Whenever one visits a place, whether it is a restaurant, hotel or a tourist destination – a 21st century practice is for the establishment to ask for feedback in the form of review. There are countless reviews written online on a daily basis on various platforms and even in local languages.
Most of this information is available in abundance and, at times, it becomes difficult for hoteliers who fail to get enough mentions on these review platforms.There are even times when consumers leave a negative feedback on a review site, social media or booking platforms. In a world that is fully digital, this kind of negative feedback impacts hotels and travel businesses and cannot be contained. Making sense of this clutter is a crucial need of the hour but it becomes an unnerving task for many hoteliers and the travel industry, as a whole, due to which they face significant drops in their traction, as they are unable to attract users towards their platform.
Pranjal Prashar and Vineet Chouhan sensed an opportunity to tap into this untapped market and founded Repup in December 2014. Repup, a B2B ORM (Online Reputation Management) platform, provides customer experience management tools for hotels and hospitality businesses. The platform helps hotels to measure, benchmark, and improve the user experience for their guests. Owned and operated by Piquor Technologies, the startup launched its reputation and customer experience management services for a limited group of partners before launching, formally, nine months later in 2015.
And since reviews maketh the startup, Repup has recently bagged the ‘Tech Rocketship’ award at the India UK Tech Summit 2016.
Headquartered in Gurugram, it currently has client footprints in 21 cities – with properties such as Radisson Blu, ITC WelcomHeritage, Fortune, Lemon among others associated with it. Today, the startup has over 22,000 rooms on its platform and boasted 600% growth in the calendar year 2016.
“For an early-stage startup, it was very crucial to be guided by a consortium of experienced investors who helped us with the product and expansion. Having some early customers on the platform gave us substantial validation of the problem in this space. Reaching out to the right investors who identified with this market need helped. Since the early stage in a startup is all about the product and the team, we invested in product market fit and finding people with the right set of ambitions,” begins Pranjal Prashar, co-founder and CEO, Repup.
Making Sense Of Available, Chaotic Data In Hospitality
It is observed that entrepreneurs hailing from small towns move to big cities to fulfil their big dreams with nothing more than talent and will. These cities promise to provide all the essential resources to turn their aspirations into reality. This was Pranjal’s journey, as well, who always believes – ‘Everything is possible; if you have the will to accomplish it!” He left Siwan, a small town in Bihar, to fulfil his dream of owning a company.
“I give due credit to my background for ingraining in me the right attitude and ambition to dedicate my life in creating simple yet optimum solutions to problems that matter. The emphasis on financial prudence is what drives entrepreneurs like me to make in-house processes and teams more efficient,” he adds.
Pranjal, who holds a dual degree in IT and Management from IIIT Gwalior, always considered himself a product guy. During his three-year stint at growth-stage startup Aujas, he got a chance to work in the B2B IT product consulting space. While working there, he witnessed a lot of data available about potential and existing customers in the hospitality sector online – but this data existed in a chaotic state and there was an urgent need to make sense of it.
He understood the value of this information to transform guest experiences and in 2012 while traveling to Gurugram he discussed his startup idea with his friend Vineet Chouhan and – just like that – kick started their startup journey.
“I cherish my past experience and attribute whatever I have learnt about entrepreneurship to Repup. It was no epiphany or a single moment but a validation built over a period of time. When technology is built around the customer – it has the power to transform customer experiences in any industry. As a techno-commercial individual, if you can create four such products that solve real-world problems, you would have lived your purpose,” says Pranjal.
While building the product, Pranjal stayed in 80 different hotels in Mumbai to validate product framework.
“RepUp is an abbreviation for ‘reputation upliftment.’ The reputation of a player in the hospitality industry is dependent on how carefully a brand listens to its customers – both happy and unhappy. Working backwards, going out of your way to understand your guests’ specific needs and optimising the workflow to serve them better is a must. Through our platform, we enable hoteliers to have better control over guest experience management and hence their reputation,” he adds.
Using NLP To Enhance Customer Experience In Hotels
“Repup applies a proprietary five-stage CEM (Customer Experience Management) maturity model and uses a patent-pending algorithm to present guest experience in a measurable framework,” says Pranjal.
With its in-house technology the startup brings discipline in the process of review management by aggregating opinions spread across dozens of OTAs (Online Travel Aggregators) and review portals. “Making sense of the chaos to provide key insights on customers helps hotels improve customer experiences,” says Pranjal.
The platform automatically collects guest feedback, complaints, and reviews. It is a Facebook kind of a feed where hoteliers can participate, so that the hotelier can deliver an exceptional customer experience in a controlled manner.
Repup monetises through a subscription based model. It charges an an annual subscription fees which is INR 150 per room for a month, paid by hoteliers for using their guest experience management platform.
With a team of 42, Repup applies semantic technology (which encodes meanings separately from data and content files separately from application code) and has, in its kitty, intuitive decision-making tools. The company claims that its technology analyses the original review data with almost 90% accuracy.
“We have recently introduced collaboration and workflow systems for large hotels where in-house processes (service requests, complaints) are automated. Hence, by optimising the process in a hotel, we are helping prevent negative guest experiences altogether,” says Pranjal.
Repup has also partnered with travel site TripAdvisor and has received access to its content (reviews, feedback, and complaints) posted by hotel guests.
“Partnering is definitely an optimum channel to get mass adoption for your product. By integrating with other important players in the hotel ecosystem like Hotelogix, Axis Rooms, and Ezee Technosys, we are rolling out a freemium model product for all our existing customers. The relationship is symbiotic with the partners too, benefitting from integration with our platform. At the same time, customers get the advantage of a substantially integrated solution. For example, CEM (Customer Experience Management Platform) integration with PMS (Property Management System) can enable the automation of many processes in the hotel,” explains Pranjal.
With the help of Repup, hotels reportedly witnessed 40% improvement in their Net Promoter Score, guest satisfaction, and repeat customers.
End Of 2017: Adding 900K Hotel Rooms
Currently, the travel and hospitality industry is witnessing exciting times. According to the founder – worldwide, almost 88% of users trust online reviews, as compared to personal recommendations. Hence, not paying attention to what is being spoken online about the brand is something which can lead one into trouble.
The market is evolving in such a way that only those who analyse this information in time to personalise their service and improve guest satisfaction will survive. Repup, which is competing with global players like Medallia and Trustyou, is extending its solutions to a larger segment of hotels beyond the typical five-star.
The startup is also looking to tackle future challenges by creating an ecosystem around the platform, introducing its advanced CEM platform, which will be meant for enterprise clients. With the help of this platform, it is aiming to help hoteliers keep their guests happy across the customer life cycle – pre-arrival, on-premises, and post-stay.
“Every third hotel in the top 10 Indian brands is a RepUp customer. We are still in the early phase of our growth journey and aim to be the leader in the CEM space, globally. Furthermore, usage of analytics in the travel tech industry has immense potential, we intend to leverage analytics and deliver business value to small hotels at affordable cost,” says Pranjal.
Repup aims to hit 10x growth mark within the next 18 months by continuing to provide innovation and support to hoteliers to achieve their promise of exceeding guest expectations.
It has already started sales in the European market and is also in advanced discussions with channel partners in Southeast Asia. By the end of this financial year, the company will reportedly cross $500K in revenue, with a team of 42. It is further eyeing Month-on-Month growth of 25% to 30% by the next financial year.
With major partnerships with travel providers in the pipeline, Repup is also looking to add 900K hotel rooms on its platform by the end of 2017. Not only this, the company is also looking to achieve $1 Mn ARR (Accounting Rate of Return) by 2017. “We are targeting to achieve a 20% pie share of the existing 4-star and 5-star properties in India in calendar year 2017,” concludes Pranjal.
Estimated number of hotel rooms in India is way above 1.7 Lakhs, which is expected to rise by 60,000 hotel rooms (across segments) over the next 3-5 years. Furthermore, in 2016 Google reported that over 8 Mn Indians were expected to book their hotels online and most of the bookings will be done through online travel agencies (OTAs). Most of them like MakeMyTrip, OYO Rooms are not simply selling accommodation online but also act as an indirect influencer through user reviews.
Players like Repup have a unique role to play in determining the direction of these platforms, and maybe, indeed their future too. With the rise of online brands such as OYO Rooms, Fab, Treebo, the value-plus Indian hospitality industry seems to have an optimistic outlook. To add to this, in the last few years, foreign players in the luxury and branded segment have also shown deep interest in the Indian market.
For companies like RepUp, the timing seems to be just right with 2,00,000 addressable hotels in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka ,and Indonesia. But with more players emerging across verticals in a fast-changing tech-based world, will it be able to keep ahead of the competition – that’s the question.
Repup is part of Inc42’s 42 Fellowship – a year-long fellowship programme for India’s top growing and upcoming startups with the aim to build a close-knit community who can help each other multiply their impact.