The world is full of successful CEOs, innovative entrepreneurs, and risk-taking business owners, but every person follows their own path to the top. Welcome to How to Succeed, our monthly interview column in which we pick the brains of industry leaders to find out how they got to where they are today.
If you work at senior level in some of the top hotels in Bangkok, or spend a lot of time in them or analysing them, chances are you probably will have come across Wimintra Raj. Under the banner of her company, WIMINTRA Company Limited, of which she is managing director, her world is linked to the hotel business in more ways than one. Having developed an acute understanding of good service and also studied fashion and dressmaking, she has for some time been making uniforms for big hotel names like Anantara, Hyatt Regency and most recently Rosewood Bangkok.
On top of that, she also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hotelintel.co, a comprehensive and international online publication that captures hotel intelligence, for hoteliers and informed travellers looking for information that goes far beyond a google review. Indeed, it’s information for the experts, and many consider it to be a hotel bible, of sorts. Wimintra is your classic example of a Thai female entrepreneur carving her own way in this chaotic world. Find out how she has succeeded thus far in this exclusive interview.
All pictures taken at Shama Lakeview Asoke.
I think it really started to grow on me while I was working on a human trafficking project with my then boyfriend, now husband, and we got to stay in a lot of places from 5-star hotels and villas, to no-star places with no TV all over Southeast Asia. I remember starting a Facebook album titled ‘Collection of hotels’ and telling him that one day I would be doing something in relation to this album. I didn’t know exactly what, but I knew it would be something.
I started out by doing the uniforms for my friend’s restaurant around the same time that I was leaving my job so I thought I could make a career out of that. I love white shirts and always wear them to work, and I studied all kinds of materials. This friend of mine asked if I could make shirts for his staff so I agreed, and that’s how my uniform business started really. I went to a fashion design school to learn how to draw, and later I attended pattern-making classes and dressmaking classes and so on so that I could know what I’m doing and know what I’m talking about.
The next step was looking for a place to promote my uniforms. I came across this one website and wanted to buy an ad. The business owner suggested I come and write for them in return for getting exposure to hotels, and that’s how I became their editor-in-chief. I loved writing and I’d always been writing my own blogs, but to have that position was huge. But after a while I found I wasn’t selling any uniforms because I was so in love with hotels. Later, I left and I started my own website, Hotelintel.co.
I keep people informed and help them to make connections – hoteliers and suppliers, customers and hotels – in short, I bring good people together. I also provide a focal point for sharing ideas, promoting best practice, exposing problems, and uncovering solutions. The people in this industry tend to be passionate about what they do, and they love to read about themselves just as much as they love to find out what everyone is doing and how they cope with challenges.
I believe that there were many B2B2C publications in the industry but I would say none in Thailand at all. You would get many B2C publications both online and offline – hotel reviews, where to go, what to do – but never something like how safe is it if I stay in this place considering their food and safety policy, or how can I benefit from their loyalty programmes, or why service at this place is better for your children than at others, or how your food can actually help local communities, and how your hotel is managing food wastage. We want to share hotels’ activities that will affect guests or community life as well.
Like I said, it had always been about hotels, the physical buildings, but it has never been about the people behind them, how they work, how companies take care of them. You can look at a hotel but you never think why it was built this way, or why the entrance has to be this way, so we want to share that there are some interesting reasons behind things like that, such as the owners believing in Feng Shui, or that being the only way they could get the government to approve it, or sometimes company policy taking over. This is why it’s not just a B2B but B2B2C because customers can learn some interesting things too.
I could never work in an office, nor would I want to. I always wanted to run my own business so I never really had much choice but to go for it and make it work.
I don’t think we made any money at all at the beginning. The only growth we had was in pure connections and branding. I would go everywhere – hotels, events and conferences as an attendee. I made enough connections that it became easy for me to approach people for an interview, write it up, and ask them to introduce me to more people. My network became my asset, even more important than making money. The network and connections have been everything.
Self-doubt. I was 25. I didn’t know anything. One minute I was full-on, fired with passion, and the next I’d be questioning why I was doing this. Will this work? Will I become rich and happy? You have all these questions and there would be people telling you that most start-up companies fail in the first year. It does your head in and once you start questioning yourself, you keep flipping between ‘Yes, I can do this’ and ‘No, I can’t do this’ – it’s horrible.
People in the industry. I owe it to the industry. When I started it, I was a kid, nobody knew who I was. I told them this is what I do, and they helped me. They didn’t need to.
It definitely gets better with age. The content is better defined now than it was when I started. We have weekly and monthly sections, special features, etc. In the beginning it was just whatever content I could get my hands on because I’d never been in publishing or media so I didn’t know how it worked. I wanted to build a website and I just did. Then it’s a natural process of refinement as you become older and wiser.
The latest project is the launch of our new interview series. Instead of interviewing people inside the industry, who all share the same knowledge and passion, I’m going outside the industry to interview people who stay in hotels a lot because of their occupation: F1 drivers, CEOs, business owners, athletes, and so on. That gives the industry a chance to hear what their customers want, as well as some insights into lifestyles that can be quite different.
A shortage of quality staff. We have staff – but those staff have so many choices available to them today, they can go anywhere anytime. The opportunities in hospitality can be fantastic, but they demand more advanced skillsets than ever before, so hotels are competing with other industries for the best talent. Hotels need to develop and retain their staff. Everyone who works in hospitality should have a knack for customer service – that’s obvious – but we should also teach them other skills so they can do more and there will be room for them to grow.
Run my uniform business.
The uniform business is doing well but I can always do more [laughs]. We have been working with Anantara since the beginning of our company especially Anantara Chiang Mai which we did a fashion show for a few months ago. I love that hotel and I love how we work together as a team. A few years ago we helped them dress the staff for the opening of 1921. We did Charcoal for SOHO hospitality that was one of my very first clients and they have brought me more clients from there.We have worked with Shama Lakeview Asoke, Aloft, Anantara Sathorn, Amari, Hyatt Regency, Renaissance Pattaya We did accessories for the newly opened Rosewood Bangkok which for us, is a great opportunity to showcase something out of the ordinary. Handmade ties and bowties, top-class material, but most of all the team there has been very professional. We have been blessed with amazing clients.
I’ve learned that I used to take things very personally because work is all I have. I can’t go find another job at this age! So, if I get a ‘No’ for an answer I’m very hard on myself! But as I’ve grown. I’ve begun to take it less personally. It’s not always about me. Or because I’m a woman or because I don’t have the right last name. Sometimes it’s simply just because my product or service is just not for them. And I have to improve on that.
I used to have people telling me that they couldn’t use my company for uniforms or give interviews to Hotelintel because I’m a nobody. So, I had to accept it and work hard to get that acceptance! You can’t blame them for not using you because you are a nobody. It’s your job get yourself out of that situation.
First of all, I do a few things. I have Hotelintel.co and my role in that is editor-in-chief and managing director. I happen to enjoy writing and interviewing people but my degree isn’t in journalism so I wouldn’t call myself a journalist because that would be disrespectful to them. I also have a company that does uniforms. I did some design classes, fashion drawing, and dressmaking and pattern-making classes but I wouldn’t call myself a designer either. I have a great team of people who work with me and my role is to make things happen. So, for someone who wants to do what I do, which I think is being an ‘entrepreneur’, the secret is to never doubt yourself (within reason of course) and always be willing to learn. I didn’t need to learn how to make a dress but I did have to learn how to explain it to my clients, and then communicate to my team better.
If you want something bad enough, you will get it. You will find a way, you will start seeing opportunities, and surprisingly people will start helping you. Whether it’s publishing, media, fashion or whatever you want to do, just go and do it. But, first, know exactly what you really want in life. See the bigger picture and then work your way there. And be careful when you listen carefully to advice. Not all advice is good advice.