TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based TalkHotels, a platform for the hotel industry to connect, exchange ideas and find local providers.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
TalkHotels is a network for hospitality professionals. It's completely free to join (and yes, we plan to keep it that way) and it's an open platform for people in the hospitality industry to exchange ideas, ask questions, network, find vendors and local service providers, and give back to various causes.
Founder and president, Anand Patel, has a background in marketing and IT and has also served as a consultant for a handful of startups.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
We are well-funded by a group of private investors; we also have an advisory board comprised of hospitality professionals that represent management, human resources, technology, and marketing.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We're looking to democratize information and make it accessible to anyone in the hospitality industry regardless of where they reside, what they do, or how much experience they have. Our aim is to make it free and easy to access this vital information: best practices, ideas, trends, insights, experiences — you name it.
We're also looking to make sure the stream of information, ideas, and people is in constant motion by making it possible to exchange ideas, ask questions, and meet new people simply by turning on your mobile device.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Our members will be able to network with hospitality professionals from around the world and find them using a variety of ways: by the hotel brand they work with, by where they reside, and by the role/title they have at their hotel.
Another key component of our network is the live conversations we have taking place. Our members will be able to create a conversation from their computer or mobile device and invite others in the industry to participate. Conversations can vary from basic questions, brainstorming, feedback, or just about anything else.
Our vendor directory will give both hoteliers and vendors a more efficient way of finding each other. Because our directory will be broken down by region, it'll become a very versatile selling tool for vendors who are looking to target a very specific audience.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our key users are hospitality professionals that are looking for help in one way or another: needing a vendor who can provide a better product, looking for someone to help with a basic issue at their hotel, browsing for ideas to get a leg up on their competition, or finding ways to save money in a tight economy.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We had a healthy mix of interest from both customers (users) and investors. Once we shared our vision with a few potential investors, we had the funding lined up to bring this project to fruition.
Next, we put together a video introducing the TalkHotels concept, setup a basic landing page and an invite list, and started promoting it to various hospitality organizations.
Within a week, we had hundreds of people interested in joining! We launched just a few weeks ago and have already crossed the 300-member mark!
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We have a very basic revenue model that revolves around national vendors and local service providers.
If you're a national vendor, you pay a nominal monthly fee, which includes a listing with all of your contact information, a question/answer feature that allows our members to post questions regarding your products and services, and a review system so that our members can see which of their peers are working with you and how they rate you.
Your company also gets listed on our mobile app, which features a searchable vendor directory. We plan to add many features in the near future to help vendors and our members work together more efficiently and seamlessly.
If you're a local service provider, you choose the markets you want to be listed in and pay a flat fee per market per month. That way, if you're a law firm with three offices in the US, you select the three markets you're in and your law firm will be listed under those three markets.
If you're a pool maintenance company located in Wichita, Kansas, you pay to only be listed in Wichita, Kansas. If you add another location down the road, just add that market to your monthly plan and we'll let our members know!
All of our vendor subscription plans are month-to-month and there's no contract involved so they can cancel at anytime — no questions asked.
Our iPad app, which is due out later this year, is really going to give vendors and local service providers a unique platform to target their customers both at a national and local level.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We're well-funded; we have an agile, capable team backed by a strong and experienced advisory board to keep us on track.
- Design. We feel our interface is very user-friendly and we're offering a mobile platform as well.
- First mover. From what we found, we're the first to build a network dedicated to hospitality professionals.
- Some of the more prominent hotel brands have an internal system for their operators; it may be difficult initially to convince them that the content and vendors on our site are reliable and approved.
- Industry publications are static and becoming increasingly expensive to circulate. Our platform is digital and mobile, which gives us a huge edge in delivering dynamic content to our members based on their preferences, geographic location, and interests.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- The same industry publications could build a similar platform and then just promoting it to their vast collection of contacts they've built. They could have an easier path to profitability by simply tapping into their contacts and advertising partners.
There were quite a few people in the industry that told us the concept for TalkHotels was noble, but that the more prominent hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott were already providing their operators with a similar platform.
That was indisputable, but what kept our project in motion was knowing that not everyone in the industry had a fair shot at locating the information they need to save time and money. The information coming from the brands is biased and filtered.
The information you find on TalkHotels is unbiased, unfiltered, and straight from your peers. On TalkHotels, you'll find radical ideas that you can run with; you'll find a vendor that is willing to give you the same products you normally use but at a lower price; you'll find someone else that is having similar issues.
We have no alliances and as a result, our members get a fair chance at getting the same information everyone else gets.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
The number of members is going to be important but the number of engaged members is going to be the lifeblood; simply put, the TalkHotels platform is of no use to anyone unless there's passionate, knowledgeable members around the world who are willing to help others solve their problem, answer their questions, inspire, and exchange other ideas.
The more of these members we attract, the more vital TalkHotels becomes to hospitality professionals around the world. We're not shooting for a specific number of members because if the level of engagement and utility is not there, the sheer numbers won't really add up to anything for us.
This, in return, will also drive revenue as our vendors will appreciate the level of engagement our site generates from hospitality professionals. In today's social frontier, we're providing vendors with an avenue to join a live conversation taking place between thousands of people worldwide.
We wouldn't be broadcasting a static message to anyone who will listen; we'll be facilitating an ongoing conversation between people that are active in the hospitality industry. That creates more seamless opportunities for vendors to also share their products and services and how they can help solve problems our members are encountering.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.