Founded less than two years ago, Plano-based technology startup OpenKey is revolutionizing the hospitality industry. And it’s doing so at a rapid pace.
“OpenKey has been able to quickly build a winning enterprise-grade product and is deploying at hundreds of hotels in 2016,” OpenKey founder and CEO TJ Person says. “Growth has been dynamic and fast.”
OpenKey is the brainchild of Person and Monty Bennett, founder, chairman, and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust, a real estate investment trust. The company initially focused on its mobile app, which allows authorized and secure keyless entry into hotel rooms via a guest’s smart phone. That means no more de-magnetized or discarded key cards.
The app also has a guest’s room number on its digital key screen, which OpenKey says has led to fewer guest visits to the front desk after they check-in.
“OpenKey is one of the first in the hospitality industry to enhance the operators’ and guest experience within every hotel they exist in. The hotel industry has already begun to switch to mobile access, and the following is just beginning,” Person says.
Major hospitality chains including Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and IHG, as well as independent hotels are employing OpenKey’s mobile key technology, and the company already has been funded by 12 of the largest hotel ownership and management companies in the world.
“I would attribute the rapid growth of OpenKey to a really strong product backed by great support, as well as good timing,” says Eric Batis, vice president of capital management at Ashford Hospitality Trust, which has invested in OpenKey and uses its technology in many of the hotels they own.”As people become more accustomed to using their phone as a boarding pass for airlines, the mobile room key concept is a natural next step.”
Prior to founding OpenKey, Person was co-founder and CEO of Koupon Media, the first one-time-use mobile coupon platform for brands, which has raised $15.25 million since 2011.
In 2005, he co-founded Mango Mobile, which was acquired in 2007 by Omnicom Group and merged with GMR Marketing in 2009.
Person has used those experiences — as well as lessons he learned from his father, also an entrepreneur — to successfully lay the foundation for OpenKey. It’s a foundation built on people, partners, and strategic evolution, he says.
Growing People and Partners
Led by Person, OpenKey understands that a bottom line is about more than money; it’s also about people.
“OpenKey has been very smart in their product positioning by working with all the major stay brands, lock companies, and ownership groups to complement existing strategies and digital initiatives instead of competing with them like many other companies in the space are doing,” Batis says.
Last month, the company announced it had signed a letter of intent with Kaba to create a Preferred Partnership. Kaba is a leading provider of innovative access solutions and a global market leader for high-security locks.
As strategic partners, the two companies initially will focus on integrating OpenKey’s mobile-entry service with Kaba’s new BLE locks.
“Brands and owners alike want to offer the best guest experience possible, and the universal nature of OpenKey makes it an easy decision for making the move into mobile key technology,” — Eric Batis, vice president of capital management at Ashford Hospitality Trust.
“Brands and owners alike want to offer the best guest experience possible, and the universal nature of OpenKey makes it an easy decision for making the move into mobile key technology,” Batis says.
In addition to strategically expanding external partners, OpenKey has grown internally by attracting top talent who aim to bring the company to the next level.
In February, two longtime executives in the hospitality industry joined the OpenKey team.
Ryan Douglas, who previously worked in executive roles for Expedia and Barton Creek Resort & Spa, joined the OpenKey team as its new vice president of operations. Brian Shedd, a former executive with Mandalay Resort Group and Omnicom, came on board as the company’s new vice president of sales and marketing.
“We’re excited to enter the next stage in our evolution as a technology startup,” Person says.
Strategic Evolution: Enter Version 2.0
While OpenKey had a very busy February, the company continues to forge full-steam ahead and kicked off March by rolling out Version 2.0 of its technology.
“The expansion of features we are able to now offer with this version of the OpenKey app will help make traveling easier and smarter,” says Jon Alsup, lead project manager at OpenKey.
Among those new features are the ability to send a hotel an estimated time of arrival, which simplifies late check-ins for guests and enables a hotel to assign a room number before they arrive; the ability for a front desk agent to manage the ETA guest and quickly check them in upon arrival; and “secured ID capture,” which helps hotels confirm a guest’s identity and bolster security.
“The combination of a solid product, strategic investors, and experienced staff has allowed OpenKey to flourish within the industry,” — TJ Person
“[Version 2.0] reduces staffing pressures, reduces key cost for lost or discarded key cards, and improves guest satisfaction, experience, and loyalty,” Person says.
Other Version 2.0 features include “profiles,” which allow users to easily manage the check-in process and receive their digital key via mobile app, and the ability to call the front desk with the tap of a button on their smartphones.
“The combination of a solid product, strategic investors, and experienced staff has allowed OpenKey to flourish within the industry,” Person says. “We have many plans moving forward.”
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