Readers: Welcome to my new series, “Cocktails with.” It’s a series designed to introduce you to interesting people I meet while on the road somewhere. They might be folks I meet for the first time or they might be travel industry sources I’ve known for years and have watched their careers progress. I might write it as a Q&A or in a story form or perhaps a video. I’m reluctant to adopt strict guidelines because I want the finished product to reflect the conversation and circumstances. Therefore, the only constants that I’ll promise are as follows: The people I chat with will have something intriguing to say that in some way relates to travel – and our conversation will have taken place at some hotel bar!
With that out of the way, let me explain today’s subject. In my kick-off piece, I’ll introduce you to Xeris Pharmaceuticals CEO John Kinzell, a physician and serial entrepreneur in the life sciences industry. We were both attending conferences in my “backyard” – Washington D.C. – at the Grand Hyatt; I was attending CVENT’s Global Business Forum, and he was attending an orphan drug conference. We were both at Cure, the hotel’s restaurant and bar. Suddenly, the topic of travel came up!
WASHINGTON DC – I often ask people how they burn their frequent flier points, and the answers are fairly predictable: Upgrades, a romantic vacation with their spouse or expensive electronic gadgets. So when I asked Austin-based biotech CEO John Kinzell what he did with his points, I found myself a bit surprised.
Turns out he used the points he’d collected while traveling internationally as a corporate road warrior to pay for all his travel as he started new biotech company, Xeris Pharmaceuticals. So indirectly, you could say his loyalty points have helped finance the company.
“I put them to work building a company. A lot of people can’t do that. I had Southwest miles. I had United miles, etc.,” he told me.
“It’s money that you can use so you don’t have to see (real money) go out the door,” he said. “You don’t have to go and buy a ticket. You just use your points instead of using dollars that you’d raised from friends and family.”
Today, he does without upgrades no matter where he’s flying.
“I flew here on United in coach. Usually I try to get an exit row,” he said, due to the fact that he’s 6’2″ tall. “I fly Southwest a lot.”
The broader theme here, of course, is going from a world of upgrades and VIP airport lounges to the world of the cattle class.
“It’s a cultural shift,” he told me, recalling his United Airlines elite 1K status. “But this is my third start-up. You go from comfortable with all the perks and big expense accounts to staying in Motel 6 and not giving a crap about it. You just crank everything down.”
Back in the day, he stayed in typical four-star hotels such as Westin and Hyatt properties. The only reason he stayed at the Grand Hyatt for the conference was because of the discounted rate.
“That is what entrepreneurs do in terms of travel,” he said.
And if the company’s financial future soars?
“Even if you’ve done well, you kind of go into this start-up mode where you run really capital efficient in everything. You even watch your lawyer bills,” he said. “People who put money into your company want it all to go toward your first product and getting a deal done.”
Readers: What’s the most unusual item that you’ve used your points for?