Hospitality & Travel Articles

The Secret to Small Business Success? Cloud Apps, Mobility and Human Concierges

by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 11 December 2012

At GetApp, our primary concern is you. We are always interested in finding ways to help you optimize and innovate your small business with cloud apps.

That is why, starting today, we have an interview series with small business owners and experts. In this series, we get down to the brass tacks and interview small business owners and experts about their strategies and best business practices for technology use. The idea behind the series is to explore the use and role of technology in growing a small business.

Feel free to get in touch with us, if you are a small business owner and have an interesting story to share. Email us and we will get in touch with you to write a post on your story.

Today, we interview Brett Snyder, small business owner and entrepreneur who started travel assistance service Cranky Concierge after getting laid off.

How To Start A Small Business After Getting Laid Off

Travel professional Brett Snyder had few options after he was laid off. Among his assets were some severance pay, a popular blog for travelers, and several years experience in the travel industry.

Snyder wanted to combine his interests and expertise to craft a business. "I was not afraid of doing it, since I had to find a way to make a living," he says. But, he was still unclear about the details of his business.

Not long afterwards, he helped some friends, who were stuck on a trip, get back on track. The experience of helping stranded travelers gave him the idea for a new business - one in which a "concierge" would help passengers with an assortment of travel-related services across the entire value chain. This included getting the best seats, monitoring flights, arranging alternatives (in case of cancellations or delays), informing loved ones, and assisting with dispute resolution (in case of problems).

Once he had the specifics in place, Snyder immediately set to work. He refined a pricing model, developed a website, and registered an LLC. In addition, he performed test runs with people he found through Twitter. "It seemed to work well enough, so I put it live and talked about it on the blog," he said.

And, Cranky Concierge was born.

Intrigued by the concept, people signed up. With increase in business, he began hiring employees. Initially, his employees were freelancers. However, Snyder hired his first employee this year.

The Technology Challenge For Small Business

One of the more interesting aspects of Snyder's business is that it does not have a physical product. However, the web site's success depends largely on information such as air travel, schedules, and weather updates for travel destinations. "Without the real-time flow of information, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," says Snyder.

As such, most of Snyder's work is done online using "inexpensive or, even, free off-the-shelf products." When he started the business, Snyder kept costs low and did not invest in much technology. "I just had to pay for web hosting and some business cards," he says. Using his knowledge of HTML and CSS, he custom-built a business website for himself. He also invested in development of "primitive tools" to facilitate the business. "However, they aren't being used anymore," he says.

This is not to say that Snyder is not interested in technology. "I do have ideas of what I'd like to do with technology to grow the business," he says. Those ideas are beginning to crystallize now that there is a slight up tick in revenue.

Still, he says technology accounts for a tiny percentage of the total budget. This is because the essence of Snyder's business is a "human" concierge. "Often, the best customer experience comes from us having the same concierges work with the same clients over and over again," he says. "They learn what each client likes every time they follow them."

The SaaS Breakdown

Currently, Snyder's business mainly uses three SaaS systems: one for planning travel itineraries, another for travel (and seat) information, and, finally, the Google Apps suite for collaboration. "In fact, if it weren't for Sabre, our travel agency software, which is fairly backwards and not even close to being web-based, we wouldn't be dependent upon a hard drive," he says.

This quote underlines Snyder's approach to SaaS apps and small business. "The ability to work on any computer anywhere without having to worry about bringing software with us is so freeing," he says.

Currently, Snyder is evaluating SaaS tools for customer relationship management. "It sounds funny but we use email as our best tool for CRM right now," he says. "All emails copy a central address; so we can look up that customer history very easily that way." However, Snyder is on the lookout for a structured solution, one that enables information search, retrieval, and dissemination easily. An added benefit to such as a solution is knowledge management. "If a concierge leaves, we won't miss a beat," he says.

The Takeaway

For those who are interested in starting a small business or are already running a small business, Snyder has some advice. "Just focus on what's critical to the business and you can fix everything else later," he says.

As far as technology is concerned, he is in favor of mobility. "When it comes to technology, there is nothing better than being able to work from anywhere in the world," he says. "Do what you can to make sure that you don't get tied down to a single machine."

SaaS, anyone?

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