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- PMS connectivity
- Analytics dashboard
- Multi-Currency Support
- Inventory Management
- 2-way real time integrations
- Unlimited Channels (no additional cost)
- Virtual Properties
- Centralized user & role management
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Creating revolutionary technology for hotels has historically been a slog but lately we’re seeing a change in fate for hotel software companies due to increased investment in the space. One of the biggest investors in hospitality tech is Menlo Park based TCV, the growth equity firm that has invested in breakout companies like Sojern and SiteMinder within hotel tech. TCV has also made major investments in the broader hospitality and travel space such as: Airbnb, TripAdvisor, HomeAway, Expedia, Orbitz, SeatGeek and Toast. TCV is one of the largest names in the world of technology investing with a successful track record in the massive hospitality and travel vertical. Vertical market software is an extremely hot investment theme right now. “The easy opportunities for disrupting old-line industries are drying up. Now, many of the up-and-coming start-ups that may become the next unicorns have names like Benchling and Blend. And they largely focus on software for specific industries.” ~New York Times Long time TCV investor and former SiteMinder CFO John Burke is excited about the opportunities within the vertical market software. John and his team have identified a trend within a sub investment theme that they've coined: ”SaaS as a Network”. Here’s how they describe the concept. “When a SaaS provider starts serving a high enough density of merchants, they can leverage that strength to build two-sided marketplaces with the merchant's customers, suppliers, and employees.” ~David Yuan, TCV General Partner The general hypothesis is that once vertical market software companies achieve scale with regards to their core products they can always bolt on new point solution functionality but would be wise to focus on a much bigger opportunity. Specifically, TCV believes that these software companies can create two-sided marketplaces that connect their users to new channels of customers, suppliers and employees. Back in February, Hotel Tech Report identified the explosion of marketplaces as one of the 5 biggest tech trends at ITB Berlin, a trend that mirror’s TCV’s investment thesis. Of all the software companies creating marketplaces in hospitality, TCV’s portfolio company SiteMinder has the largest scale to date. Image from David Yuan's article SaaS as a Platform, SaaS as a Network Last year SiteMinder threw its hat in the ring with the launch of SiteMinder Exchange aimed at “breaking down the industry’s notorious integration barriers, connecting hotel systems and applications through smart and simple connectivity.” “The reality is that few industries are as fragmented as hospitality particularly at the PMS level. There has always been demand for many of the new applications, but innovation has been stifled by lack of connectivity and the sales model makes the economics challenging. Some of these barriers are starting to be broken down by SiteMinder and others which I think can unlock a lot of innovation for the industry. But this is a hard problem and it’s a complicated space with lots of moving pieces so that makes it challenging.” ~John Burke, TCV Executive Vice President SiteMinder’s Exchange marketplace is aimed at allowing other applications to access the firm’s broad user base consisting of more than 30,000 hotels worldwide. Most of those hotels are using SiteMinder’s highly popular channel manager which connects hotel inventory to 3rd party distribution channels as well as other products within the firm's broader guest acquisition platform such as a rate intelligence tool and an online booking engine. The firm is betting that it can add value for users by allowing them to try more hotel tech applications with ease and in turn create new business opportunities for those suppliers. We sat down with Burke to discuss his views on hotel tech, the future for platforms like SiteMinder Exchange and highlight the most cutting edge developments happening right now within the hotel space. How did you get into venture investing? I’ve been in and around venture since 2011. I started my career with EY in their audit and transaction advisory teams. Getting into venture was a bit of good timing and persistence. The TCV team were looking for an immediate hire and decided to take a chance. I was with TCV from 2011 to 2014 as part of the B2B software team. As I thought about what was next for me, I was drawn to the experiences and mentorship of the TCV Venture Partners (e.g. former senior operating executives such as Erik Blachford). The tech market at that time had been heating up with a few high-profile IPOs. It was my belief that the next wave of great investors was not going to be able to rely on multiple expansion or financial engineering. I believed the best investors over the next 10 years would need to be partners driving actual business growth. That brought me to SiteMinder down in Sydney, Australia. TCV had just led the Series B investment in the company, and the fundamentals of the business were remarkable. On top of that, they were ramping up for aggressive growth across Europe, SE Asia and were about to launch in the U.S. which I thought would be great experience. I was also excited to work with Mike Ford and the entire SiteMinder team. Mike is a special entrepreneur who is not only very smart and a product visionary, but also authentic and humble. I joined SiteMinder initially in an analytics role and then for the next 3.5 years as CFO. For family reasons, we decided to move back to the U.S. last year, where I reconnected with TCV and rejoined the team. I continue to spend a lot of time in the hospitality and vertical software space and TCV just led an investment in Toast, an exciting next-generation restaurant platform. Tell us about TCV. TCV was founded in 1995 as a $100M venture fund and today has raised over $15 billion across 10 funds, focusing exclusively on technology companies. We recently began investing out of TCV X, a $3 billion fund. TCV looks to partner with companies that have potential for a sustained category leadership position and are looking to succeed at an even greater scale. This typically means that a company has been growing for several years – with a history of customer trust and engagement and a business model that is reflective of the value they provide. We are flexible on transaction type with experience in public and private markets and are comfortable in minority or majority positions. Over the past 24 years, we’ve had more than 60 IPOs in our portfolio and have worked with some of the largest franchises in technology including ExactTarget, Facebook, Netflix, GoDaddy and Spotify. At this point, I’ve talked with many investors in the space which helps me appreciate how the various funds are different. For TCV, I think it’s the depth of industry knowledge and a growth mindset. We have close to 100 team members now and our investment team focuses every day on technology and goes deep in verticals and sub-verticals. When we identify a compelling technology trend, we take the time to thoroughly understand the underlying drivers, business model, and competitive environment. Having a developed perspective means we can have much more meaningful conversations about a company’s business and growth opportunities and are positioned to be a better thought partner for the executive teams as they drive towards expansion and category leadership. We’re not afraid to make bold bets especially when we have conviction on category leadership and to do whatever it takes to help companies reshape industries. Can you talk about TCV’s view on hotel tech and its SiteMinder investment? Travel and Hospitality has been a core focus of TCV for well over a decade. In addition to SiteMinder, the active portfolio companies we are working with include Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Sojern, Tour Radar, and Klook. Previously we were investors in Expedia, HomeAway, Orbitz, and Travelport, among others. For SiteMinder, TCV led the Series B round and we have continued to stay active with the company as the lead director since then. Two of my partners David Yuan (General Partner) and Erik Blachford (Venture Partner) continue to serve on the Board of Directors. SiteMinder has an incredible history, where is the company today? SiteMinder is a hotel guest acquisition platform that connects hotels to future guests, so hoteliers can go back to doing what they love. It’s trusted by more than 30,000 hotels of all sizes, across 160 countries and has helped generate more than 87 million reservations worth over US$28 billion in revenue for hotels each year. SiteMinder is based in Australia, how did you come across the investment? It was a team effort. Back in 2011 to 2013 we spent a bunch of time mapping out the ecosystem for online travel and hospitality attending industry shows like HITEC and Phocuswright. Ultimately, we identified the channel management sector as promising albeit a lesser known segment in the category. Our view at the time was that online travel was increasingly complicated and in flux with new players vying for hotel distribution. Independent hotels were harder to aggregate but would also allow these same middlemen an ability to offer differentiated supply that was higher margin. Channel management became interesting because it aggregated and provided connectivity to this supply. We thought this was a hard problem particularly to do in a cost-effective way but when executed it could be highly strategic given the long-tail nature of both hotel supply and PMS. From there we focused on the best product and category leader which led us to SiteMinder. One of my colleagues got us an introduction to Mike Ford through an employee. We then got on the 14-hour flight over to Sydney and created a deal. What's one piece of advice you have for hotel tech entrepreneurs when raising capital? Test the investors. Anyone can look at metrics, but make sure you push them on the nuances of your positioning and make sure they understand the depth of your industry and strategic implications of the various alternatives. Mike did this to us in a big way when we pursued SiteMinder and it always stuck with me. One pitfall I’ve seen is entrepreneurs who get ahead of themselves with regards to the amount of capital raised or valuation and focus on those items vs. choosing the right partner. This can have implications down the road. I would say to raise what you need and what strategically makes sense given your market and opportunity. And focus as much time and energy as you can on the partner. In addition to the strategic perspective which is table stakes, I tend to think entrepreneurs should focus on investors with candor (to drive constructive feedback delivered in the right way) and humility (it’s all about the team and this also makes it more fun). How do you think the hotel technology space will change over the next 5-years? It’s a great time to be in hotel technology given how dynamic this market is. I think we are still early in the growth journey for hotel software. In my mind, there is no doubt that software will continue to play a larger and larger role in the next 5 years and continue to reshape the industry and guest and operator experience. We have also been spending a bunch of time on a thesis we are excited about, called “SaaS as a Platform and SaaS as a Network,” which is around the continued extension of the SaaS business model and platform companies leveraging their position in creating marketplaces with employees, suppliers, or customers. I think this trend has many opportunities in travel. For hotels specifically, I think data, connectivity, and personalization will only increase in importance. Tools like SiteMinder Exchange, which is a data layer connecting PMS with applications and demand channels, can be a big part of this and drive innovation. I also think there will continue to be more dominant global players with companies like Ctrip continuing global expansion and Google, Facebook/Instagram, and TripAdvisor starting to see momentum on their new models. The lines in the accommodation industry will continue to blur as Airbnb ramps up their investment and focus on hotels as well. I also feel labor management will matter more, and there will be new innovative ways to tackle this challenge. This is something we’ve seen in the retail vertical which I think will also make its way to the travel industry. People often say that the hotel industry is a bit slow to adopt technology. Do you agree? I agree. But I don’t think it’s been driven by the lack of interest or desire. Hoteliers care deeply about guest experiences and the ones that I’ve spent time with often always go above and beyond what’s expected. The reality is that few industries are as fragmented as hospitality particularly at the PMS level. There has always been demand for many of the new applications, but innovation has been stifled by lack of connectivity and the sales model makes the economics challenging. Some of these barriers are starting to be broken down by SiteMinder and others which I think can unlock a lot of innovation for the industry. But this is a hard problem and it’s a complicated space with lots of moving pieces so that makes it challenging. Related article: Everything hoteliers need to know about APIs in plain english If you were leaving venture capital tomorrow and forced to start a hotel technology company - what would it be? That’s a tough one. Part of working in an operator role at SiteMinder helped me realize how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and scale a company. This only deepened my respect for what they do. I’m a big believer that you need to follow your heart, so I’d want to align it to something I am passionate about. Maybe I’d do something connecting hotels/travel and yoga which is something I’ve come to enjoy. And being a CFO and travelling a lot, I also think the opportunities in corporate travel remain significant. What is the most interesting or surprising thing that you've learned from investing in hotel tech? Not too much is surprising me at this point. It feels like there is never a dull day in hotel tech! One thing I did notice about some of the larger players in the space is that they serve hospitality, but at their core they are surprisingly not hospitable. One of my partners recently did a podcast with the former CMO at Airbnb and Coca-Cola and he talked about authenticity as an enduring and compounding competitive advantage. I think this is something that will matter more and more. I think it will eventually catch up with those companies who forget that, especially in hospitality tech. What is the best book you've read lately and why? “The Outsiders” by Will Thorndike. I read it a couple of years ago and it continues to stand out to me. The book profiles eight understated CEOs who took a different approach to corporate management. These “outsider” CEOs often didn’t have the charisma that society has conditioned us to expect and were often in their position for the first time. Humble, unassuming and often frugal, they shied away from advisors and the hottest new management trends, instead focusing on a pragmatic and a disciplined approach to capital allocation which drove extraordinary returns. I found myself getting lost in each of their stories and admiring their independent thinking and patience to wait for the right opportunity. “Shoe Dog” and “Limping on Water” are two others I enjoyed. What is your favorite podcast? The top 3 for me right now are Farnam Street, Invest Like the Best, and Acquired. All the them have caused me to think differently and continually expand my curiosity. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? I love yoga and meditation. For all the startups that might want to pitch in TCV's office, what can you tell them about your investment criteria? We recently began investing out of TCV X, a $3 billion fund, so the opportunities we pursue are typically between $30-300M. We tend to be flexible on all other aspects of a transaction type and focus on category leadership potential and growth. I really enjoy spending time with entrepreneurs and would love for folks to reach out even if they are a bit early. Companies can scale quickly so we would love to start a relationship well in advance.
To get a grasp on the current hotel distribution landscape and how much intelligence and work is needed to optimize each channel, it’s worth taking a moment to review its early history. Distribution mix was once a simple concept: walk-ins, phone calls, and the occasional (physical) mail were, fundamentally, the sole sources of hotel bookings. But things started changing when electronic reservation systems made their first appearance in the '60s and, eventually, became mainstream in the ’80s. By the end of the 20th century, hotel distribution shifted (literally almost overnight) online, and started to resemble what it is today. Over the last two decades, consolidation and new players entering the market have been crucial to an extraordinary growth in digital hotel distribution. Flash-forward to today, the current landscape is touted as merely a duopoly held by Booking and Expedia, and that is a quite accurate statement, at least to a certain extent and for the moment being. Even though it seems like distribution is ever-moving, in fact, there are clear patterns and trends. According to Phocuswright, for example, 2016 was “the first year when OTA lodging bookings in the U.S. exceeded total hotel website gross bookings”, and forecasts expect OTAs to reach over 40% market share by next year. This means that despite above-the-line marketing, targeted discounts and revamped loyalty programmes, consumers are not shifting to direct as their primary booking option as intensely as the big chains wanted. With this in mind, perhaps hotels should start reconsidering their relationships with online travel agencies and focus on the channels bringing the highest profit and volume. In an age where OTAs and wholesalers flex their rates across metasearch engines or marketplaces it is very unlikely that users will just “stop clicking around”. You just need to accept it and move on. There are, however, alternative distribution channels that could be leveraged with success or, at least, kept under one's radar. So let's dig into these distribution Goliaths. Booking.com Born from the merging of booking.nl, bookings.org and Active Hotels (a.k.a. ctivebooking.com), over the years Booking.com became the biggest e-commerce website for travel, with around 200 offices worldwide and over 17,000 employees. Two years after Expedia turned the opportunity to buy booking.nl down in 2003 (ouch!), the Dutch startup was eventually acquired by Booking Holdings (at the time still operating under the Priceline Group moniker), which rebranded to Booking.com in 2006. The first version of the booking.nl website went live in '97, with an inventory of ten hotels and a commission rate of 1/4 of what it is today. According to its founder, Geert-Jan Bruinsma, he had the original idea during a dinner with friends, "got inspired" from the Hilton official website source code the and launched it with barely 50,000 €. During the years, Booking Holdings continued to grow thanks to an almost-mistakeless acquisition strategy: from Asian-based OTA Agoda to rental car service TravelJigsaw (a.k.a. Rentalcars.com), from travel metasearch engines Kayak, Momondo, CheapFlights, Mundi and HotelsCombined to restaurant-reservation service company OpenTable, not to mention yield management solution PriceMatch (now integrated in BookingSuite), RocketMiles, ASDigital, Buuteeq, Hotel Ninjas and the heavy investments made over the years in Chinese OTA Ctrip. Expedia Founded in 1996 as a division of Microsoft, Expedia was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2003, which eventually spun it off in 2005. In 2012, Expedia took a majority stake in trivago (which the American OTA still owns after the metasearch went public). Under the IAC/InterActiveCorp brand first, and the Expedia's brand then, dozens of companies (eventually acquired or merged) operated and continue to operate: TripAdvisor (spun off in 2011), Hotels.com, HomeAway (merging VRBO, bedandbreakfast.com, vacationrentals.com, Abritel and FeWo), Egencia, Travelocity, Orbitz, HotWire, Wotif, lastminute.com.au, Ebookers, CheapTickets, AirAsiaGo, Venere.com (eventually merged into the mother brand), Classic Custom Vacations and many others. Today's market value of the company is almost $20 Billion, with over 22,000 employees around the World. Agoda Founded in 2005 by Michael Kenny and Robert Rosenstein, merging planetholiday.com and precisionreservations.com, Agoda can be viewed as a precursor in the industry. PlanetHoliday, in fact, was founded in 1997, just one year after Booking.nl and Expedia. Agoda focus is mainly on the Asia-Pacific region and it has a portfolio of over 1,000,000 vacation rentals and hotels worldwide. In 2007, the Bangkok/Singapore-based company has been acquired (for an undisclosed amount), by Booking Holdings, even though it continues operating independently. HRS With almost half a century of history, HRS Group is the (grand)father of all OTAs. Founded in 1972 by hotel clerk Robert Ragge, in 1995 it became the first website to provide an online hotel database. In his book, Outliers, Gladwell popularized what became known as the 10,000-hour rule, by documenting the lives of successful people. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”, he wrote, inspired by the work of Daniel Levitin, the neurologist who scientifically proved that “10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything”. The theory is fascinating, though, not always reliable, and HRS is the perfect example of this fallacy: even with almost half a century (or 400,000 hours) of experience under its belt, today it has a significantly less prominent market share than it used to have, while OTAs born decades later have outgrown it. In 2008 Ragge's son, Tobias, succeeded his father and acquired Tiscover, hotel.de, HolidayInsider and bought stakes in meetago and Lido Group. HRS currently lists 850,000 properties, operating mainly in German-speaking Countries. Wholesalers and Bedbanks Wholesalers and bed banks both made an extraordinary (yet unexpected) comeback over the last few years, mainly fueled by nebulous B2B2C rate strategies and smart acquisitions. With its database of over 70,000 beds and around 5,000 employees, the World’s largest bedbank is, of course, HotelBeds. Founded in 2001, HotelBeds became independent in 2016 (it was, up until that moment, owned by TUI), thanks to the backup of private equity funds Cinven and CPPIB. HotelBeds recently played the divide et impera card, by acquiring two of its main competitors: Tourico and GTA. AirBnB, Google and Amazon So, while even the small hotel entrepreneur is familiar with the aforementioned players, there are at least three companies trying to undermine this status quo. Airbnb, for example, recently officially stated that it offers more listings than Booking.com, while Google entered aggressively into the travel space, thanks to the European introduction of its facilitated booking system Book-on-Google and with its redesigned destination hotels page (https://www.google.com/travel/hotels/). Amazon, after trying (and failing) to get into the industry back in 2016, is rumored to be slowly (but steadily) trying to gain a more prominent slot in the market. Conclusions Far from being fully exploited or stagnated, the hotel distribution space still has a lot of potential, both in growth and diversification. With, on one side, main OTAs turning into metasearch engines-slash-marketplaces-slash-B2B providers hybrids and, on the other, search engines and retailers playing the OTA’s game, our industry has never been so interesting.