Return on investment. How is the system going to pay for itself either through hard cash, an increase in guest satisfaction, or better employee efficiencies?
Differentiation and disruption. You can’t simply offer a solution at half the price of the biggest provider in the market. Your solution needs to be disruptive either through your technology, approach, or discovering an issue the industry is dealing with that hasn’t been solved yet.
Ability to adapt and scale. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that no industry is stagnant and change can happen overnight. Your tech solution needs to be able to adapt to that change and also scale as your clients’ companies grow and evolve.
Ease of use. If clients need to review a training manual to use your solution, it’s not good enough—especially in an industry with a high turnover rate like hospitality. Your end user can’t spend their time constantly training new employees on your tech. Because, at that point, you’ve just created a new problem for your customer
Listen to feedback and act on insights. You should implement a feedback loop that allows you to collect information on what is working and what is not so that you can continue to improve the product and its usefulness for users.
Be flexible. This is especially important when it comes to pricing your solution as a startup.
“It’s a highly fragmented industry to sell to, and it’s not one story for every person you speak to,” said Anne Bleeker, founder and managing director of in2 Consulting. “From the onset, once you’ve differentiated your product, you need to develop the narrative. What do you specialize in? You need to really articulate what it is you’re selling and how you’re solving a problem. If you don’t do that well, it’s just going to be a generic sales pitch that’s not going to end up anywhere.”
Exit strategy: Identify long-term goals and how to obtain them
“You need to have an end state. You need to know what your overall plan is,” Hopkins said, adding that there are two types of exit strategies for startups: build it to sell it or build it to live it. But, he cautioned that if you’re building to sell it not to become so consumed on selling it that you forget to build your business.
“One person in your leadership, that might be their primary role, to sell the business—but you have to have someone operating the business. You have to have someone doing the strategy on the business,” he said. “If you forget to build your business, no one’s going to buy.”
The bottom line, he added, is that you have to be agile. But it’s OK to say at the start, “In 10 years I want to sell this thing for X. So, then, it’s how do you get to X?”
If you’re building to sell, who’s going to be your buyer? The best option is your competitor or a company that has a solution that would be synergistic with yours, Hopkins said. Venture capital, on the other hand, is more attracted to companies built around a lifestyle business.
Bleeker said that the sell-it or lifestyle-business mindset will also be important to shaping marketing for your product at the beginning because it will help determine the people you’re looking to reach. “It’s going to help position you on where you want to be visible, in what markets and what niches you need to look out for,” she said.
Integrations: Why system connectivity will make or break your product
Integration has always been the most challenging issue when it comes to tech solutions, said Hapi’s Idrac, who has been in the industry for 35 years, previously as CIO of Accor. You can’t have a 360-degree view of the customer if you have systems that aren’t sharing reservations or guest profiles.
“That’s why we created Hapi, to solve those integration issues because the system was so scattered and siloed,” he said. “Keep in mind that a large hotel has 20 different systems that are supposed to be integrated.”
“We recently did a project where there were 54 systems on this type of property and they all needed to talk to each other in some way,” Hopkins said. “That’s a lot, but the integration stack was the biggest part.”
Idrac said that the best way to find success is to partner with an expert. “I advise startups to use people who know this field and not try to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
Going to Market: Developing messaging, marketing, and a channel map for your business
“If you haven’t taken a piece of the funds that you’ve allocated to bring the product to market—which is the marketing, the business development, and the sales—you’ve made a big mistake because you’re not going to get to market,” Hopkins said.
Bleeker said that before you speed to market you need to have a story and develop your brand narrative upfront. Hiring subject matter experts from the onset is essential but often undervalued by startups, she added. And ultimately, people want to know what’s behind the business. It’s not just about the product you’re selling, but also about who is leading the organization and what their expertise are.
“You create this visibility for yourself and the knowledge you’ve built up over the years. You do that by speaking at events, participating in webinars, getting to your local or global industry associations, and finding ways to connect with people,” she said. “That, in itself, is a part of thought leadership. But, you can take it a step further and start developing your own content if you’re selling some really breakthrough technology or some cutting-edge user experience design and you want to talk about it without giving away all your juice to your competitors.”
You can start to shape your message when you know your audience. Bleeker said it’s important to address segment and geographical differences, as a lot of companies have the thought that they want to sell globally at some point. “Even though a lot of hotel companies do have an international footprint, the way you sell, market, and communicate in different parts of the world is different. Or, even who you should be talking to in those regions could vary from region to region.”
From there, you can figure out what channels you want to tell your story on. Bleeker suggested starting with something manageable because typically startups won’t have a full-time marketing team and hiring an agency is expensive.
“Start with one or two really bespoke, really targeted channels that you know your audience is using. You can start slowly building up the frequency of your content and your reach, and then potentially add multiple channels after that,” she said. “You don’t have to be everywhere all the time in order to be successful.