HEBS Digital’s Executive Vice President Jason Price chatted with ReviewPro’s Founder & CEO, RJ Friedlander, to discuss ReviewPro’s recent acquisition, and RJ’s career path that led up to this milestone.
Jason: What do you do and what was the path that led you to the hospitality industry?
RJ: Well, I’m one of the founders, the CEO, and have always been the largest shareholder of ReviewPro. My background is in digital media, as I was previously the CEO of digital media for Grupo Planeta, the largest media company in Spain. For a while I ran their digital media but then had the idea for ReviewPro. At Grupo Planeta, we were dealing more with the B2C space and became fascinated with user-generated content. I also liked businesses that were based on aggregation business models. So, the idea for ReviewPro kind of came up through a process of “reverse-engineering”. It was kind of like, “Okay, if user-generated content is becoming more and more relevant, who will that impact, what problems will it create, and where does that create an opportunity for a business?” When we had the idea and first started coding, there was no one in the world that offered what we were doing. I funded the company for the first year and a half so our development was kind of slow, as you can imagine, but along the way a competitor or so would pop up, and that’s kind of the origin of this business. As we grew and evolved, we innovated and got more competitive – but that’s how it works.
J: For those that may not know, what is ReviewPro and the core product offerings?
RJ: We started as a one-hit wonder, with online reputation management, and then we realized that online reputation management was just a piece of a bigger puzzle that we call guest intelligence. Guest intelligence is online reputation woven together in a very intelligent way with in-stay and post-stay surveys, and it has allowed us to bring together all channels of receiving guest feedback on the platform.
Talking about silos of data within the industry, most people were working with someone in ORM and with someone on the surveys, so all that data, in the end, while it was very simple guest data, was on different platforms with different metrics, different reports, and different alerts. Even though it wasn’t something that was very “sexy,” it was very valuable to clients. Clients understood easily how we could help them to identify, both on a property and brand level, where they need to focus, and where they need to prioritize operational and service improvements.
Later, we saw that most hotels fell down on the execution of these improvements, so we needed to find a fix. We launched a case management product about a year and a half ago, so now clients use the ORM, the GSS, and the case management to identify, prioritize, fix and track the response times for when problems are actually resolved.
Just a month ago we launched a messaging platform that allows all messaging to be accessible through one platform. It’s not tied to CRM like campaigns; it’s oriented around allowing guests staying in hotels to contact the front desk or other hotel staff directly, in real-time without having to call or go to the front desk. It’s all about letting guests communicate with staff the way they want to communicate, to create an efficient way for guests to communicate problems and to give the hotel the chance to react in immediately to ensure that when people have left they have had a great experience. Or, if there was a service problem, it gives them the time and the opportunity to recover.
J: Why the hospitality industry for ReviewPro?
RJ: ReviewPro is a SaaS business model that offers aggregation and analytics. We didn’t want to do something within the B2C space, we wanted to keep it B2B focused. We focused on the hotel and restaurant sectors because reviews analytics are important and the review, albeit positive or negative has a huge impact on the buying decision. Especially for hotels, there’s a lot of fragmentation of sources, meaning that the reviews are written across a lot of different platforms and sources. That was important too because if there was only TripAdvisor, our category wouldn’t exist, so fragmentation of sources of guest reviews is a really important part of what we do. So, it was kind of the perfect storm of factors.
J: Could you talk about what was it like putting the company up for bid, having it sold, and anything else about that process that you found important or interesting?
RJ: Well the process started as an effort to raise money to fund growth, so it didn’t start as a sale process, it started off as raising capital to fund further development. Through that process, we had various interested parties, and then ultimately sold to Shiji. For me, I’ve been involved in M&A indirectly, I’ve never sold a company or managed a process that was “my baby” so to speak. It was a long process, it went from April 2016 to December, it was complex and somewhat draining, and it takes a lot of attention away from running the day-to-day, but in the end, it worked out really well. Through the process, we had the option of just a financial investment and we also had the opportunity to exit. Having Shiji as an investor was the of both worlds, investment into the balance sheet and a great partner focused on the hospitality industry. It’s hard to be alone, fighting the world as an independent company and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of the Shiji family.
Shiji is the largest hospitality and technology company in the world and today, the vast majority of that business is from China, so although people don’t know the name, it’s an amazing company, with phenomenal entrepreneurial success stories. They always valued us, even before they bought us, and really, they’ve been a great partner. They stay out of the day-to-day business, and let us put our heads down and grow, but they’ve always been there for support when we need help. The sale made sense for all involved—the original investors/shareholders, our employees, and our clients—because Shiji was able to into the balance sheet. It was also great for the founders because ultimately, we end up with full liquidity.
J: What was it that you did that captured Shiji’s attention?
RJ: Shiji is a multibillion-dollar group that has very ambitious and clear growth plans on a global basis and they have investments in us, and other data-focused companies like Snapshot, Hetras, et cetera, so they value data and analytics. I think they also value our large client base, as well as the fact that we have a very high renewal rate and very loyal clients. I think that they like us on multiple levels. I believe that the impact and relevance of our data can stand alone, and they felt that within their portfolio, not only today but also in the future, that we will be a valuable piece to a larger puzzle. They’re looking to grow globally, and we have a large client base and long-term relationships. That gives us the opportunity to offer other solutions and services.
J: What’s a notable success story that you have? Is there a specific case study that you are proud of?
RJ: In the first quarter of this year we’ve signed some great brands globally: Radisson Hotel Group, Viceroy and SLH hotels. The list of new clients is continuously growing and we feel really honored to be growing with these great brands and helping them to deliver even better guest experiences.
In today’s world of AI, IOT and Nanotech, we’re focusing on addressing something issues that may not be that sexy. But the hotel industry is a big niche and the core being a great hotelier is understanding if your organization is underperforming, meeting, or exceeding expectations, to understand, in granularity, with qualitative and quantitative data, where and how to make improvements.
We’re offering data to improve decision-making capabilities and significantly shrinking the amount of time it takes to do this, so that information can be known while the guest is on property, which gives hotels the chance to do service recovery. All of that has a direct and measurable impact on guest experiences, the reviews, and ultimately, hotel revenue.
J: What’s next on the roadmap for ReviewPro, what does the future hold?
RJ: What we offer now is a Guest Experience Improvement SuiteTM, and that consists of Online Reputation Managment, Guest Satisfaction Surveys, Auto Case Management, and the Guest Messaging Hub, all stitched together in one package. Our clients can either opt to take a whole suite or just the module that they want. If we look over the next year and a half, it’s less about launching new products, but rather building upon what we already have and getting deeper into the technology, so that these products become even more valuable and make an even bigger impact on our clients’ businesses. For example, getting important information back into the CRM and the unique profile, is an area that we’ve started in but we want to be able to give back to a partner like Serenata to help make the profile even more valuable.
J: If you had to describe your career in three words, what would they be?
RJ: A wild ride!
About HEBS Digital:
Founded in 2001, the firm is headquartered in New York City and has global offices in Las Vegas, Tallinn, Munich, and Asia-Pacific. Through its Smart Guest Acquisition Suite, including the smartCMS®, Smart Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and full-service digital consulting and marketing solutions, HEBS Digital helps hoteliers drastically boost direct bookings, lower distribution costs, and increase the lifetime value of guests. Its diverse client portfolio consists of top-tier luxury and boutique hotel chains, independent hotels, resorts and casinos, franchised properties and hotel management companies, convention centers, spas, restaurants, DMO and tourist offices.
Part of NextGuest Technologies, HEBS Digital and Serenata CRM, the most comprehensive Hotel CRM Suite today, are the creators of the hospitality industry’s first Fully-Integrated Guest Engagement & Acquisition Platform.
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