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What turns a chef into an app start-up entrepreneur?

by | INTERVIEWS

Lavr Kozlov is Executive Vice President at the hospitality-centric social media managing company, Martenly. He graduated from the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland with top honors. 

We brought him today as the first interview in our new series, Starter Culture, in which we’ll discover what grows great ideas in hospitality.

Why did you go to a hospitality school? 

I went to culinary school in the beginning – César Ritz, part of the hospitality world. At first, I was considering sticking to being a culinary chef, as I really enjoy cooking. I asked myself where the right place to go would be.

Because there are quite a few culinary schools in the world, I chose the best one — 

the oldest, and the only one that gives you not only the culinary degree, but also the international business degree. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be spending much time just working for some company. I wanted to start my own. 

This school specifically helped me not only become a chef but also see the world as an entrepreneur, which was the main reason I went there. 

What about cooking and the culinary world appealed to you?

I was passionate about creating stuff. I see myself as a creator, and I have a really artistic mindset. I work with everything in a more artistic way, not in an analytical way.

I was thinking, where can I develop these skills? I knew I wouldn’t become a painter or something like that. So, I thought, I really like creating, and I really enjoy cooking – this was quite a good match for me.

Plus, I love people – all kinds of people. I love speaking with them, and I like networking. Hospitality is about networking at the end of the day. So, speaking with people, interacting with them, with the guests – I enjoy that part. That’s all part of hospitality. 

What tips would you give people who have studied in a culinary or hospitality school, who are about to graduate or have recently graduated? How can they get this entrepreneurial mindset?

There are two mindsets: there’s the mind of an entrepreneur, people who are willing to take responsibility for running a business; and there’s the mind of a person who is OK with managing, maybe being a C-level manager somewhere. 

As for tips, one is to be open-minded. Try to see opportunities in different ways, and try to actually create something on your own or with a team. It’s always good to network. I see university as a mixture of connections, networking with the right people from the industry. You can do all your learning and studies on your own, without university, to be honest. The world is so open, information is so available. But there, especially at a Swiss university, everyone is in one place. Plus, your teachers are usually good representatives of the industry. They’re not taught to teach, but they’re actually people coming from the industry who are just sharing the information. The data is coming straight from the industry.

So, that’s a trick for university. I mean, either you want to start a company and go in that direction, or you want to go to a good company and work there. They’re different paths. It depends on how you want your life to be structured. 

If you are willing to take on responsibilities, they might be rewarding. For me, starting a company is always about creating something from the beginning, developing it, then seeing how it grows. It’s always fun. 

Is there a reason why you would encourage other people to go to a school like Cesar Ritz or SEG to study business or the culinary arts? Is there an extra benefit you can think of? 

I would put it like this: it doesn’t matter if it’s culinary arts or the hotel business, or the restaurant business, because it’s all about hospitality. You’re just looking at different aspects of hospitality. It’s like hospitality or business itself. In business, I think for the next decade, technology and hospitality will be really connected. We’re learning from IT companies that we’re developing that, at the end of the day, you’re making products for people.

In personalization, hospitality can help a lot. If you’re going into the hospitality world, for sure you should love people, because otherwise there is no point. You can study business at a different university. Either go into hospitality or go into IT, because business in the next decade will be about that. If you want to build something, it’s definitely the way to go.

If you go to university, you need to know why you’re going, because otherwise you’ll just spend a lot of money and waste time, as you can learn things outside of university. Since teachers are often representatives from the industry, they can give clearer insight into what’s happening there. Plus, of course, you’ll make connections, 100 percent. 

Also, the credibility is higher. They teach you how to learn by yourself, give you opportunities to network, and present interesting ideas. But you’re learning them by yourself. They’re not giving you an answer, and then giving you a way to get to this answer. They’re teaching you how to actually learn to ask yourself the question and go answer it.

This is exactly what entrepreneurship is about. Whether you’re running your own company or working in a company that already exists, if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you can take the fast-track in the company. At the end of the day, every company is all about earning money. Because it’s a business, it’s about getting money – which benefits something else, but it’s always about money. If you know how to bring more money into the company, then you will advance faster.

So learning at SEG, learning at Cesar Ritz, meeting these people and getting that experience helps you focus better on understanding how to run a business more profitably?

At least you will know the different business models, how you can run a business, and then choose what fits you better and fits your business. The business model is not only about fitting the business, it’s about fitting you if you’re a founder of the business. 

What three adjectives would you use to describe your company, Martenly? 

Simplicity, efficiency – those would be the first two, for sure. We’re trying to create a company that helps other companies become more efficient with social media management. But we are the only company in our market, as far as we can tell, that makes it as simple as possible and completely for the user. The interface is simpler than other companies’ and it’s more user-friendly.

Then, at the end of the day, comes the hospitality part. It’s always about people 

So: simplicity, efficiency and people-centric.

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