With Net Affinity’s 20 year anniversary around the corner, we sat down with our MD and founder of the company, Will, to chat all things Net Affinity. From then, to now, there’s been instinctive progression, growth and development in our purpose, our products and our staff – we’ve gone from one employee at the very beginning of our company’s life to employing 44 diverse individuals who enrich the business and high-quality services we provide our clients with. Here’s Will’s thoughts on where the journey started and where it will hopefully end up as we continue to strive to make lives of hoteliers better.
What made you decide to set up Net Affinity?
I have always had the desire to work for myself. Not sure as to the why, other than knowing that a core driver for me was autonomy – i.e. – the freedom to self manage and self direct. I also like the freedom to choose and make my own path and decisions.
The autonomy driver still holds true today, and the desire to self manage is as strong as ever. It’s a value that I encourage in everyone I know and work with. From a company perspective, I wish for everyone to have as much input and control over their own role and output as much as possible. This gives all of us the ability to address whatever challenge we face in accomplishing our work, without having to go through layers of management for a decision. With this autonomy comes accountability and the transparency that’s required for this to work well.
I realise that this style of self management is closely aligned with a ‘holocratic’ organisation. However holacracy is built to focus on the work, rather than the people, and we value our culture too much for it to be subjugated to the importance of work.
Outside of that, it didn’t matter so much what the business was going to be, other than it made sense to keep it related to what I thought I knew best – marketing.
What kind of agency did Net Affinity start its life as?
Net Affinity started as an online marketing agency, one of only three in Ireland at the time. Hotels, recruitment and property were the main business verticals that were being impacted the most as people shifted to the internet to engage with them. These businesses needed websites, and for those websites to be marketed online. This marketing effort primarily consisted of organic SEO work and email marketing. This was in the heady ‘wild west’ days of the internet and we learnt as we went along!
When and why did you decide to make hotel tech & marketing your focus?
Hotels quickly grew to become an important part of our business as the shift from traditional booking channels to online grew rapidly. Providing marketing services to hotels along with other industry verticals was our primary business model in the first few years. In 2003 I hired an SEO guy who came from an Irish OTA. It was his enthusiasm for online bookings that led us to hire our first developer, a talented young Polish guy. We built the first iteration of our booking engine and presented it to a number of our hotel clients.
In 2004, the Arlington Hotel in Dublin became our first booking engine client. With their help, we tweaked and refined the booking engine to meet the needs of their guests as well as their own internal needs. By 2006, our client base grew to around 30 hotels, most of whom were in the Dublin area. In 2008 when the great recession hit, we made the decision to focus only on the hotel vertical space and set about to grow our business in Ireland.
What are your own thoughts on the hotel tech space and the standard of products available to hoteliers?
The hotel industry in Europe is very fragmented where a larger percentage of hotels are unbranded independent, sometimes family owned properties, many with 30 rooms or less. The tech landscape is similar where you have a large number of small tech companies each operating in their local market providing tech and support services on a regional basis. These companies compete quite aggressively with each other for market share, usually using price rather than service as a differentiator. As a result, there’s a lot of duplication of product and effort which isn’t economically efficient and really doesn’t benefit the hotel industry. Because of this duplication of effort, there’s a vast array of various systems which have been built over the years using different technologies, most of which don’t connect in with each other.
Thankfully, this is starting to change. Some of the more progressive companies – like ourselves! – are opening up their systems via what we call ‘Open API’s’, allowing diverse systems to connect and communicate more easily with each other. This means that a hotel can more easily pick a tech stack for their hotel that is better integrated, allowing for more of a ‘plug and play’ scenario.
Is this an exciting and ever-changing space to be in?
The travel space, and in particular, the hotel tech segment, is going through a phase of rapid change where the focus for the past few years has been on integration to facilitate the movement of ARI. The next 3 to 5 years will see a growth spurt of start up companies focusing more on the use of all available data and the added value they can bring to the guest journey. So this means looking at every aspect of the booking journey, and how to bring all the various data sources together to deliver a more personalised booking experience for all of us.
How does the skillset of your staff add to the products Net Affinity offers their clients?
What makes Net Affinity a compelling partner to work with is, quite simply, our staff. They’re an eclectic mix of engaged and motivated individuals who collectively move mountains to deliver outstanding service to our clients. What’s really important here is the fact that everyone is passionate about what they do, and they genuinely care about delivering a great product and service to our clients. We take pride in what we do and we really want our clients to feel the sense of enthusiasm we have when they engage with us. We want clients to know, 100%, that when they move their business to us, that they can be assured that we will do our utmost to look after them consistently.
Where do you see Net Affinity going over the next 5 years? What would you like Net Affinity to be known for?
I definitely see the pace of change and innovation at Net Affinity increasing further and further. We have invested hugely over the past 2 to 3 years in our core technology, and we’re seeing the result of this work come to fruition this year with feature updates and new product releases. The pace of investment in our tech will continue to pick up at speed as we move to working more with data to deliver a very personalised booking experience for our clients’ guests.