By Hotel Tech Report 

Behind the journey with Whistle’s CEO

How Whis­tle used Lean Start­up strat­e­gy to become the hotel industry’s favorite guest mes­sag­ing platform.

From start-up to
hotel industry success

Chris Hovanessian’s jour­ney and the found­ing of Whis­tle is straight out of the Lean Start­up play­book. Whistle’s guest mes­sag­ing soft­ware is world renowned today, but when Chris start­ed his busi­ness most hotels didn’t even know what “guest mes­sag­ing” was. 

Starting with a
problem

While work­ing in the cor­po­rate relo­ca­tion busi­ness he noticed that he was able to give clients great cus­tomer ser­vice when they were at home but when they got to their respec­tive des­ti­na­tions, many of them didn’t have local phone (or data) plans so they were left in the dark and it cre­at­ed tons of prob­lems from a cus­tomer expe­ri­ence perspective. 

Believing messaging was the future 

He also noticed that they were com­mu­ni­cat­ing on a vari­ety of plat­forms like SMS, Viber, and What­sApp when they were home and that mes­sag­ing was becom­ing both cheap­er and more wide­spread. Chris believed that mes­sag­ing was the future and had a hunch that it would com­plete­ly change the way busi­ness­es deliv­ered cus­tomer service. 

Discovering
real value 

Chris then began talk­ing to dozens of local busi­ness own­ers from all walks of life. While speak­ing with hotel man­agers, he real­ized that mes­sag­ing could add a ton of val­ue for hotels giv­en their com­plex oper­a­tional needs, employ­ee shift sched­ules and giv­en hotels’ mani­a­cal focus on deliv­er­ing a great guest experience. 

Designing
and developing

Chris cre­at­ed mock­ups of what the mes­sag­ing prod­uct would look like so that he could get more detailed feed­back on the con­cept. Before the end of the meet­ing, that hote­lier inquired about pric­ing and asked when they could go live. Chris part­nered with co-founder Jonathan Rojas, a sales guru and col­lege friend, then found a tech­ni­cal part­ner and built an MVP for that client since they didn’t even have a prod­uct yet—the rest is history. 

Succeeding yet
never settling

Hotels may not have known about guest mes­sag­ing when Chris and Jon start­ed the busi­ness, they cer­tain­ly do today. Whis­tle has won Top Rat­ed Guest Mes­sag­ing Plat­form in the Hotel­TechAwards for 4 years in a row and the com­pa­ny is now in hun­dreds of hotels around the world.The old guard often saw tech­nol­o­gy as a risk to the human expe­ri­ence of hos­pi­tal­i­ty and mes­sag­ing has proven to do exact­ly the oppo­site by cre­at­ing stronger con­nec­tions between hotel staff and guests. 

Our cell phones are high­ly per­son­al to us, they’re the first thing we check in the morn­ing and the last thing we see before we go to sleep. They’re how we con­nect with friends, fam­i­ly, and col­leagues. Any hotel that doesn’t offer the abil­i­ty for guests to text for ser­vice is miss­ing a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty to sur­prise and delight. 

Christo­pher Hovanessian

I attend­ed Loy­ola Mary­mount Uni­ver­si­ty (LMU) in 2011 with a major in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion — Entre­pre­neur­ship. At LMU, I gained hands-on expe­ri­ence with start­ing com­pa­nies from A‑Z, met my cofounder Jonathan Rojas, and was also a chap­ter found­ing mem­ber of pro­fes­sion­al busi­ness fra­ter­ni­ty, Alpha Kap­pa Psi — Psi Epsilon.

Dur­ing my last semes­ter and after grad­u­at­ing from LMU, I began work­ing in cor­po­rate relo­ca­tion. There, I worked with For­tune 500 com­pa­nies to relo­cate their exec­u­tive and per­son­nel between head­quar­ters, and to the U.S. Through this posi­tion, I gained expo­sure to cer­tain aspects of hos­pi­tal­i­ty, and imme­di­ate­ly real­ized the impor­tance of stream­lined communication.

In the cor­po­rate relo­ca­tion world at the time, my clients came to the U.S. and pri­mar­i­ly stayed in hotels. Once they arrived, their mobile phones were essen­tial­ly use­less, as they did not have new data plans in place and would have been charged enor­mous fees. As a result, all logis­tics were planned weeks in advance via email. If I need­ed to get in touch with the client, one of the only ways was to call their hotel and ask to be trans­ferred to their room. As you can imag­ine, they were not reg­u­lar­ly board­ed up in their rooms.

 

Through this frus­tra­tion, I quick­ly found a bet­ter solu­tion: ask clients to down­load var­i­ous mobile mes­sag­ing appli­ca­tions that were pop­u­lar in their coun­try at the time (e.g. Skype, Viber, and many oth­ers), and to con­nect to WiFi as often as pos­si­ble. With this approach, I was more like­ly to engage in real-time communication.

 

Then one day, when coor­di­nat­ing with mul­ti­ple clients at once through mul­ti­ple chan­nels, it hit me — I need an aggre­gate solu­tion, which sup­ports all chan­nels! We jumped in and start­ed Whis­tle there­after, using the lean method­ol­o­gy and iden­ti­fy­ing Hos­pi­tal­i­ty as the most appar­ent appli­ca­tion for the software.

Al Munguia, of the Jupiter Hotel in Port­land, Ore­gon. Before we even built a prod­uct, we used the Lean Method­ol­o­gy to get off the ground. I was con­duct­ing inter­views with will­ing par­tic­i­pants to deter­mine the pain points, and even­tu­al­ly to shape the MVP. Al was the sec­ond inter­view I con­duct­ed dur­ing the “Solu­tion Stage”, which is where you show mock­ups or a wire­frame of the poten­tial prod­uct, and then gauge feed­back for improve­ments and enhance­ments. 10 min­utes into the call, he asked, “this looks great, how much does it cost?” I wasn’t pre­pared to answer that ques­tion so I just threw out a num­ber, and he told me to let him know when they could start. I said one-week, and then we got to work build­ing the platform!

Mes­sag­ing start­ed off as a nice-to-have, but is quick­ly evolv­ing into a require­ment, sim­i­lar to WiFi a decade ago. Whis­tle is the eas­i­est GMP to get start­ed with; we offer a free tri­al with no com­mit­ments, you can get set­up in min­utes, and you will see results on the first day of usage. Whis­tle will boost your guest engage­ment lev­els, dri­ve up your guest sat­is­fac­tion scores, pro­vide ancil­lary rev­enue, improve your oper­a­tional effi­cien­cy, and stream­line all of your depart­ments’ logis­tics — our cus­tomers can’t live with­out it.

“Mes­sag­ing is imper­son­al, you can’t replace in-per­son inter­ac­tions.” The aim of mes­sag­ing is not to replace in-per­son inter­ac­tions or even phone calls, it is to fill the cus­tomer ser­vice white­space or void that exists today. There are a large por­tion of trav­el­ers and con­sumers today who are not com­mu­ni­cat­ing with your orga­ni­za­tion because you may not have the prop­er means. With the increas­ing influx of tech­nol­o­gy sep­a­rat­ing the hotel staff and guests (e.g. OTAs and Mobile Room Keys), mes­sag­ing is one of the main com­po­nents con­nect­ing hotels with their guests today.

For Whis­tle, Prop­er­ty Man­age­ment Soft­ware (PMS) part­ner­ships in gen­er­al have been espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful for both us and our PMS part­ners. It gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow, while pro­vid­ing tremen­dous added val­ue to our PMS part­ners, mak­ing their prod­uct more sticky because we can ulti­mate­ly extend their reach into the guest jour­ney where­as the PMS usu­al­ly is just used by the hotelier.

For the guest mes­sag­ing cat­e­go­ry as a whole, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing  will become more preva­lent. AI has pro­gressed sig­nif­i­cant­ly with­in the last two years, and we are begin­ning to see it pro­vide more val­ue. Mes­sag­ing will also begin to touch more hotel soft­ware cat­e­gories, beyond the guest and past the PMS/CRM. I think we’ll also begin to see con­sol­i­da­tion with­in the cat­e­go­ry, speak­ing from the busi­ness perspective.

 

We see Whis­tle in tens of thou­sands of hotels around the globe, pro­vid­ing a holis­tic mes­sag­ing plat­form for guests and all departments/aspects of the hotel. Peo­ple think mes­sag­ing capa­bil­i­ties have matured, when real­is­ti­cal­ly we’ve bare­ly scratched the surface.

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