Interview with Martin Ratolistka, VP of Booking Fulfillment
Our VP of Booking Fulfillment, Martin Ratolistka is one of the first employees ever at Kiwi.com. Now, nine years later, in his current role, his mission is to secure the smoothest processing of the customer’s orders and ensure we always book the cheapest possible price, thus making travel more accessible to everyone. “I am surrounded in this effort by many tireless passionate hackers keeping the company alive 24/7 and that’s why I love it,” mentioned Martin.
Read on to learn more about his career growth, challenges and successes, incredible memories, his team and responsibilities, priorities for the next months and years, and much more.
Hi Martin, would you like to tell us a bit about your career journey with us?
How did it all begin for me? In 2013, I went out for a beer with a totally random guy named Oliver, today’s CEO of Kiwi.com, and we talked about his new company for selling flight tickets online. It was his fifth company in a row, I think.. As a part-time job during my studies, he offered me to take care of a travel blog akcniletenky.cz, one of the marketing channels for Skypicker at that time.
After a few months, when I failed in turning akcniletenky.cz into something awesome, I was expecting Oliver to fire me. Instead, he offered me to join Zdenek Komenda, previous Head of Business Development to establish a new Business Development team in Skypicker, which was at that time, already comprising around twenty people. In the beginning, I sent out thousands of emails without any response, trying to persuade airline representatives to work with us. I felt like Don Quixote (laugh), but after a few months of attending various industry events and handing out thousands of business cards, the personal networking started to bear fruit and we managed to secure our first direct airline partnerships.
The sudden need for integration of the negotiated airlines’ API connections and data feeds into our systems brought me closer to our engineering folks. As a result, we started Data Acquisition and Automation teams in 2015 with the goal of streamlining the flight content processing. On top of that, as the company was growing like crazy and the servicing of our customers was becoming the main bottleneck, we felt more and more a need for continuous improvement of our Customer Support or CS team, with better processes and tools. Therefore, we established a CS Systems engineering team with Michal Knazsky in 2018 and launched our own CRM/ticketing system called Balkan. And this is where I am today, making travel more accessible to everyone.
You have been at Kiwi.com almost since the beginning. What are some of the most amazing memories you have about working here?
There are plenty of experiences I will never forget and especially our beginnings in the Business Development area, they were a non-stop rollercoaster ride. For example, once we were in a hurry for an important meeting with EasyJet in London and we missed the evening flight from Vienna, Austria, by the way, operated by EasyJet. We had to take a night bus to Bratislava in Slovakia, to fly Ryanair to London at 3.00 am. Also running late for the train to the city center and then taking a cab to the wrong place, to the former headquarters of EasyJet, finally arriving five minutes before the meeting after eleven hours of non-stop travel! And I have stories like this from our business trips to the U.S., Indonesia, Colombia, Iceland, and Singapore, … but for that, we would need a beer or two! 🙂
What was the most difficult thing to overcome while growing your career that rapidly?
For me personally, it was two things: to significantly speed up my decision-making process, because everything is changing super fast with no time for getting all the data you need and because a bad decision might be often better than no decision. The second thing was to realize that all great people around me will actually manage the situation much better than myself, therefore making myself indispensable is the key to success.
How important to you is combining work and family?
In our startup beginnings, it was nearly impossible to achieve work-life balance, because the company was so fragile that every single step we took had to be done immediately and was a question of survival. Nowadays, with all the great teams we have, with all the automated alerting and on-call duties, it is much easier for me to, you know, sometimes even have a weekend. 🙂
How have you built trust and continued to maintain it among your colleagues?
I never thought about it like this. I am always trying to do what I believe is the right thing to do, balancing the needs of our customers, my colleagues, the company itself and all the other stakeholders. I value openness, courage and selflessness. I do not bullshit or sugar-coat things.
Could you share with us some of the biggest priorities for Order Processing in the year ahead?
We are constantly working on our ability to book all worldwide transportation content for our customers for the cheapest price possible. We do it by increasing the automation rate, integrating alternative booking channels and payment methods, decreasing payment-related fees and streamlining the booking process as much as possible.
One of the exciting projects we are currently working on, is an integration of the Camunda Cloud workflow engine which will enable us to transform our whole backend architecture into a process-oriented one with full control over all the running process instances, and much faster handling of any changes we need to perform. Long story short, it will make us more flexible and resilient.
How would a member of the Order Processing team help with these priorities?
We are looking for people who are willing to constantly learn and improve and are passionate about tech innovation, automation techniques, and process mining. Anyone with interest and skill in these areas will help us to move forward in building the ultimate travel booking platform.
The travel industry is still fighting with the COVID-19 pandemic and in Kiwi.com we have needed to reshape our plans many times since it began. What are you most proud of when it comes to the pandemic fight and the Kiwi team?
It was the most difficult time in the history of the company for all of us. What I am most proud of is the fact we managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic without any forced layoffs compared to many other companies within the travel industry.
Where do you see Kiwi.com after the pandemic?
On a bumpy road towards becoming a synonym for travel the same way as Google for online search or Amazon for shopping.
What do you love the most about working at Kiwi.com nowadays?
What I love about Kiwi.com is that despite all the difficulties we went through together during the past months and years, still the majority of the great people I work with are passionate about what they do and still believe in the great future of our company, working every day to make travel better for all our customers.
And the last question, in your opinion, what kind of person is a Kiwi person?
Enthusiastic, curious, and hard-working team player with a passion for technology and innovation.