In search of creativity and growth, Inga left her career in finance after nine years as an investment banker and dived into the world of travel to craft a brand for the modern-day zeitgeist. Following a inspiring career change, Inga, co-founder and chief creative officer of COSI, recounts her journey and learnings.
The original discussion held with MYSELF magazine is published in German and translated to English on our website. To unravel the full story, we have extended Inga’s response, bringing details to life.
Q: What is the big idea?
We are disrupting the travel industry with digitally operated spaces aimed toward the travellers of today. Our technology solution enables a contactless journey with online check-in, digital keys, and a concierge via the guest's smartphone. Hidden beneath the iceberg, we employed artificial intelligence powered tools for tasks such as smart dynamic pricing.
Q: Why did you leave the financial sector for the travel industry?
After nine years as an investment banker in London, I was longing for more creativity. I joined iDiscover, an incredible human development program that gave me a lot of clarity. There I had the idea to study interior design. I did courses at night and on weekends while working—first interior design and then real estate. I thought the real estate background, together with finance, could help to bridge the gap between finance and design.
Q: What came next?
I searched for the perfect opportunity. Christian Gaiser, one of the four co-founders at COSI, is a good friend of mine for almost 10 years. When I told him that I was looking for something new, he brought me into the founding team.
Q: How many properties does COSI have in its portfolio?
At the moment we have eight properties in Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Prague, Leipzig, and Vienna, with many more to come.
Q: How has your working day changed?
I work both from home and fly to our headquarters in Berlin every week. I focus on all the creative aspects of the business, everything brand-related, including interior design, visuals, and written content, and how this translates into the guest experience. Together with a team of talented designers, I spend half of my time solving strategic and operational questions related to brand and the other half building meaningful external relationships or designing content such as graphic design and interior concepts. In my role, I touch the entire business & stakeholders.
Q: The current pandemic has hit the travel industry hard. What is your outlook on the market, and how did COSI respond?
The pandemic has taught us many things. In less than two weeks, we put our units up for mid-term rental (1 month or longer). The result was a 90% occupancy and cash flow during a period when many others have struggled. Mid-stay does reflect a lower rent than average, but with less operational intensity. Overall, this period has strengthened our internal processes and made us more resilient.
Q: Tell us one specific and very tangible example of a big challenge in your work as the co-founder of COSI that has brought you to the edge of your resilience and how you have mastered it then.
Realising our brand vision through interior design is our long-term goal. However, when we launch a location, we need to balance between investing upfront in design and allowing for healthy unit economics while giving room for new location growth. I know it will take time to fully realise our brand, but nevertheless, it can be very frustrating. For example, only 3 of our 8 properties today are on-brand. Dealing with these trade-offs and negotiating with our partners truly tests your resilience. However, one cannot lose sight of the bigger picture, and we need to build a flexible and economically healthy business.
Q: What motivates you in a situation like this where you have to be more resilient than ever?
You have to see the opportunities that come from a situation like COVID-19. Many operators are struggling because of high fixed costs, whereas our tech infrastructure facilitates cost-efficiency and automation. We see a significant long-term shift in both supply, with new real estate possibilities and better terms, together with increased demand for alternative accommodations like our model. The other two things that matter hugely is how the co-founders work together and motivate the rest of the company to keep going, and finally, you need to believe in the business. Or what is the point?
Q: Last but not least, share one piece of advice for all the female entrepreneurs, current and future.
Surround yourself with people who encourage you. I would also recommend listening to "How I built this" by Guy Raz, a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they build.