Tim Hentschel is the CEO of HotelPlanner.com, probably the most important traveling booking platform you haven’t heard of.
Tim’s platform handles billions in transactions a year, powering all the booking sites you know.
Altogether, HotelPlanner provides group travel technology expertise to over 4.2M group event planners while servicing $7B in group hotel booking requests in 2017.
(They expect $10B in 2018.)
Since launching in 2003—bootstrapped (the way we like it, WealthGANG)—Tim has raised money, paid back investors, scaled the platform to billions in transactional value.
And as of this year, he’s also won Cornell University’s award as Hospitality Innovator of the year, taking the prize from Lyft CEO, John Zimmer.
This is his story.
HotelPlanner.com was an idea birthed from frustration with inefficiency.
“There was a huge pain point in rate procurement process for groups,” he says. “It would take days, sometimes weeks, to get an answer.”
“A sales manager would ask you where your place of work is, all of the details about your contact information. They will come back and continue to keep asking and asking until they give you a rate,” Hentschel explains.
Like a true entrepreneur, Hentschel was able to simplify the group booking process. “We just ask where you are going, what your budget is, the dates and the number of rooms.”
And boom, the business was born.
Next thing you know, Hentschel and co-founder John Prince scored a bevy of Q-rated clients like Best Western, AT&T, and Walmart.
Flipping the model
Despite the simplicity of the process, the business model is quite unique. Hentschel says the site launched on the back of an uncommon financial engineering decision.
What it effectively does is enable a reverse auction process—permitting hotels to bid on travel groups.
Whatever the occasion, the users can submit their requirements like the number of rooms needed (with a minimum of 9+ rooms per night) and the dates, and companies will compete to get the business.
Thus ensuring the best rate for the group.
Better yet, the brand has partnered with lots of affiliates like Orbitz, Kayak, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline, helping them tap into an expansive user base.
The process is extremely simple, and leaves no room for extra hassles.
Instead of screening for excess info, HotePlanner.com scratched out all of these requirements.
In addition to the current client list, the travel platform is betting big on expansion through acquisitions.
After its launch, the company’s acquired TravelTicker, Hotel Hotline, and very recently folded accommodation auction site BackBid into HotelPlanner’s suite of services.
It’s a disciplined approach, he tells us.
“Our initial valuation was based on the cash we needed to reach profitability in relation to the equity we were willing to give up. Our 60 pages of market research helped investors believe that we could hit our targets with a very small initial raise by today’s standards,” Hentschel says.
“Our research was correct, and we hit profitability in our second year, and we never had to raise money again,” he adds.
In recent years, sectors like hospitality—and especially real estate—have seen a massive influx of capital inflows. One fund’s committed $93 billion to tech investments alone.
Despite all the VC dry powder looking for opportunity, Tim advises startups to stay as far away from funding for as long as they can.
“Think about it,” he says. “That big seven-figure, eight-figure check doesn’t go to you. It goes to the company, and you effectively lose control of your company. It’s business and the VCs can be ruthless.”
Instead, he recommends moving the focus to actually building the business.
“Focus on your core value. We filed a patent for our online group hotel booking technology 15 years ago, and we have been working everyday since to make that technology better for customers and suppliers,” he tells us.
What’s next on the cards?
While his company is busy garnering robust sales, Hentschel’s naturally bullish on the travel industry’s future.
The travel space is wedged into a transitional phase. Baby boomers who are spending their retirement traveling. Then we’ve got millennials prioritizing “experiences” over “stuff.”
“We have been through market bubbles and bursts over the history of our company and the highs and lows can be challenging if your core product cannot adapt quickly to market conditions. We are going to continue to expand globally and follow up with group travel trends,” Hentschel says.
“We want to compile as much data and information about every destination, and push it out to visitors in an easy to digest format.”
And what’s next, Tim? IPO?
“Not yet,” he says, laughing. “Our books are healthy, we’re growing. Maybe at some point in the future.”
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BREAKING: WealthLAB Co-Founder Makes Forbes 30 Under 30 List
Forbes Africa just unveiled its fifth annual “30 under 30” list, highlighting the top young entrepreneurs, innovators and gamechangers.
And guess what: WealthLAB co-founder Odunayo Eweniyi is on it. See the full Forbes list here.
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Extremely honored to be on the list of this year’s Forbes 30under30 2019 in Technology along with my cofounders @somtoifezue and @JoshChibueze. Thank you everyone for the support, we could not have done this without you guys! Thank you @forbesafrica! #thegirlthatcould #30under30
Alongside co-founders Joshua Chibueze, 26, and Somto Ifezue, 28, Odunayo built PiggyVest, a fintech app that’s helped over 230,000 African Millennials invest and save over $15M.
“PiggyVest was born out of the need to help people create a sustainable means of saving,” Odunayo told Forbes. PiggyVest users currently earn 10-13% on savings.
Just last May, PiggyVest—then known as Piggybank—closed a seed round, raising $1.1M. In doing so, Odunayo became one of under 30 Black women to raise over $1M in startup capital.
While the app started as a digital piggy bank for savers, Odunayo told TechCrunch the goal was to become a “financial warehouse” where other financial providers “can plug in their services for [PiggyVest] users.”
That vision recently came to life with the launch a new investment feature called “Investify,” which pays around 25% depending on the investment opportunity.
These investments will range from classic guaranteed fixed income opportunities (TBills, bonds, commercial papers, etc) to unconventional opportunities in real estate, agriculture, and transportation.
Minimum amount you can invest will vary by investment opportunities.
— PiggyVest (@PiggyBankNG) April 30, 2019
The Forbes distinction comes on the heels of an impressive recent run of awards for the young entrepreneur.
In March, Odunayo earned an award from Forbes as one of the top young “wealth creators” in Africa. Shortly after, Odunayo was named 2019 SME Entrepreneur of the Year in Wealth and Society in West Africa.
Prior to founding PiggyVest, Odunayo co-founded PushCV, the largest job database in Africa.
“I’ve always wanted to make an impact. I didn’t know how I would do it, but i felt a compulsion to.”Odunayo told Black Enterprise in a recent interview.
In addition to PiggyVest, Odunayo’s co-founded WealthLAB (yes, this WealthLAB) with NYC-based investor-entrepreneur Philip Michael. The two also invest in women —and minority run startups in the US.
Forbes Africa named 120 entrepreneurs across four categories: trade, technology, innovation, and sport. “I’m honored but I’m just ready to work,” Odunayo said when asked about the award. “I’m already thinking about what’s next.”
Well, alright then. Hit her up and congratulate her on IG here!