What does it take to run the biggest media platform in the travel industry, Skift? It requires a man called Rafat Ali, a creative genius with an unparalleled business mind and a relentless drive to move forward. Skift is unrivaled in providing fresh information, tips, and trends for those interested in hotels, tourism, cruises, and travel tech and startups. With Ali at the helm, the company has grown exponentially and the impact on businesses and consumers in our industry as a whole has been phenomenal. We’re going to dive into his story to find out how he made it in Silicon Valley, see how he has grown as a person alongside his businesses, and discover three pieces of his best advice for aspiring hospitality professionals.
1. Forging a truly Global Path
It has to be said that Rafat Ali is a man who thrives on surpassing peoples’ expectations of him. Arriving in the US for his masters, he not only had to defy his family (none of whom are entrepreneurs) but also had to prove cultural stereotypes wrong in his quest to find career success. He was told not to bother starting his current company, he was told they wouldn’t make it, he was told not to work in media at all, but Ali has proven all of these ideas wrong. His path has not always been straight but his determination has led him to achieve all his goals (and more)!
Rafat Ali initially studied computer science as his family considered it a better career path but he quickly realized it was not his field and courageously took his first leap into the relative unknown, swapping to study digital media. His family’s initial resistance soon converted to support when they saw him thrive. Indeed, Ali went on to study a masters in the US, becoming a Knight Fellow at Indiana University. So from India to Indiana, Ali was already going places, but now he embarked on a new challenge, tackling the giants of tech in Silicon Valley, CA.
However, he doesn’t stop, and although Ali did succeed in taking on the Goliaths of tech (becoming the chief editor of the Silicon Valley Reporter), by 2012 Ali was ready to start his next and most exciting venture: Skift.com. His experience with the Silicon Valley Reporter as well as other media platforms allowed him along with Skift co-founder Jason Clampet, to burst on to the media scene. In a new departure though, the model of Skift has seen Ali take less of an editorial role and pushed him to try something new-focusing on the business rather than content.
2. Finding Success with Skift
So, whilst this may have been a similar idea to some of the other projects Ali had worked on, it was in more respects than one, a completely new departure. How has Ali adapted? In short, very well. His evident entrepreneurial talent had allowed him to be as dynamic as ever and from a two-man team, Skift now has 60 employees, venture capital of $3 million, and is continuing to expand.
The company’s performance has been the envy of many an entrepreneur and with fresh ideas such as Skift Table (which deals with F&B businesses and fine dining) or Skift Wellness (the lifestyle branch of the platform), their upward trajectory looks set to continue!
Whilst these are obviously exciting times for the company, Ali is becoming increasingly mindful of the fact that growth has to be sustainable rather than just exponential and that means looking after your employees. Ali sees this as an area that hospitality, as an industry, really needs to focus more on, stating that the “hospitality industry has to learn to treat their employees a lot better.”
3. Rafat Ali’s Words of Wisdom
He has not had it easy, but Ali has a talent for seeing opportunities in the most unlikely of places! However, his own insatiable curiosity is something that he sees reflected in the industry he works with. Ali believes “travel is the most progressive expression of human curiosity;” and that continuously drives his own desire to keep exploring.
Travel to us is both the physical act of visiting new places, but we also think it is a philosophy. Life is, after all, the biggest journey any human will embark on and so, if you want to keep your ideas fresh, if you want to keep moving forward in your life or career, then stay curious. Nobody knows everything so don’t stop yourself discovering something new because you were too scared to try.
In fact, Ali encourages us to do even more. The entrepreneur says:
“The day you’re contented with what you’ve created, essentially, your role there is over.”
We really like this advice because everyone knows how easy it is to get “too comfortable”. Your career, and life should be (at times) challenging. If you want to fly high in hospitality then you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Often the most difficult tasks reap the biggest rewards. Ali gave us a great snippet of advice which we have taken straight to heart:
“I’m a huge fan of sort of figuring your own way out in life and always doing your own thing.”
Be your own person and don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. It’s true, there’s no roadmap to life or a successful career, but by constantly trying you can surpass your own expectations. Wisdom, learning, and guidance from those around you is obviously hugely important, but everyone also has to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Age is no substitute for experience and with a bit of self-confidence, you will go far!
Rafat Ali is an inspiration, not just because he is successful but also because of how he made his own success. He has fought for his place among the media elite and his continuous drive and creativity show no sign of stopping. It’s definitely still a case of “watch this space” when it comes to Rafat Ali.