The concept of keyless entry to a hotel room isn’t new: Hilton began rolling keyless entry out across its US properties in 2014, for example. However, it’s still far from standard practice – particularly in the hostel market.
Cofounded by Jack Bowcott and Arash Karimzadeh, Sydney startup Tipi is looking to capture this market.
The first version of Tipi was simply a social network for travellers, helping them meet and share tips about what to see and do in a particular spot. Like others who have tried their hand with that idea found, Bowcott admitted getting traction was difficult given both the saturation in the market and the fact that the user base is transient.
Making the decision to move on, they came up with an idea to solve another daily hassle for travellers: checking in.
Their solution was an airline-style check in pass that can be scanned by travellers on arrival, with the pass pulling up all of a traveller’s booking details in the hostel’s reservation system. While over 500,000 travellers have used the app to check in, Bowcott said this still wasn’t perfect.
“Even though this made check in faster, the guest still needed to physically pay and pick up keys,” he explained.
So the cofounders got to work building hardware to support a mobile key system. A TipiDisc can be connected to any lock, allowing hostels to offer guests mobile key access.
“As we developed the hardware, the question became how do we make this more sustainable and affordable for our hostels? For example, how do we completely remove plastic from a hostel’s operation and remove the need for expensive key encoders? What about the guests who don’t want to download an app?” Bowcott said.
“So we added a PIN interface to the TipiDiscs so that all guests can access their room without the need to encode a plastic keycard. The 26 hotels that we currently operate in only issue PIN or SmartKeys to their guests, so it’s great to see this vision coming into fruition.”
The keys work by sending guests a link to check in online, like they would for a flight, Bowcott explained. The guest enters their details and is given a PIN or SmartKey to use when they arrive. If they’re unable to check in online, they can check in via a kiosk at the hostel upon arrival, with the kiosks printing out the PIN or sending it to their phone.
The startup is targeting three markets: hostels, hotels, and student living. The pitch, Bowcott said, is quite simple.
“Each have a desire to lower staff overheads, improve operational efficiencies, and communicate more effectively with their guests,” he said.
“A lot of this is about redeploying staff from traditional roles that are automated via our system and enabling more meaningful interaction with guests.”
Venues are also able to create and sell experiences through the online Tipi system, with this also helping them tap into new revenue streams.
The startup charges venues for hardware, with a subscription model seeing them pay a monthly fee per lock. Tipi also takes a clip of the ticket when guests purchase experiences.
“Lock companies can either retrofit existing locks for mobile access or replace the locks with their bluetooth solution,” Bowcott said.
“For us, Tipi is about much more than just opening your room with your phone: you are joining the hostel community, meeting other guests, seeing what’s on and joining activities. Through utility we are creating a platform to engage with your hostel and other guests, and we see that are our differentiator.”
According to Bowcott, the startup expects to have over six million guests using Tipi to open their rooms, meet other guests, and try local experiences within the next 12 months. With that in mind, the team is focused on fulfilling orders and improving its user experience.
“We are really lucky to work with hostels who are collaborative and willing to try crazy things, like removing their reception! This helps us in our mission to make smarter hostels and happier guests.”