Stayflexi’s CEO Venkatesh Sakamuri discusses the inevitable end of legacy solutions, missed revenue opportunities, the rise of contactless self-service and the power of all-in-one platforms
As Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” and in an ever-changing world, innovation is what empowers hoteliers to remain one step ahead. I had an opportunity to sit down with one such leader, Venkatesh Sakamuri, a visionary tech innovator who is reshaping a legacy landscape with the creation of Stayflexi, a truly transformative all-in-one property management and automation platform. He shared the tragic story that inspired his quest, the challenges he is solving for hoteliers, and his vision for the future.
Notably, Sakamuri’s desire to develop a next-generation hotel management platform wasn’t initially born out of a desire to change the experience of hoteliers. Instead, the problems he faced as a frequent traveler made him aware of critical gaps in the guest experience. “I had terrible experiences checking and checking out of hotels or making any modifications to reservations I made while traveling,” he explained.
“On one particular trip, I was dealing with an emergency within my family, and we needed to get to our room early after our flight landed. The hotel was seemingly unable or unwilling to handle this request, and we had to wait in the lobby for 4 hours. We later realized that the rooms were available, but their systems simply didn’t allow them to be flexible with guests.”
As Sakamuri points out, an experience like this hardly captures the ethos of hospitality. How can hotels effectively accommodate and cater to guests’ needs if their processes don’t allow flexibility?
“It was frustrating and not hospitable at all,” said Sakamuri. “But more importantly, I noticed this trend across the board; not just in the US, but wherever I traveled, including India, Bangkok, Istanbul, and other major destinations.”
When Sakamuri discussed this problem with his friends and colleagues, Preetam Mohan Shetty and Krishna Sasank, they shared similar sentiments and frustrations, and it became clear that the hospitality industry was failing to consistently deliver on many of its core promises. Moreover, with a family of hospitality professionals, Sakamuri had an intimate understanding of what this problem meant for a hotelier and, conversely, the potential value offered by a solution. “I knew that it needed to be addressed from both the supply side (hotel systems) and the demand side (booking platforms). The depth of the problem and subsequent market opportunity was convincing enough for myself and my colleagues to leave our tech jobs in Silicon Valley to create Stayflexi and solve something which can fundamentally change how short-term rentals work,” shared Sakamuri.
However, when developing this solution, Sakamuri knew they had to take a markedly different approach than the legacy systems that came before them – even those that entered the market in the last five years. “Of course, it is well-known that legacy systems are bulky and expensive,” Sakamuri explained. “But in my opinion, these systems are notoriously ‘hotel-centric,’ meaning they are primarily designed for hotel staff to use for day-to-day operations manually. Naturally, this would require many actions to be performed manually by various departments, such as room allocations upon check-in, moving guests from one room to another, night audit, revenue management, housekeeping communications, and more.”
Sakamuri notes that, while this serves a purpose, the future of hospitality requires the support of an operating system that is decidedly guest-centric. “Once the hotelier configures how they want to run a hotel, guests should be empowered by self-service opportunities like online check-in, easy access to rooms, room upgrades, and service requests.” This streamlined autonomy, Sakamuri argues, is precisely what hotel guests want when they travel. Moreover, this would effectively eliminate 80% of a hotels’ front desk activity while enhancing the guest experience. “This is truly a win-win for hoteliers and guests,” he adds. “Hoteliers can focus on meaningful guest touch-points to better establish a relationship with each guest and curate memorable moments, instead of getting stuck behind computer terminals and buried underneath monotonous tasks.”
Now, more than ever before, guests crave the freedom of choice and peace of mind offered by self-service touch-points and digital automation. At the same time, hotel brands are grappling with staff shortages in the wake of the pandemic, which requires hoteliers to do more with less.
Sakamuri notes guests require flexibility. “Flexibility and personalization should be offered across the entire guest experience. A hotel should be like a home away from home. Would you know about your guest well in advance? Wouldn’t you be prepared to host your guest and accommodate any special requests at home? Most importantly, at home, would you only ask your guest to only come at a specific time, or would you accommodate the guest anytime?”
Hotel brands today have a responsibility to know their guest; this is, if anything, one of the foremost advantages of being an independent hotelier. Independent operators have the runway to be creative and be exceptionally hospitable to guests.
“Independent hotels can be their own brand and establish unique and memorable offerings,” Sakamuri points out. “There is huge upsell potential by being flexible with the guests. For example, if you have a property in Lake Tahoe, you can collaborate with bike/ski rentals. In downtown San Francisco, you could collaborate with city tour guides and offer unique city experiences. With a platform that allows you to explore and establish those collaboration opportunities with absolute ease, guests can experience something new through your hotel. They will remember it and, more importantly, they will talk about it and repeatedly seek out your hotel.”
As per Stayflexi’s analysis, Sakamuri reveals that an average 80 room independent hotel in the Bay Area could make more than $15,000 per month by ‘going flexible’ – offering flexible check-in and check-out times upsell options and collaborative opportunities. Conversely, properties still relying on legacy platforms and manual processes are losing up to $20,000 on operational expenses and missed revenue opportunities per month.
With its meteoric rise, serving over 10,000 rooms in 100 cities across six countries, the future looks limitless for this game-changing hotel platform. When asked about the future of Stayflexi, Sakamuri’s answer is simple but impactful. “In the coming years, we will focus on empowering independent hoteliers and operators with a completely unified operating system while ushering in a new era and standard of flexible, guest-centric hospitality.”
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