Recognising that the online world had disrupted the tangible world of commerce, Simon and his fellow co-founders, CEO Sam Shank and chief architect Chris Bailey, realised that mobile was going to be the new future of ecommerce.
However, this was five years ago, and Simon acknowledged the concept the company was pitching fell on many deaf ears as most people they were pitching to still didn’t own a smartphone at that time.
The reason this was so important is that the concept for HotelTonight revolves around a simple idea: same-day, mobile-only hotel bookings. There is no desktop channel to support sales – the website is merely a source of information – but the app processes a payment in just three taps.
Convinced that their concept would work, the trio also drafted together a people vision as they developed the product, designed to outline just exactly the type of staff they wanted to work with. This decision was made to tackle another challenge they faced, in that many hotels had poor experiences when working with other third party distributors.
Simon explained: “One thing that seemed counter-intuitive, but was necessary, was making our own internal rule not to hire anybody from any other online travel agencies. We thought if we hired from a competitor they would come in with all the bad habits hotels disliked.
“Without a cultural disposition of what we wanted, we couldn’t have created the company we desired and at this point it’s worked. We hired people that reflected the values we wanted and, in essence, these were just creative problem solvers. They didn’t come in with any preconceived notions about how this industry should operate and that worked really well.”
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Detailing why the decision was seemingly counter-intuitive, he said “as a young sexy startup” it would have been easy to hire from online travel agencies, which would have enabled them to scale at a faster rate and with more knowledge. Instead, the three leaders took it upon themselves to deliver the education to their new starters from scratch.
“The general story of the startup is that you have a great product idea, raise some money, work on it and then six months later you look back. Suddenly, you’ve hired all these people without thinking about who you wanted to work with or what you wanted it to feel like,” Simon explained, saying that’s something they considered from the outset.
Having decided what they wanted the business to represent, Simon said it became a “value-driven culture”. The idea was to change the idea of third party agencies being “seen by hotels as a necessary evil”.
“We wanted to think of ourselves very differently, so we look for people who on one hand are innovators, builders and questioners – willing to question everything, the way we work, the way the industry works and build new ways of doing it,” he said.
“Then there are people who exhibit a higher degree of respect for the industry and we want to be part of the community. For our customers, we go the extra mile to build tools and services that do more than just assist in a transaction, we look to be an inspirational tool, a fun app to use that can brighten someone’s day.”
Indeed, the company makes sure the app runs seamlessly, adding mobile-optimised images throughout, while editors give each destination a personal description rather than just lifting content from the hotel’s website, which makes for a distinct “vibe and personality”.
Emphasising just how serious they are when it comes to hiring, Simon revealed: “You don’t get hired if anybody who interviewed you isn’t excited, and that’s a really high standard. If just one person is unsure, we don’t hire them. That’s served to maintain and enforce this culture.”
With more than 200 people working at HotelTonight today, just four years on from the beginning, it’s fair to say that the company has shed its startup tag – but Simon disagreed.
Continue reading on the next page to find out why that is, and what HotelTonight does to ensure that startup mentality throughout the business acts as a productivity engine.
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