I’m writing this from 30,000 feet on a return flight from India.
During the flight, I was reflecting on a recent conversation where a colleague asked me if it’s necessary that I travel so much. I travel a few times a month and typically spend a significant part of my year in other countries. I try to use my flying time to reflect on business challenges or come up with new ideas for people I work with.
This article is my answer to the question: Is it necessary to travel as a CEO? The answer, in short, is yes. You can’t connect entrepreneurial ecosystems by phone.
Technology has unquestionably reduced the need for business travel. There’s a whole industry built around unified communications and helping teams work more effectively together while they’re physically apart.
Techstars is a great example of a boundary-less business. We have companies across 84 percent of the globe (more than 170 countries) and with almost 3,000 founders, so we have to know how to work across time zones.
But while on-demand collaboration, online meetings, web conferencing, and videoconferencing applications are critical for doing business and building teams, they aren’t substitutes for in-person relationship building. Face-to-face meetings are as old as business itself.
There’s no substitute to being at the pointy end of the spear and having the chance to interface with founders, customers, and remote employees. Running a business and trying to curtail business travel is going to absolutely limit growth — as a business, and as an entrepreneur.
This means that I spend a large part of my time traveling.
Face-to-face conversations are important
One of our Techstars mentors, Todd Vernon, wrote in an article about remote employees, “The company as a whole is more than the sum of the parts, which are the contributions by individuals on a daily basis.” And I agree. Everyone working toward the company goal is what makes a business grow and thrive. Without the ability to talk face-to-face, individuals start to become too far removed from the business objective.
I travel as a way to have meaningful touch points with colleagues. I’d also be less creative and have a longer to-do list if not for business travel. Many people see flights without WiFi as dead time. I see them as rare opportunities to think — to find new solutions to problems or new ways to help or grow the business. The fresh perspective I get while on a flight comes from the luxury of being able to just think, and that’s unrivaled.
Here’s the bottom line: Business travel is absolutely essential to running a successful business. There are ways to make travel easier, more productive, or more economical. Just know that it’s business critical to get out and shake some hands. Talk to other entrepreneurs, partners, customers, your next idea may come from a conversation or experience that you had while traveling for business.
I get that business travel isn’t glamorous. Being away from family and your own bed, at times, can be pretty terrible. But I do believe that business travel should be on top of the “what CEOs do to be successful” list.