Talking business: Alex Shashou, ALICE

BHN talks to Alex Shashou, the co-founder of hotel operation platform app ALICE, about growth, the precarious nature of start-ups and having Expedia as a backer.

• Can you tell us little about your family background in hotels, and about your career path to date?

“My father used to be one of the leading UK hoteliers, owning and operating the Malmaison, Hotel Du Vin, and Hotel De Vere brands. I saw firsthand as they built up the Malmaison brand from three hotels to more than 25 and fell in love with the industry. As a kid, I was given the opportunity to intern in his hotels and became fascinated with the way hotels worked and how challenging it was for departments to work together to orchestrate every guest experience. From laundry through concierge, I could not believe how diverse the culture was and how much went into running a hotel. I knew I wanted to build my own from a very early age.”

• How did the idea for ALICE come about, and how has it evolved since launch?

“At first, the idea came from a friend of mine – who is now my business partner – Justin Effron. Having travelled around Asia together, he was frustrated by how outdated guest communication was… with language barriers, no mobile tools, and a complete lack of transparency into the hotel stay. Every industry was evolving, thanks to the advancement of cloud, social, and mobile technologies, and the hotel industry seemed stuck. “

“So we set out to create an application that would bridge this mobile gap by allowing guests to order food and services from all of their hotels, similar to what Seamless or Deliveroo had done with food delivery. In our research, however, we found mobile apps were just an access point into a new infrastructure for delivering service. In observing the likes of Uber, Amazon, Opentable, and other platforms, we found the true innovation was not the app, but the digitalization of all the services on the back-end, the staff or the services they offered.”

“Most hotels today are running outdated legacy systems, which are disconnected from one another. So we broadened our vision – not just to give the guest side a mobile offering, but to deliver a technology operations platform for all staff to work on together, from concierge to front desk to housekeeping, and even maintenance: An operations and communication platform for the whole hospitality industry.”

• Expedia has invested in your company – what challenges and opportunities has that presented?

“The hospitality industry is a famously difficult one to build technology for. If you look around there are not too many massive hotel technology companies. Having Expedia as an investor has given ALICE a lot of credibility and has given our hotels confidence in our ability to deliver world-class technology for years to come.”

“So many technology startups in our industry wind up going out of business that hoteliers with experience have all likely seen their technology decisions and desire to be innovate backfire, simply because their chosen partner ran out of steam. With ALICE having raised $13.5 million over the last four years, our hotels can be confident in our ability to continue innovating and delivering them results.”

• Can you tell us about some of the hotels and hotel groups you are working with, and about your plans to expand into new markets such as the UK?

“ALICE has primarily worked with the boutique and independent market. Hotels like SIXTY, Viceroy, Two Roads, One&Only, and The Setai have all been incredible partners of ours. However, the technology works for almost all 3 to 5 star hotels, because of its broad ability to help all departments. If you don’t have a concierge, then your front desk can use our software to become one and service the guest in the same way. If you don’t want a mobile app, you can leverage our guest text messaging capabilities to communicate with your guests like never before.”

“We are very excited to bring this to the UK, as we believe the UK is an incredible hotel community and one that is very close to heart! While we have tested the UK market quite a bit over the years and received very good feedback and a few initial clients, we have decided to demo ALICE in the UK at the Hotel Tech Live show on September 27th as a more formal debut. We hope to meet many hoteliers there and if you’d like to learn more about ALICE before then we would happily set up an online demonstration.”

• Apart from traditional hotels, which other industry segments does ALICE have potential to offer a solution for?

“ALICE is extremely configurable for many hospitality businesses. We started in hotels, but with so many businesses today operating as service businesses, expanding to different verticals within hospitality is a natural move. This includes luxury residential condos with doormen and service offerings and shared workspaces with front desks and cleaning services, and everything in between. These traditional businesses have all started to become service businesses and are looking for hotel technology to provide them a competitive advantage. We have recently launched in both of these sectors (workspaces and residential), and it has been a tremendous success so far.”

• What are your plans for the longer term – do you see yourself launching other hospitality products or trying something completely new?

“It is hard for me to see life past ALICE. As a founder, I am not sure exactly what skills I have, and with such a strong team at ALICE around me, I wouldn’t ever want to leave this environment. We have built this incredible culture that makes work never feel like work. So, for now and the foreseeable future, I look forward to growing this business, beating the odds, and changing an entire industry for the better. Then hopefully I’ll get to open a hotel or two myself!”

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