannot adopt anyone’s style. You can apply what others do to the real-time environment. Things, ideas, processes — everything can be improved. Not only my thoughts are like that — actually, one of our company values is continuous innovation; we always try to find more efficient and effective ways of doing business.
Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.
The way innovators solve their problems will help you solve yours.
Looking at innovators, entrepreneurs, and the market — all that observation can give great insights into what the market trends and opportunities are. By the end of the day, most companies are not inventing the wheel, but they all differ in the approach to how they solve their problems. Getting inspired by someone else can bring value to you and your business.
“9 women cannot give birth in 1 month”
Improving processes, planning and growing takes time. Otherwise said, the seeds you plant take time to mature and only that is done, you can scale. The trick is to plant those seeds & grow them in parallel without them conflicting and disturbing one another.
Focusing on your team = building a long term success.
Your team is your core asset. As you scale and grow, you will need more staff. Your relationship with the new employees will not be as close as with the first team members, but everyone must understand the importance of your business values. Your team members must be properly onboarded, engaged, and motivated.
Think of Google — the company is initiating a number of initiatives and employees are engaged in pro-bono activities for social causes. They offer a number of benefits ensuring that everyone is motivated and engaged. Once people are engaged, they are ready to realize themselves in the company rather than ‘looking elsewhere’ — engaged employees are more productive and committed to the organizations in which they work.
Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.
It is always an issue with starting entrepreneurs — everyone thinks they are the best and they are unwilling to delegate. Successful delegation allows you to hand over tasks to those with better skills, and this, in return, allows you to focus on the “bigger picture”. Passing off tasks will also allow you to reflect and develop growth strategies. So, it is a win-win — you allow other people to show their skills and competencies and reduce your workload so you can focus on other important business areas, like planning, business analytics, etc.
Think of Richard Branson, who believes that delegation is crucial to success and he is doing that very successfully. Probably one of his most-known quotes is — “it’s vital to the success of your business that you learn to hand off those things that you aren’t able to do well.”
Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results.
A good entrepreneur is made, once a number of little steps, that require focus and discipline, are made. And a good business doesn’t scale without perfecting internal processes & operations. Once this is functioning seamlessly, potential growth can be expected. Also, keep in mind that some of the systems and processes that work in a company at its beginning won’t work on a massive scale; restructuring will be of the essence. Think of Toyota: the company can be characterized by its philosophy that focuses on continuously improving the way the work is carried out. They constantly look for faults in the system/process and involve every worker in identifying and solving problems.
Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?
Not being able to find the balance between their limitation and appetite for risk. What I would suggest — do not be afraid to fail, but rather fail in “small steps”. Do lots of small steps, so if you make a mistake, the loss is not that hurtful.
Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?
A company has three directions it could take on its own culture — preserving it as is, strengthening it, or not worrying about it (yes, that happens..). We at Dyninno know our culture very well and had planned of strengthening the culture by only adding professionals that share our values. To do so, we make sure to test incoming candidates either during the interview or via a standardized test against our in-house cultural values and behaviors.
In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?
Well, I believe that culture is definitely one of such tools. Having one of the values as a Team is a Force it is a given that when growing, we do not crumble under our own size, but simply adopt the mindset of having a bigger team to work with. Knowing there is support from everywhere around makes us raise the bar even higher. Besides culture, we harness the power of IT and cloud solutions to create and communicate ambitious targets and expectations across the whole organization via the SAP SuccessFactors Performance Management module and some of our own in-house developed CRMs.
What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?
A quality onboarding process starts already before the actual candidate is hired — it starts at the stage of Job Design when outlining all deliverables, skills, knowledge, and functions a person should be performing. Taking this into consideration, a great onboarding would have to consist of a series of meetings, events, and training that would lead to a happy and engaged employee that would successfully pass the trial period. To achieve that we currently use JIRA while transitioning to the SAP SuccessFactors Onboarding module.
Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.
That’s a good question! Since I am a big believer in lifelong learning, I guess the movement would be related to learning. Perhaps something like learning from each other? People trying out new things & learning from each other?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My work & development can be followed on LinkedIn — Dyninno Group. I am not very active on social media and I do not run personal accounts. Perhaps worth considering changing that.
About the interviewer. Ken Babcock is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tango. Prior to his mission of celebrating how work is executed, Ken spent over 4 years at Uber riding the rollercoaster of a generational company. After gaining hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at Atomic VC, Ken went on to HBS. It was at HBS that Ken met his Co-Founders, Dan Giovacchini and Brian Shultz and they founded Tango.