After decades of OTAs and hotel chains being the go-between, New York City-based Skipper wants to empower independent hotels to own the guest relationship.
In July, the company rolled out the first of what it says will be many products: a streamlined booking engine natively embedded on the hotel website, with alternative payment methods like Google Pay, to make booking easy.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
Independent hotel owners and their management companies
struggle to convert high-margin customers directly. Despite offering the
experiences travelers covet more than ever, their guests continue to book
through intermediaries, like online travel agencies, often at 20%+ commission
rates. This dynamic has led chains like Marriott or Hilton to increase their
market share from 33% to 70% of the U.S. market over the past 30 years.
That’s why we are building Skipper, a new network for hotels:
to give independent hotel owners the sales platform they need to compete with
large chains and online travel agencies and thrive on their own.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your
This summer, we launched the first part of our journey: a
streamlined booking engine, natively embedded on the hotel website, with
alternative payment methods like Google Pay, to make booking easy. We have
launched this product with early design customers and have seen up to a 33%
increase in conversions.
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Next, we are developing our sales platform to broaden
connectivity and leverage the network of hotels that use our booking technology
to increase direct sales further. Currently, hotels do not understand their
guest value across lines of business and can’t easily personalize offers to
encourage loyalty. Skipper’s sales platform will enable hotels to better sell
their available inventory by personalizing offers and rewards to increase
conversions and delight guests further. As more hotels and guests join, the
network will become more powerful. And most importantly, the hotel will own the
relationship with the guest, putting the power back in the hands of the hotel
and not the chains and OTAs.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
Threats) analysis of the company.
Strengths: An experienced team that has successfully built
hospitality technologies that have added value for their partners. We are
fortunate to have early design partners who have allowed us to work closely
together to develop systems that address their problems so they can focus on
delivering hospitality for their guests.
Weaknesses: As a small business, we have limited resources
to develop products and features. We have to be careful to prioritize the right
Opportunities: Over the past three decades, the pendulum has
swung toward consolidating commoditized chain experiences. We think it is time
to arm the rebels so hotel owners can de-flag and operate independent brands.
Threats: Incumbent technology providers restricting guest
and commerce data access.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate
from both the customer and the industry perspective?
Due to fragmented point-of-sale technologies, guests have a
sub-optimal experience when booking their itineraries. When guests click “reserve”
to book directly on most hotel marketing websites, they are taken to another
website, often without modern payment methods. Suppose the property has any
other offerings, like activities, events, retail, food and beverage. In that
case, guests are required to check out on other interfaces with no underlying
knowledge about the guest’s itinerary or prior reservations.
So you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of
Word travels fast in the hotel industry; the best way to
start the sales flywheel is through positive customer referrals. We’ve already
contracted with a handful of ownership groups, and are having active
conversations with many more. Testimonials from happy customers goes a long
way. In addition to taking a top-down approach to sales, we are also conducting
a bottom-up outreach campaign of selling to distribution managers, general
managers and marketers at hotels who are looking for methods of driving more
direct bookings. We also plan to attend The Phocuswright Conference in November
to gain insight from other startups, investors and industry experts; Jason has
been asked to participate in the Young Leaders Summit.
Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a
genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
First-hand experience running technology and digital
distribution at Ace Hotels taught our CEO about the challenges and opportunities.
Working with our design partners, we have confirmed that these issues are not
isolated problems. Research that Jason Shames, co-founder and CEO, conducts as a professor of hotel
distribution at New York University further validates our primary and secondary
How and when will you make money?
We make money by charging hotels a small fee on each booking
that flows through our booking engine. We have begun generating revenue with
the launch of our booking product in July of this year.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the
Jason previously founded Jetaport, a group booking
marketplace for hotels. Subsequent to that, he was president of Butler
Hospitality, and then VP of technology and digital distribution at Ace Hotels
(Atelier Ace). He is also an adjunct professor of hospitality at NYU.
Cole Maritz, co-founder and chief revenue officer, was
VP of business development and strategy at Curacity before founding Skipper. Prior to that, Cole worked in sales and product roles at a number of other
Dane Bratz, co-founder and chief technology officer, most recently was a senior engineering manager at
Turing, now a unicorn, prior to founding Skipper. Before that, Dane worked as a
software engineer for a number of other venture-backed startups.
What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business
Convincing hotels to take a chance on a new company has been
one of the biggest challenges. Hotel technology providers so often overpromise
and under deliver, so hotels have been conditioned to be skeptical of new
technologies. We’ve been fortunate to have found a great set of initial
customers who believe in us and see the world the way we do.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making
an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
We operate in a mature industry that creates challenges and
opportunities for startups. Often, antiquated systems used for many years
create high switching costs or incompatibility with new technologies. We don’t
believe it is about luck but rather about building a product that delivers
value to our partners and their guests.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will
In growth mode, both from a product development and sales
perspective. There are so many features that hotels want to boost direct
bookings, encourage guest loyalty and enable cross-merchandising and bundlings
(rooms plus dining and activities). One year from now, we hope to be continuing
to roll our product out across more hotels while adding more features that hotels
and their customers want.
What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing
and staying private, etc.)
Our ambition is to build a category-defining company by
allowing every hotel owner to take their hotel independent, and in the process
to eventually take Skipper public. The most important thing is growing with our
customers, and ensuring that their success is our success.
Hear from Marriott, Vacasa and others at The Phocuswright Conference 2022 in November