Startup pitch: Alice wants to answer your hotel stay needs
The idea for Alice service came to life through the frustration of not being able to connect with a hotel unless you’re on the spot or by telephone.
The founders conducted research with hotel managers, employees and guests to reveal that the process falls down because of the different internal systems hotels use to manage operators.
From this Alice was conceived as a a guest facing mobile application helping connect guests to hotel services while simultaneously enabling the hotel to manage requests efficiently.
The team currently has a headcount of 25 including its three founders: chief executive Justin Effron, president Alex Shashou and chief technology officer Dmitry Koltunov.
Funding so far has amounted to $500,000 almost two years ago from family and friends plus a seed round of $3 million in January 2015.
The startup is participating in a hotels and resorts industry worth $717 billion according to IBIS World and will draw revenue based on monthly subscriptions based on property size.
The team also says it has no direct competitor and focuses on both guest and staff needs while others just focus on one part of the equation.
Q&A with president Alex Shashou:
What problem does the business solve?
On the guest side, we provide a mobile channel to connect with the property anywhere, any time, on any device. Every industry has leveraged mobile and platform solutions to provide a better consumer experience and connectivity.
The modern day consumer uses Uber for cars, Seamless to order food, Open Table for reservations, and so many others. Alice is just that for the hospitality industry. We are a way for hotel guests to manage their own stay immediately after booking all the way until they check out.
On the staff side, we empower our hotels and their staff to drive deeper, sustainable connections with their guests using mobile technology, while increasing operational efficiency through a robust back-end task management and analytics platform.
Our hotels are able to connect with their guests as soon as a booking is made, right through to checkout. For the first time our groups can track and analyze every service that is happening inside their hotels within one platform.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
When we first set out to create Alice, we were much more focused on improving guest engagement through mobile technology, essentially a concierge app. However, as we became more entrenched in the industry, sitting with our hotels to truly understand their operations, we adjusted our strategy to focus equally on the back of house and operational inefficiencies.
To simplify it: it does not matter which way a guest makes a request, whether its through Alice, in person, over the phone or through email… it all goes into the Alice back end to help staff deliver the very best in service.
Why should people or companies use the business?
We enable hotels to keep up with constantly evolving guest expectations through the very best in mobile, workflow and analytics technology. All consumer businesses strive for better relationships with their customers and improved efficiency within their operations. With Alice, hotels are able to do both at the same time without expanding their technology footprint and without alienating their staff or increasing the size of their team.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Currently, most of our customer acquisition comes from referrals. Core to our culture is our partner model where we work extensively with our hotels to create a better product. We build with our hotels insights, rather than in a vacuum. It is through this engagement that we have built such great relationships with our clients and a level of trust in referring their sister properties and friends to us.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Our ultimate ambition is to become the global market leader in service on demand for the hospitality industry. This means providing a comprehensive solution to allow guests to make requests to any department within a hotel on one seamless system.
Despite having come so far in such a short amount of time, we are just at the very beginning with Alice. The hotel industry is set for major change over the next decade and we hope to be at the forefront of this technical revolution.
As for challenges we anticipate having to overcome, the largest is the fragmentation of the industry. Although many hotels have relationships and refer solutions to one another, building to 1,000 hotels is very different than getting 10,000. Very few companies in our space have grown to the scale we want to reach and we anticipate this being the biggest hurdle as we continue to grow.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
There is nothing that we find “wrong” with the hospitality industry, in fact, we love it. However, the realms of what is possible are constantly expanding. Technology empowers us to do things we never thought possible before and mobile has been at the forefront of this. We provide the hotel world the opportunity to realize the power of mobile to improve the environment for all parties.
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
On the positioning side we find ourselves in a similar position to Salesforce when it came out, since it entered an established industry with a very different way to solve the existing problem. It upgrades locally installed solutions to a centralized cloud infrastructure allowing for a new level of enterprise control and efficiency.
On the design side we are very drawn to the simplicity and elegance that Apple puts into its products. There is a revolution in design, and we are constantly thinking about the user experience. We have a very rigorous process to develop our interactions, and every single detail gets scrutinized.
On the algorithmic side we try to model our approach after Google. Its products are in a class of their own because they are the perfect combination of simple and intelligent. The fact that the Google search bar does not need more than one field to remain extremely accurate is inspiring.
We constantly try to pre-empt what someone is going to do, and use their previous history to provide a more familiar experience. There is a lot left in this part of our plans, but we are eager to start applying some of the more advanced learning techniques to this domain.
In terms of culture, we are huge fans of the way that Zappos operates, The general kinship in the teams, the way that it empowers staff, and the positive outlook it has on clients and supporting them is something we aspire to. At the end of the day, we are helping people connect to services, and we care deeply about those that request the services as well as those that provide them.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
We are committed to growing the business and believe we have laid the foundation for incredible opportunity ahead. We are now working with 25 groups including some of the leading brands such as Shangri-La’s Jen Hotels, The Setai, Gansevoort Hotel Group, Bespoke Hotels, Standard Hotels and Sixty Hotels. As such, we are very focused on continuing work with these partners.
Describe your startup in three words?
Mobile hospitality platform
If the trend towards anonymity is to be believed; i.e those who are happy to have little or no face-to-face contact at a hotel or other supplier, and engage via app or other technology, then Alice can only be a good thing.
Not only does the startup offer the guest-facing element but it also promises to take care of the back-end management processes. The app claims to integrate with other solutions used by the various departments in hotels to make for a much for efficient service. Even if a request is not made via the app, the idea is that it will still be fed into it.
It has other pluses such as the ability to track and analyse every service so that hotels can really scrutinise what is being used and when.
A further positive that Alice offers is the ability for hotels and their guests to communicate with each other as soon as the booking is made enabling properties to provide a much more targeted service.
So far it seems as if Alice is attracting the more boutique-style properties so whether it can crack the big chains remains to be seen.
One other question up for discussion is whether today’s hotel guests really need an app like Alice. It’s a nice to have but, for example, how much is today’s average business traveller going to use the services on it? Maybe it will become more of a luxury or niche service, as a cool add-on to other engaging technologies a hotel might provide. Time will tell.
Linda Fox is deputy editor for Tnooz. For the past eight years she has worked as a freelance journalist across a range of B2B titles including Travolution, ABTA Magazine, Travelmole and the Business Travel Magazine.
In this time she has also undertaken corporate projects for a number of high profile travel technology, travel management and research companies.
Prior to her freelance career she covered hotels and technology news for Travel Trade Gazette for seven years. Linda joined TTG from Caterer & Hotelkeeper where she worked on the features desk for more than five years.