In this interview, we chat with Jack Bowcott - Founder & CEO of Goki - the world's first HospitalityOS.
Q1. Products are usually more famous than their creators! Jack, please tell our readers a bit about your business background.
Apart from one 6-month flirtation with everyday working life (an estate agent in London!), I have always been an entrepreneur. I've had the pleasure of working in the hospitality industry for 16 years, first as a nightclub promoter selling cheap Vodka/ Redbull and Kylie Minogue's back catalogue to otherwise happy backpackers. Then as a publisher, writing and designing guidebooks (a thinly-veiled excuse to keep backpacking)… To what I do now — helping to make 'stays better' at Goki.
Q2. What factors inspired you to start Goki?
I had the unparalleled foresight to start an old school publishing business the same day that Facebook launched! The guides were purchased by hostels and handed out for free on check-in. In retrospect, even though the world was moving towards consuming content online, the publishing business did teach me one thing - 'check-in' was antiquated, admin-heavy and ripe for disruption!
Initially, we were called Tipi - and focused on social to bring backpackers together to share tips in new locations. We really struggled. Getting to critical mass in enough areas to make Tipi an engaging platform was challenging. Our successes were often short-lived with a transient demographic when backpackers deleted the app once they stopped travelling!
So, armed with the insights from the publishing business, we focused on a single problem that backpackers had every day - Check-in.
We built a relatively simple concept of scanning a QR code to check-in (expected in a pandemic-stricken world - but revolutionary back in 2016!) to now, with Goki, building out the world's first HospitalityOS - that automates check-in, smart access & guest management.
Q3. You've said that Goki is more than a lock. Can you tell us more about that?
Most of our inbound enquiries start with the lock. We teamed up with one of the world's preeminent industrial design teams - Design + Industry - to build what we feel is the most innovative lock on the market.
But, even if conversations start with a lock, Hotels purchase our solution because we have moved past doors' simple opening and closing to focus on what matters. Digitalising the guest journey, reducing expenses & increasing revenue. All of this becomes possible when offering guests the utility of using their phone as their key.
The second point I would make is a distinction between old fashioned hardware businesses (i.e. the famous lock brands) and a software startup like Goki. Hardware companies are good at building locks and opening doors but not great at software. At Goki, we start with the software. Properties need a cloud-based solution that links seamlessly to their res-system and delivers operational efficiencies that (dumb) locks cannot achieve.
The software piece is vital with properties needing to automate to go contactless, lower overheads and meet regulatory requirements. Goki has built out the ecosystem in a way that goes beyond opening doors - we are how you manage your guests and meet these industry shifts...
What matters is digitalising the guest journey, reducing expenses, and increasing revenue.
Q4. How does check-in work on Goki?
We integrate with all the market-leading reservation systems. That means when a guest makes a booking - we can direct them to check-in online, just like if they have booked a flight. Or, on the day of arrival, they can use our tablets or scan a QR code to check in. We then push this data into the PMS - so properties have 100% clean, actionable data on all of their guests (bye-bye paper registration forms!) The endpoint of the check-in process - whether online, tablet or QR code - is that the guest receives a unique PIN and SmartKey for their stay. Our integration with the PMS means we update the validity of the SmartKey/ PIN in line with the booking. So, once the guest checks out, we automatically remove access - or update for extensions, room moves & cancellations.
Q5. How is Goki helping properties re-open after the pandemic?
The pandemic changed everything. We changed too.
Firstly, our business model moved to a subscription basis... Effectively, we purchase locks for properties, and they pay us back on a per room, per month basis over 24 months. This relieves cash flow concerns and has been very popular with properties looking to optimise in the downturn, but without the financial clout they had before the pandemic.
Second, we found a way to make it impossible to let germs live on the surface of our product. We injected an additive into all our devices, which means that the property supports regulatory changes in property-wide hygiene while minimising cleaning resources.
Lastly - the product itself! With Goki, you can offer a contactless guest journey - moving a guest from booking to opening their room in a completely contactless way. This lowers staff overheads and creates a platform to direct guests to ancillary revenue streams - fewer costs, more revenue - precisely what the hospitality industry needs after the last 18 months!
Q6. Has there been an exciting story with any of Goki users?
I am still waiting to be invited to my first Goki wedding, unfortunately! But we have had famous singers, actors and even an Olympian using and enjoying the solution.
For me, I still remember the first message that a guest sent to 'reception' - it seems like a small thing, but after a year of building, it was nice to know that Goki solved a problem for a guest and (maybe not super exciting!) but good validation nevertheless.
Q7. What has been your most significant accomplishment as the Goki CEO so far?
Raising a $5M investment from an industry-leading company like Hostelworld was exciting, and the fact that they approached us was flattering. As the CEO of a startup - the reality is far less glamorous than the image. I essentially support the team and work unsociable hours! When we first started, we couldn't afford a UI designer, so I learnt and was the lead designer for 5 years... That's an accomplishment I am pretty proud of, and it's still the area of the business that I am most passionate about today.
Q8. What are the advantages of Goki over other lock companies?
I think properties need to ask themselves - what problem are we trying to solve? The traditional lock companies make great locks that work well. But you have to be happy to also have a conventional reception - fully staffed, handing out a keycard to every guest (and taking it back again on check out). At Goki, we can altogether remove plastic keycards, expensive encoders, paper registration forms, throwaway batteries - and even the reception too!
Of course, other more modern 'SmartLock' companies do similar things to Goki. I would say our differentiator is the software. I am bias of course - but we have built something that no one else has even thought of.
Automation is at our core. We do the heavy lifting with your PMS so that you can focus on what matters - the guest.
Q9. What's on the horizon for Goki?
As we start addressing more verticals inside the accommodation sector, the product is evolving too. For backpackers, the choice of App or PIN is fine - they love the social part, the network effect of having their SmartKey for all their stays & generally are booked in for longer. For a business traveller staying one night in a 5* - the requirements are different! At Goki, we are about providing options. Making your keys available in your phone's wallet (thank you iOS15!) or via a web link in the booking confirmation are essential to cater to our widening demographic. We also have some exciting stuff coming up on the hardware side - video calling intercoms, gateways that don't suck and sensors - are all on our roadmap over the next 3 Qtrs.
Q10. How do you see the future of the hospitality industry? What roles will technology play?
I am fortunate to have spoken to 1000s of accommodation providers over the last 18 months. The conversations all follow a similar theme, "5yr digital strategies need to happen now!" I think before the pandemic, there were negative connotations associated with technology. I spoke at a conference in Chicago, and hoteliers were (quite rightly) concerned that they would lose some of the brand equity they had built up if the arrival process was automated by Goki. (someone else vehemently insisted they didn't want robots taking over - not sure how well they were listening).
The analogy I like to make is the apple retail store. There are no desks between customers and staff and technology (quietly) doing the hard work to make the experience more enjoyable. This is the technology deployed the right way & it is how hoteliers can use Goki at their properties.
I think in this brave new world, technology is more critical than ever. Offering a contactless guest journey is no longer a nice to have - it is a necessity. Good tech is insurance in uncertain times.
Q11. As the CEO of a successful brand, what is your suggestion for young techies thinking of building their own product?
Fortunately, it is easier than ever to launch an MVP and see if someone (who isn't your Mum) will buy your product. Start there. A mistake we made at Goki was going too big too soon. Focus on solving 1 problem for 1 type of customer and build something (small) to test. Then iterate based on customer feedback (not your ego).
Understand that the odds are heavily stacked against you - less than 1% make it past year 1 - so it is worth interrogating your reasons for wanting to start in the first place. If you think it is glamourous to own your own startup, google 'trough of sorrow' and come back to me!