Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

rooMeter - The Buying Power of YOU!

Tonight, rooMeter came out of hibernation and onto the main stage of the Haifa Auditorium and won the popular vote in the StartApp Factory Startup Competition.


Ready to rock'n'roll on pitch night
After participating in a Startup Weekend a couple of months ago, where around 200 young entrepreneurs came together for around 45 hours to 'create' something (10 of the most popular projects were worked on after around 60 one minute pitches by those with ideas), myself and three other attendees formed a team for another startup competition based on the idea of one of the team members. I must admit, my enthusiasm for the idea was not particular great the first time I heard it, but after putting our minds together and giving it lots of thought, the idea morphed into rooMeter and we all quickly built up the enthusiasm for the concept and this new competition. The four of us who make up rooMeter come from a variety of backgrounds, and apart from myself, we have a design expert, someone with deep knowledge of the hotel industry, and a software developer.

The competition is a kind of 'business accelerator' based upon the intelligence of the masses and crowd-funding. In other words, rather than having a handful of so-called experts telling the startups what they should do and how they should do it,the general public guides the startups through voting and by providing funds. At least in theory.

Surveying the waiting crowd prior to the event
The event took place inside the Haifa Auditorium
The preparation over the last 6 weeks has been mainly preparation for the opening night of the competition, a pitch night. Despite typical Israeli organisation - the Hebrew word "balagan" comes to mind (let alone the fact that out of the few alterations they do to our presentation, one involves changing my name to spell it incorrectly! Why people think I can't spell my own name is beyond me...) - we were relatively well prepared. And despite me having the worst Hebrew out of all four of us, I made enough of an impression at the Startup Weekend (which was conducted in English) that I was selected to be the presenter. We competed against 6 other startups - a bunch of young people with some fantastic ideas. It didn't really matter whether each and every person thought they would make use of the particular product being presented, but I believe that everyone was impressed with not just the ideas that people had, but the work that was done towards realising them. I know I certainly was.

Time to convince the audience...
So, rooMeter  A few one-liners have been used already to 'say' what the idea is; Discounted hotel rooms using the power of your social network. Group buying using social media. Tired of paying full price for a hotel room? Take back the buying power of YOU! But none of them really explain the idea. And any short line which is used to explain the idea, often results in the listener responding with, "oh, you mean GroupOn", or "oh, just like HotelTonight". Well, no. Not like either of those, and not like anything in existence today.

What rooMeter does is to take a few simple, and not uncommonly known facts and works with them.
  1. Hotels typically have less than 100% occupancy and empty rooms are lost money. Sometimes hotels can forecast low occupancy far in advance, sometimes they can't.
  2. Individuals pay the standard price at hotels (whether it be booking online, or using any other method). Groups always receive a discount - which can be quite significant.
  3. Hotels pay a significant commission to travel agents and booking agencies (including online ones).
  4. Advertising is not cheap, and any advertising that does not look like advertising, is always better than 'obvious' paid advertising.
Q&A time
Point 1 by itself is already solved by dozens of travel websites out there. But take advantage of the other points as well, and we have rooMeter.  Hotels 'offload' excess rooms. The more rooms that are sold, the lower the price for each room, because the hotel considers it a 'group' booking (even if they are not all on the same night) and offloads the advertising effort to those people who are making the bookings. Users are encouraged to share any bookings they make on their social network, be it Facebook, Twitter or Google+, to encourage others to book through rooMeter and thus lower the price for everyone. Of course, if only one person books - then they pay the standard price (no more, of course). Simple, right? Well, in some senses yes, but in many senses, the devil lies in the detail.

Each team has one final opportunity to convince the crowd, so I tell them
about the wonderful hotel deal already available.
One of our greatest morale boosts came from our first agreement with a hotel, the Jerusalem Tower Hotel. The fact that on our launch night, we could offer people up to 25% off the best Internet rate (depending on how many rooms were sold), was a great feeling (by the way - you can still join in and book for yourself at this great rate, thereby contributing towards everyone getting the discounted price).

So, after winning the popular vote we now move to the next step. Building a working prototype, contracts, agreements, stage 2 of the competition, and many long discussions. Most of all, we started doing this for the fun of it, for the experience, and to learn. But now, perhaps www.roometer.com will soon be the primary destination on the Internet for those booking hotel rooms. In the mean time, show your support with a vote or even some cash (it's only Israeli Sheqels, and according to Australian financial institutions, it's not real money anyway, so you may as well give some to us...)
To the victors go the spoils

Just for laughs...

We produced a short clip of our creative process in action...

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