How startups can clinch million-dollar deals and deliver

As a startup, how do you clinch a multi-million dollar deal and work round-the-clock to deliver in a near-impossible timeframe?

This narrative inspires. Startups can draw a leaf out of the Hotelogix playbook. 

It’s about always playing to your strength and aiming big, especially when the competition is stiff, and large established players are among the contenders. But most importantly, it’s about getting the basics right when the stakes are very high, and feeling overwhelmed is quite natural.  

This success story is based on a chat with Aditya Sanghi, the Co-founder of Hotelogix. I kept prodding him to reminisce about those wonderful times – when an Indian startup had set a new benchmark in Qatar.

The story of Hotelogix is about best-in-class Indian talent clinching one of the biggest deals (upwards of 5 million dollars) in Qatar and earning TRUST at the highest level. 

TRUST, after all, is one of the hallmarks of longevity.  

FIFA 2022 – even planning cast doubts during COVID but the odds were beaten 

The story goes back to 2020 when the Qatar government was in full swing preparing for what was touted as the grandest show on earth – the FIFA World Cup 2022. When Qatar bagged the contract to host the mega event, it was estimated (given the magnitude) that more than a hundred thousand rooms were required for the visitors’ stay. Around ten thousand rooms were available, so 90% of the required capacity was non-existent.

The Government went into overdrive and initiated makeshift arrangements – villas and docked ships were rented – but even then, another 20k – 30k additional rooms were all that could be managed. This additional capacity was leased to the government for which the owners were paid handsome rentals. 

The real estate industry stepped in big time, fueled by a massive business opportunity they saw in building apartments, pitching high-end tented accommodations, setting up caravan cities, and installing porta cabins.  And just like that, another 60K+ rooms were provisioned! While “just like that” may seem like rhetoric, the speed and frenzied activity belied regular and commonplace humdrum, and it did seem magical.  

Unifying the guest experience in one lakh rooms was Qatar’s biggest opportunity to earn great prestige globally

Generally, event hosts would list the hotels on their site which was the interface through which guests made the bookings. The hotels worked in an isolated manner so there was no integration between hotel IT systems; hotels managed their respective technologies. 

But for FIFA 2022, given the size and the number of rooms that needed to be provisioned as alternate accommodation to supplement the hotel rooms and meet the requirement of 100K rooms, the experience had to be centrally managed with no “room” for error (pun unintended). 

Qatar’s prestige was at stake, they had to ensure travelers had the best-in-class experience – smooth and hassle-free, particularly. It was Qatar’s BIG moment to show the world they could deliver an immaculate experience, for the world’s biggest sporting event!

The shift was that the country transformed – great hotel experience, beautiful stadiums, fantastic fan parks, and they were also ready with the accommodations that could house the guests. They needed well-planned technology to automate various entities – ticket sales integration, accommodation bookings, visa processing, Haaya card issuance, etc. And the Tourism ministry had to be integrated as well.

To provide a uniform experience, the Qatar government needed control of the properties and centralize the booking experience. They floated a tender for multi-property cloud-based management systems. 

Not just for the Qatari government – it was Hotelogix’s BIGGEST moment as well – believing and playing to their strengths 

Hotelogix has been in this domain since 2008 – 9 and is a prominent player in multi-property cloud-based management systems. With credentials firm, the invitation to fill the tender set hearts soaring. 

A massive opportunity awaited. 

They were overjoyed but there was a feeling – although fleeting – whether they could deliver something as big as this. At the same time, there was immense confidence in their solutions. Hotelogix has already proven itself in more than 100 countries where its products were deployed. In other words, it was a mature company with world-class talent. 

They seized the moment and jumped right in, to give it their best shot! 

We must remember it was during the lockdown, and subscriptions had dropped for Hotelogix. The company was going through tough times and required that one big opportunity that would turn the wheels of fortune in favor once again. 

In the domain of cloud-based multi-property management systems, no other company had the experience of Hotelogix, and Oracle’s OPERA, though a larger player, was a considerably new entrant as a cloud solution. There were other tough contenders, for instance, a local Telecom giant was also in the fray.  

Given the scale of operations and multiple moving parts, the key to success was interoperability, i.e., a secure system that could talk to other systems in real time. Given their maturity and other relevant strengths, Hotelogix had a decent chance that the tender would be awarded to them. But first, they had to find a local partner who understood the tricks of the trade and the business dynamics in the region. It had to be a symbiotic relationship – the partner would also have to understand Hotelogix’s products. 

Partnerships: the building block to grand success and how not to be influenced by traditional thinking

They found a partner in Zerone. The company had a lot of experience working on government projects in Qatar and was then spearheaded by Mr. Vaibhav Srivastava who was well acquainted with Hotelogix leaders. Zerone had the experience gathered over many years in winning government tenders and execution.

Then the bidding started. 

Zerone and Hotelogix decided that to win the tender, strategically it would be best that Hotelogix front-ended the deal and Zerone play a supporting role. This is the benefit of trusting the local partner and not being influenced by preconceived notions of traditions. The tender was for a cloud-based system to manage accommodations and Hotelogix most certainly had the best credentials. 

Playing to their strength was the base strategy as they were pitted against giants, and they wanted to fight the battle in their terrain and not the competitors’. This was Hotelogix’s way of winning a huge point over the competition, a point that probably was most critical for the Qatar government. Vaibhav had advised on several fronts, but this was a master stroke that he suggested. Adi and his team can’t thank him enough! 

Transparency earns you TRUST like no other: the seeds are sown

There is an interesting story on the sidelines. 

Treebo Hotels, one of the competitors in the tender submission was an erstwhile Hotelogix customer. They had internally developed a system called SuperHero which was entered in the tendering process. The interesting part is that for the FIFA presentation, Hotelogix showcased the success story they had achieved with Treebo Hotels, earlier. Most importantly, they didn’t miss out on mentioning that Treebo was their erstwhile prized customer. This went down rather well, and the transparency won over the Qatar government. 

The seed of TRUST was sown!

Adi was all in praise of the Qatar government and how it handled such a complex vendor evaluation process. The evaluation was quite stringent and Hotelogix went through multiple rounds of meetings and product demos. 

3 AM meetings – Zoom call participants radiating high-level energy

Giving demos and attending meetings were just one part. In addition, thousands of pages of documentation needed to be submitted and the Hotelogix team pulled every person from different teams to make it happen. It was a critical ask and the local partner Zerone helped shape the documents exactly the way the Qatar government required. For almost a month, Hotelogix had continuous Zoom meetings 24×7, and teams would join at different times and chime in with their contributions. The Zerone team was also on these calls. 

This approach was super-successful and fuelled a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the teams on both sides. Imagine a team joining at 3 am and finding other team members animatedly discussing some aspects of the tender.

Covid-induced travel restrictions put severe constraints and key stakeholders could not be met. We must also keep in mind that in 2020 and with Covid casting a dark shadow, there was always a possibility that the grandest event on the planet would not be staged in less than two years.    

Playing to your strength – the power of differentiation

Their biggest competitor was Oracle so naturally, it was overwhelming. Adi spoke to a US-based cousin, Vivek Sanghi, who gave him sound advice. He said, “Adi this is your bread and butter, this is what you do so you have an edge. You will also be able to devote time and provide personalized attention to the project to ensure the success of the Qatari government. But Oracle, given its size can’t possibly do that. Success to the Qatari government is everything. Adi, articulate powerfully your differentiation with the right people.”  

This helped Adi and the team to articulate their strengths:

  1. Personalization: The bandwidth to provide personalized attention by the top management including the CEO.
  2. Experience: Having worked extensively with Hotel Groups in the multi-property business, Hotelogix had a strong understanding of the need at hand.
  3. API capability: Interoperability was key to frictionless working, and Hotelogix had an edge. 
  4. Cost leadership – while they were not the cheapest, they delivered high-quality outcomes at competitive price points. 
  5. Flexibility: Flexible and agile way of working without drawing the lines in the contract and ensuring the success of the project with no compromise.

In the beginning, when people get into something this big, doubts occur but as they get deep into the job and newer competencies get built, the situation eases out. As Adi says, “Till such time you jump in, that will never happen. And no matter how big the stage is, it’s always about getting the basics right.” 

To emphasize, he added, “Whether it is a local tournament or Wimbledon, once you step into the arena you are playing tennis!”

The shortlisting was completed and it was finally down to a few companies. Adi reached out to Aneesh Reddy, Co-Founder of Capillary Technologies for advice. Aneesh said, “The tender means a lot to you so you should be prepared to stretch on pricing because tomorrow you should not have any regrets.”

The deal was awarded to Hotelogix, finally. They clinched it! 

Adi succinctly summed up a 7-point advice for startups:

  1. Have a solution-oriented mindset and never doubt whether you can do the job. 
  2. Always think of creating value for the customer and earning TRUST without losing yourself. When you earn your client’s trust, you can move mountains.  
  3. Startups and smaller companies can focus on process documentation. Anything you do repeatedly, institutionalise it, and document it well. This way you can always be at the top of your game, and come across as a mature company, regardless of your age.
  4. Getting into the shoes of the buyer and having a firm understanding of the battlefield. In other words, learn to speak their language. 
  5. Always articulate your strengths and with impact. Bring the competition to your battleground!
  6. Motivate your people so that they can put in 150%. The Hotelogix team had Zoom calls running 24/7 and people logged in even after midnight with brimming confidence and energy to match. Perpetually there was active participation. 
  7. The power of collaboration – it’s the team that makes it happen. And a multi-founder company has great benefits. While some may be very deeply engaged in a large project, other business opportunities are also addressed. Life doesn’t stop. The project was completely taken care of by Prabhash (Founder), Ravi (Co-founder) took care of Implementation, Training, and Support and Adi was free for other business opportunities.

About the author

SaaSBoomi Editorial Team

Editor, SaaSBoomi
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