By Thea Holtlund Jacobsen Chris Hovanessian is the founder of Whistle Messaging Inc., a messaging system developed for easier communication between hotels and their guests. The company is the number one rated guest messaging software for the hotel industry, and has been in the lead consecutively for the past three years. The need for messaging communication in the industry has made the application popular, as it is currently being used in close to 15 different countries.
“We provide a platform for hotels to engage with their guests in real time through messaging communication. We provide hotels with the tools and solutions to communicate with their guests, in the way their guests want to communicate,” Hovanessian said.
Guests don’t have to download an app, they simply communicate with the hotel through a messaging channel(s) that they already use and prefer, like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, and more. Whether the guest is on or off property, in a meeting room, out to eat, or at Disneyland – they can communicate with their hotel at any time and expect a near immediate response. This is meant to be an added convenience for the guest because they do not have to pick up the phone or wait in line at the front desk.
In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, Hovanessian believes it is important to take it one day at a time and create several minor goals along the journey.
Hovanessian met co-founder Jonathan Rojas when they both attended college together at Loyola Marymount University. They were majoring in Business Administration and had several classes together. They also co-founded a chapter of a professional business fraternity on campus.
“After college, I worked for a corporate relocation company where I was helping executives from different headquarters relocate to Southern California, and we were working primarily with Nestlé, relocating executives from countries like Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Brazil, and I was their main point of contact,” Hovanessian said. “This was where that asynchronous communication need came to be because we had to download different messaging applications.”
While in this job, Hovanessian said he realized that solving this problem could be useful to businesses as well, so that there was one platform for communication and no need for customers to wait on hold for someone to get back to them. After that, Hovanessian started developing a business plan for the company.
Whistle wants to ease communication between hotels and their guests through “personalized and automated guest engagement, from booking to departure.”
“Jonathan, who had worked for a sales corporation, had found the pain point and frustration through traveling from hotel to hotel, and needing something as simple as an extra towel but still having to go down to the front desk and wait in line. Messaging as a whole is applicable to any industry, but we developed a solution that is very nuanced to the hospitality industry,” Hovanessian said.
In the process of starting up the company, Hovanessian said he encountered unforeseen problems on a nearly daily basis. In the early years, the company was having issues with more people using the app than they expected. While they thought there might be one or two people at the front desk using Whistle, it turned out to be more employees needing to access the app than expected.
“There are multiple shifts throughout the day, multiple agents, managers, supervisors, and then you also have people from other departments, like housekeeping, using the app. All of a sudden, we had ten times more users on the app than we expected, and the system we originally built could not necessarily support our growth or usage,” Hovanessian said.
Hovanessian first saw the need for an app connecting customers and service providers when he was working for a corporate relocation company, which is how Whistle came to be.
While cash flows is important to manage in any industry, they can be particularly challenging to startup companies. Especially in the hospitality industry, Hovanessian said hotels usually like to pay after the service has been provided, between 30 and 90 days later. At the same time, many of their technology vendors have prepaid services. Additionally, a company like Whistle needs to adapt to the individual requests of all their users.
“With every new customer comes new demands and new questions, so for us we have to focus on what has worked up until this day and be completely open in terms of feedback from customers, which we take into consideration with any new update, because at the end of the day we are developing solutions for them,” Hovanessian said,
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Hovanessian said he can understand that the thought of starting your own company can seem scary, especially considering the risk put into the project and the time commitment that needs to be made. However, he said it is important to stay focused, and focus on one thing at a time, and that this journey is all about making sure you have long-term plans and goals that are continuously updated. The entrepreneur recommends taking the process one day at a time, and executing consistently.
Whistle won “Best Messaging Software” from HotelTechAwards in 2018, 2019 and 2020 for its innovative system connecting guests and hotel workers.
“You have a grand vision when you picture your entrepreneurial journey, either the product or the service that you want to ultimately provide and the problems you think it is going to solve, but from personal experience I know that when you first start your company you are nowhere near the ultimate goal. Putting yourself at the starting point allows you to take those baby steps, and by the time you look back a couple of months later, you could never have imagined yourself getting that far today,” Hovanessian said.
While working on building his company, Hovanessian said he used to go to Hub101 once or twice a week to work on his project. Here, they worked closely with Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship Mike Panesis, who was an original mentor and the first person to grasp their concept and connect them with potential investors. Through his time at Hub101, Hovanessian was able to get a network that later would benefit him and his startup.
“The best thing about Hub101 is these connections that you make, there seems to be this unnatural want to help each other there. Without even asking, people will put you in touch with others, and I haven’t seen that anywhere else. The amount of communication, interaction and involvement is unlike any other space I have seen before,” Hovanessian said.
When creating new updates for the messaging system, Hovanessian said the founders take feedback from the customers into consideration.
Given the current situation, Hovanessian said Whistle is seeing more of an emphasis on contactless, and the company has therefore decided to look more into creating contactless solutions for the hotel industry. He imagines developing their system to allow for less physical contact between customers and employees, where anything guests might need, from checking-in to ordering room service can be organized through the Whistle platform.
“What we envision is our product being a core component for the guest throughout their entire journey. We are foreseeing a world where guests and hotel staff alike are trying to forego as much physical interaction as possible, so that is something we are trying to facilitate through becoming a digital front desk for hotels,” Hovanessian said.