Inspirational Woman: Vivi Cahyadi Himmel | CEO & Co-Founder, AltoVita

Vivi Cahyadi HimmelVivi Cahyadi Himmel is the CEO and Co-Founder of AltoVita and is in charge of the company’s overall strategy, technology development, sales, marketing, and investor relations.

She has lived in over 11 cities, including New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London, and has a background in Corporate Finance and Strategy & Management.

After relocating for her roles at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers, Vivi became aware of the challenges of relocating and launched AltoVita with co-founder Karolina Saviova in 2018 to disrupt legacy practices in corporate housing by bringing forward a technology-first solution paired by duty of care. Vivi is listed on the 2021 Global Mobility Top 100.

Outside of AltoVita, Vivi is an angel investor and a Limited Partner in several venture capital funds in the UK. She is an accomplished pianist and enjoys skiing, hiking, tennis and wine tasting.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My journey so far has seen me live and work across the globe. I was born in Solo, Indonesia (to second generation Chinese parents) and have since lived in 11 cities across Europe, Asia, Australia and the US.

I started my career in investment banking, and then spent eight years working in real estate portfolio management. Here I was often dealing with complex commercial and industrial assets. Naturally, I was drawn to the sexy residential asset-class with a hospitality element. Having had to juggle large balance and capital risks, I loved the notion of an asset-light model.

From my perspective, the idea of AltoVita was born from a combination of love for hospitality and pragmatic thinking towards asset-light and minimal balance sheet exposure, as well as leveraging technology to scale fast in the flexible rental market. My co-founder Karolina Saviova and I launched the prototype for AltoVita in January 2018, and soon after we found our product market fit within the inefficient £100bn corporate accommodation sector. We decided to first attack global mobility because of our first-hand experience in the challenges with company-sponsored moves and our nomadic work lifestyle.

As a CEO of AltoVita, my role lies in 5 key areas that aim to deliver accelerated growth to the company: recruiting talent, selling AltoVita products, fundraising, driving the company and product strategy and building an ecosystem of customers, investors and product influencers.

Today, AltoVita has high-profile clients including the US Federal Agency, world’s leading consumer brands: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Google, Shopify and Wayfair as well as leading Relocation Management Companies, commonly known as “RMCs”: Sirva, Cartus, Aires, WHR Group, and NEI Relocation.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The simple answer is no. I don’t think many people do sit down to plan their careers, I see it more as a case of chasing your vision and turning your passion into a job that you love. I was always compelled to learn about different cultures, languages and anthropology.

While I was growing up, my parents shared their entrepreneurial work and they travelled together regularly. They often took the whole family on their business travels. ‘Bleisure’ has been a concept for my family for as long as I can remember!

When I was 12, they initiated a ‘big travel event’ by sending me to boarding school in Perth, Australia. This experience sparked my sequential curiosity in history and anthropologies of different cultures and languages.

This is now something that is at the core of AltoVita. Karolina and I have used our own experiences to create a technology which serves over 1,200 cities across the world and amalgamated a diverse and global team that speaks 15 languages and comes from 20 countries.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The main challenge I faced as an entrepreneur was having a clear vision for revolutionising the corporate accommodation sector, but no experience of how to run a technology company. I had to learn everything from scratch.

My advice for fellow founders would be to surround yourself with people who you admire. Learn and deep dive into specific subjects too, whether that’s product management, product market fit, fundraising, scaling-up or leadership.

An example of this is when I took coding classes to learn more about the complex technical details behind our platform. Not only did this massively improve my own understanding, but it’s allowed me to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with AltoVita’s talented tech team.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is that my career path has allowed me to adventure the world, make linguistic anthropological observations, and continuously nurture my creativity. Solving problems and embracing new ideas while traveling is what strengthens a person’s creativity. This is something that I believe is also vital for a successful startup.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

It may seem extreme, but my mountain trekking exhibitions taught me that preparation can sometimes be the difference between life and death. It started when a college friend asked me to hike up and climb the Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, back in 2008. Because of my lack of experience, I climbed up with running shoes and was unprepared for what I was about to face. After slipping multiple times, I finally made it to the top but it taught me the value of preparation, something which I’ve since applied to my working life too.

Beyond the obvious myriad of lessons learnt from mountain climbing, being prepared, overcoming fear and assessing and mitigating risks is what attracted me to mountain climbing. Subsequently, I’ve challenged myself to conquer a different mountain each year,

Mount Kilimanjaro, Kinabalu, and Rinjani are several glorious mountains I’ve had the privilege to celebrate the breathtaking summit at sunrise.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Stay curious and continue to learn would be my top tips for individuals wanting to excel. Read a lot, listen more than speak, engage in activities outside of our comfort arena, and draw on all of that information for insights and predictive decision-making.

I’ve also noted that obsession (a healthy one!) and mental agility and flexibility are key. There’s no place for half heartedness. That’s something I found as we launched AltoVita, I was working part-time alongside my current job and soon realised that I needed to fully commit if it was going to be a success.

Equally, a focus on articulating problems and market size is essential. The best companies are founded because they’re a solution to an existing market or pain point, so it’s important to establish what you want to attack from the outset. Otherwise, you’ll fail to get early traction and validation.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are of course still misconceptions and barriers in the sense that many people think technology is just about coding. However, when it comes to other roles within the section where women have great opportunities to excel, there are a range of areas, from product development, UX/UI design, product marketing and management where women are leading the charge.

When it comes to breaking down these barriers and misconceptions, education and understanding is vital.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of careers of women working in technology?

Companies need to make a conscious decision to support their employees and set an example. AltoVita is female founded and led, so we’re extremely passionate about giving women equal opportunity. Some of our most successful hires have been female!

Taking calculated risks when it comes to employee progression and helping to accelerate their careers and promote from within gives female employees a good chance to excel within their respective role.

Caroline Boyle, AltoVita’s VP of Global Client Success, is an example of how AltoVita’s supportive, inclusive and forward-thinking culture has positively shaped an individual’s successful career progression. Caroline joined AltoVita in March 2019 as a Partnership Manager. Since then, Caroline has been part of AltoVita’s core strategic team leading the global operations and reservation efforts at AltoVita. Recently, she has been instrumental in shaping AltoVita’s product features especially designed to further increase efficiencies and cost savings for AltoVita’s RMC partners.

There are currently only 21% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

These statistics don’t reflect the brilliant work and potential for women in the tech sector. Ultimately, if I could do one thing to accelerate change, it would be to tell women that they can be brave and bold. The beauty of running a technology company is that you are allowed to make mistakes, iterate and improve, but make them quickly and mitigate risks thoughtfully.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’ve read a lot of books to help get up to speed in the tech world. The order of the following also mirrors my journey and personal development, starting from AltoVita’s early stages to where we are now.

Firstly, The Lean Startup. This is a great method a lot of early startup founders adopted to efficiently utilise scarce cash to build their Minimum Viable Product. Soon after, I read Traction, which covers in detail each marketing channel one needs to explore to achieve product market fit. Product development is an area I’ve ended up loving and owning. Inspired gave me a great entrance into the world of a Product Manager, particularly when product execution felt a long way off.

When it comes to my own journey and development, Hooked has taught me a lot about habit forming, something which I’d say is essential for all tech founders. Equally, the Balderton B2B Sales Playbook includes a range of strategic insights and practical advice for B2B enterprise software companies to grow their sales engine. For fundraising, Venture Deals was recommended to me by multiple trusted friends and advisors and it’s been useful in navigating the fundraising journey for AltoVita.

Sumo Advantage is a fascinating book about how to think about strategic ‘powerhouse’ partners as a growth catapult in addition to transactional sales. Partnering with giants is complicated, but most companies, even the smallest ones, can benefit from creating such a bond through a strong business development (BD) effort.

After winning early adopters who took a chance on you (the founders), the team and the product, Crossing the Chasm is the next challenge to get endorsement from the mainstream market which validates your venture to a whole new level. Customer Success is another great read on how it’s instrumental to cross the chasm: to grow revenue and to leverage on your early adopters to win over the pragmatists and sceptics, which make up the majority of the mainstream market.

More recently, CMO to CRO taught me how to break down the silos and barriers across departments and collaboratively achieve KPIs. It has many of the revenue optimisation disciplines which we really needed during Q3-4 last year.

And finally, Working Backwards. I’m currently reading this book now and I plan to read more leadership books as we continue to scale AltoVita. What I love about this is Amazon’s approach to product development – working backwards from a product’s press release and FAQ.

Before reading this book, I was already obsessed at understanding client’s pain points directly before scoping them with the product team. This is a huge focus at AltoVita – something which we factor into our design thinking stage of our Innovation Summit. Amazon’s approach is several notches higher and one that I’m very excited to test.

When it comes to podcasts, I love listening to Master of Scale by Reed Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn). Reed tests theories of how businesses can scale and validates them by interviewing entrepreneurs who have proven scalability tactics. These 30-minute fun and biteable podcasts are my sources of inspiration. Running a startup means that I am fortunate to be able to test these hypotheses and see things through.

Recently I have been listening to the ‘Shorthand for High-Growth Startups’ by Omar Hamoui (partner of Mucker Capital and founder of Admob). Omar’s advice is on-point and practical. It touches on all points of running a high-growth startup and forces you to think about diversified topics from how to maximise valuation multiples and enterprise value to the importance of product velocity, the value of scarcity and building a slack in our team system.