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50 Best Companies to Watch 2017

Pushing boundaries within the hospitality industry with a cloud-based guest acquisition platform SiteMinder

thesiliconreview-mike-ford-founder-siteminder-17

The migration to cloud computing has had a major impact on the way information is handled by the hotel industry. Over the last few decades, it has dramatically lowered time, inefficiencies and cost of entry to business for hotels of all sizes trying to gain access to the same technological benefits once available only to the largest multi-national brands and corporations.

The evolution to a level playing field for hotels has been one witnessed by SiteMinder – a company that, in 2006, disrupted the hospitality technology market by exploiting the free accessibility of the Internet to introduce Software-as-a-Service. The SaaS commercial model catered to the many million hotels around the world that were looking to somehow increase their occupancy and revenue while minimizing their operational, sales and marketing costs. For the first time, those hotels were being asked to pay a low, flat monthly subscription fee rather than a hefty fee-per-transaction –and, in some instances, commissions – in exchange for a world of maximized opportunity on the web.

Today SiteMinder is the leading cloud-based platform for hotels and a company that has stayed true to its vision of empowering hotels of all types and budgets to attract, reach and convert guests searching for their accommodation online.

SiteMinder’s platform currently features the hotel industry’s most powerful and widely-adopted room distribution capability, a wholly-branded booking engine for hotels to receive direct bookings through their website or social media channels, a hotel website creator and editor, a market intelligence solution, and a connection to the world’s 500,000-strong travel agent network.

According to co-founder and managing director, Mike Ford, it’s just the beginning.

Realizing the potential in the business

From day one, Mike was determined to make SiteMinder a success but he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Two months before the launch of SiteMinder’s room distribution solution, a similar product was released in Australia. That company had much greater financial backing than Mike did, with busses of sales staff touring the country, visiting hotels and signing them up. Meanwhile, Mike was still working from home, having quit his job and taken a gamble to develop a solution he believed could effectively help hotels falling behind in the adoption of marketing and sales technology.

After the launch, Mike went door-to-door to hotels and offered free trials of the SiteMinder product with no contracts. While a number of the hotels he visited had already signed up for the other then-recently-released product, many of them still hadn’t yet received it. Mike was able to set those hotels up to SiteMinder instantly. Within six months, more than 70 hotels were using the technology, and he was able to start charging a low, flat monthly fee.

Reflecting on the life learnings that have underpinned his success, Mike says, “Many years spent solving business problems by working with technology teams made me dangerous enough to apply a model I had seen work in another vertical to a problem in the hospitality space.

“When we entered the market, our competitors were getting fat from receiving high transaction fees from hoteliers who weren’t aware they had alternative choices to reduce their costs. SiteMinder represented a way those hotels could become more profitable without being penalized for finding success.”

Mirroring the hotel industry with superior customer service          

To service an industry founded upon great hospitality, perhaps the key to success for any hotel technology provider is to mirror that same focus on people and customer service.

This theory has certainly proved true for SiteMinder, which today provides hotel sales and customer support in several time zones and in a multitude of languages.

Mike says: “The product is really important, of course, but what our hotel customers have helped us shape most is our support services. Being in the hospitality industry, hoteliers value and expect great service and support to go along with a great product. The key is working out what to listen to and what to respond to as a priority without derailing your strategic roadmap.”

Scaling with purpose

Looking ahead, Mike says continuous scaling is key but it also requires a great deal of discipline.

“It takes a long time to prove you can scale a business from a go-to-market perspective as well as a technology perspective. It’s one thing to have a working product and totally another to ensure that people know about it, are buying it, and are enjoying a positive customer experience.

“What’s next for us? I see a bigger, more efficient, more connected, more mature version of who we are today. We are the global leader in what we do by some margin and our intention is to widen that gap.”

Knowing the leader who made SiteMinder possible

As organizations speak of innovation and efficiency as tired catch phrases, few can boast leadership in speed-to-market quite like Mike Ford. Born and raised in South Africa, the seasoned IT executive found himself calling Sydney home in 2001 after arriving there at the tail-end of a year-long backpacking adventure. He established the SiteMinder business just five years later, while digitizing health claims as a delivery program manager at ICS Global, and concurrently serving as Founder and Director of Australian Leisure Operators which operated a backpacker hostel accommodation business in Sydney.

Since founding SiteMinder from his home, Mike has pushed the business to the forefront of the global hotel technology space. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce (Hons), Business Management and Information Systems from Rhodes University and an MBA from the University of Southern Queensland. When he is not planning the next positive disruption in the travel industry, Mike can be found spending time with his son or unwinding at his local surf break on Sydney’s northern beaches.

“SiteMinder represented a way hotels could become more profitable without being penalized for finding success.”

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