When the pandemic hit, the effect on travel and live events was swift, and the fallout across the hospitality industry has been acute. Certain small and agile software startups, however, have been able to swiftly pivot to a new business model or seize upon opportunities made ripe by current circumstances.
Such was the case for IDEM Hospitality (now part of Groups360), software creators whose group housing technology increases revenue opportunities for hoteliers and reduces workloads for meeting planners.
Matthew Howden, senior vice president and general manager, attendee management solutions, for Groups360 is cofounder and former joint CEO of IDEM. During the last week of September 2020, Matthew was a featured speaker at WiT Experience Week, a unique global travel conference by Web in Travel (WiT) that was live-streamed from Singapore.
In 2019, IDEM Hospitality was the WiT Startup of the Year. In this online interview, Matthew joined Dylan Tan, CEO of Split, the 2018 WiT Startup of the Year winner, to revisit their companies’ trajectories since their wins and how they’ve been faring through the pandemic.
Below are highlights from Matthew’s contributions to the conversation, and you can also watch the 15-minute interview in full to hear from both panelists.
How did your business respond when COVID-19 first hit?
At the time, we were offering online booking technology for meetings and events, and we saw reservations fall from our hotel customers drastically. In a matter of weeks, it went from 10,000 or more a month to virtually zero overnight. So, we went out and talked to our customers to come up with concepts and ideas. How can we help them generate money?
We started by creating “staycation” solutions to drive a bit of demand to their hotels. We saw some good pickup — large corporations were onboarding their private-label staycation booking websites. But then COVID got worse and the bottom fell out of that as well.
So again, we went back to the customers. They said they were looking for a solution to sell vouchers or gift certificates to drive demand today and be able to produce that later in the year. I knew what the product was because I had bought one from Banyan Tree, which was a unbelievable staycation. Now, in our system today, we have a proprietary upsell solution that allows hotels to sell packages to group guests.
We pivoted with that and expanded on that solution to allow guests to buy a voucher for a product — staycations, F&B, spa, etc. I recently saw one of our hotels put up “mumcations,” which are pretty cool and they’re going great guns right now. It’s fantastic.
You have also been busy with an acquisition. Tell us how that deal came about.
In June 2019, we were introduced to the guys at Groups360 by the Accor team. We ended up meeting Groups360 executives at the 2019 HITEC conference in Minneapolis, and we just hit it off.
Groups360 created GroupSync to simplify searching, sourcing, and booking guest rooms and meeting space for hotels and event planners. We had a product to simplify group reservations for meetings and events. So, we saw opportunities for a partnership, and partnership discussions turned into acquisition discussions later that October.
We were meant to close the deal in March 2020. And then COVID hit. It certainly took the wind out of everyone’s sails, but it didn’t affect the deal. We just slowed down a bit. We continued the discussions and kept moving, but the lull in business gave us a bit of breathing space.
Aside from your successes, were there any points of error?
Frankly, I’m happy to say this time has been great for us. We’ve been able to sit back and plan, build, and compile our solutions, work on integrations between products, and maximize our contribution to the industry’s recovery as we come out of COVID.
Do you have any advice for startups trying to fundraise or pivot?
First, I would say I feel for you. One assumes you’ve already got your costs under control, which is a key metric right now. But it’s critical you keep talking to your customers and get feedback on what they’re doing. Listen to them and identify some of the challenges they’re going through now. This is what helped us. Where there are challenges, there are opportunities.