Bellhop’s pivot from digital concierge to rideshare aggregator explained

This is a viewpoint from Payam Safa, founder and CEO of Bellhop.

 The travel industry was clearly in my DNA – I had launched a hotel chain in Indonesia and built another startup based around global travel, when the idea of Bellhop first came to me.

Back in 2015, the concept was simple: provide a digital concierge service for hotels that did not have the resources to provide full time concierge services, and for those that did have,  help increase their productivity and hotel guest options.

See our tnooz StartUp Pitch here.

Bellhop was designed to be your one-stop-shop, an aggregator across food, entertainment, and transportation services. If you needed theatre tickets, a taxi to/from the airport, food delivered to your room, or to make restaurant reservations, Bellhop was the answer. We won awards, had great feedback on the app, but in this highly competitive space the requirements for white labelling, customization and other one-offs meant the model was not easily scalable and we were in a holding pattern as we decided how best to roll out the product on a mass market scale.

Initially we thought about simply focusing on the consumer side, so rather than an app for hotels, it became an app for everyone. Whoever you are, wherever you are, Bellhop would get you a car, find you a restaurant reservation, book your tickets, and eventually find you the best cleaning service or even find you a hotel room.

But we quickly realized it would be impossible to simultaneously launch in multiple verticals when leading companies have $100m+ ad budgets in each.

At the same time the rideshare wars were just beginning and this space was becoming highly competitive. Uber had dozens of setbacks, Lyft grew like crazy, Didi Chuxing became a global behometh and hundreds of rideshare companies launched around the world. The more we researched the market the more obvious it became what a significant opportunity there was for an aggregator service to quickly gain market share.

The core to this pivot was a complete redesign of our UX/UI. Having worked for years building up relationships with partners within the three primary verticals: food, entertainment, and transportation, it was difficult to suddenly let the entertainment and food sides of the business go.

But everyone I spoke to was understanding and we’ve maintained strong, supportive relationships to this day.

Once we had the clear vision to become a rideshare aggregator everything fell into place very quickly. I hired a team to help redesign the app, the website, messaging and marketing and focused all of our efforts on rideshare partnerships. In just a few short months, we had an app with a clear message, an amazing user experience and providing something no one else had – the ability to easily compare rideshare pricing and ETAs across the leading providers such as Uber and Lyft.

The great thing was this was only a relatively small pivot for us as we had the core technology already developed over the last few years. We broke equity crowdfunding records with our campaign to help support the rapid growth of the team and engineers.

After six months of thorough testing and refinements Bellhop officially launched in New York this July. It’s crazy how many people have come up to us and said ‘where have you been all my life!’ as no one had a good app that let you easily compare rideshares.

And soon, just like Kayak and Expedia are part of every travel bookers search, we hope Bellhop becomes part of the daily fabric for booking a ride.

So what exactly does Bellhop do now? Quite simply we help provide users with access to more rides and greater price transparency. The free-to-consumer app can compare pricing and access rides across multiple ride-shares such as Lyft, Uber, Curb, Juno and Arro.

But we are not stopping there. We are developing innovative price and time saving AI features and will soon be adding in bikes and other transport modes.

It’s simply unrealistic to compare seaparate apps on a smartphone. The end result is the consumer loses out by overpaying, waiting too long or seeing no cars available.

We’ve had positive feedback from users since we pivoted to focus on ridesharing. Looking back now it’s obvious, but this sector of the economy is growing so quickly it’s predicted to reach $285 billion by 2030.  Product expansion will be part of this growth –  autonomous options, scooter options, electric car options, pool ride options, pet friendly options – the list goes on and on.

Bellhop’s pivot and launch ended up being perfectly timed to capture this fast-moving market. Like any startup, we’ve had our ups and downs, and times when we weren’t quite sure which direction to take, but now we’re on a path that is already leading us on an incredible journey.

My advice for any startup in a similar position to where we were a year ago is to talk to as many people as you can, hire great people to complement your skills sets and never be afraid to pivot. Whether you are a small company such as Bellhop or a global giant such as Uber (which is also pivoting under Expedia’s former CEO Dara Khosrowshahi) you have to listen to the demands of the consumer and be flexible with your business model.

This is a viewpoint from Payam Safa, founder and CEO of Bellhop.

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

Related reading from tnooz:

Reflections on a pivot: when a travel startup goes from B2C to B2C (June 2016)

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Yannis

    congrats! Many travel ppl talked about, but you did it! — I will download the app and will for sure use it. Bravo!


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