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