What started as a conversation over a backyard fence quickly led to an innovative business partnership between neighbours Ross Coldwell and Tony Hayes. Around $3.5 million in development later and the duo are on the verge of signing up two major hotel chains for their world-first ‘all-in-one’ hotel entertainment and communication systems.
Ross Coldwell admits it has been a ‘hard road’ since founding Lifestylepanel with Tony Hayes in 2008.
After discussing their frustrations with the lack of cohesive technology available in hotel rooms, Hayes and Coldwell embarked on an IT mission to develop the world’s first ‘all in one’ system.
The pair has since been joined by three additional co-owners and a total investment of $3.5 million has been pumped into the business.
“We were absolutely amazed that this didn’t already exist. We did some homework and found that people have tried similar systems but nothing very professional or user-friendly,” says managing director Coldwell.
“Most four or five-star hotels will have cable internet or wi-fi and a TV that may or may not have ‘movies on demand’. We’ve created a platform where all these technologies could exist in one simple system.
“For example as a hotel guest you can easily use Skype to say goodnight to your children – they can see you and you can see them and all you have to do is talk to your television.”
Coldwell says initial technology challenges included movie distribution rights and copyright issues but the units have been tweaked to state-of-the-art and are easily upgraded when required.
With the systems now found in eight hotels including Ramada, Quality Hotels, Millennium (NZ) and Best Western properties, his immediate task is to convince two interested major hotel chains that the systems are the best option on the market.
“The hotel industry was very sceptical at first. Most hoteliers couldn’t believe that we could do it and didn’t want to be the ‘guinea pigs’ for a new technology,” says Coldwell.
“The other problem we encountered is that most hotels had existing contracts that would have to be completed before they could even consider our product. So this isn’t a business where we can meet with a hotel owner and sign a deal the next day.
“We’ve taken the business as far as we can go in this stage and we’re now finalising negotiations with two major hotel chains that can’t be disclosed at present.
“The first chain however has more than 300,000 rooms across 25 hotels in Australia and eight hotels in New Zealand. The second chain is a major US-based hotel group which will give us our opportunity in that market.”
Each Lifestylepanel system generates $2.66 per occupied room per day on a consignment-based partnership. The systems in use generate $360,000 in annual revenue for the company but naturally Coldwell expects that figure to blow out if negotiations with the major hotel groups go according to plan.
“The business model we have set up means that we enter into a partnership with the hotels rather than sell them a product,” he says.
“Because of this we have had to choose carefully so we align ourselves with hotels that further our business strategy. For example, some Gold Coast hotels are owned by many members of a body corporate and can be more hassle to deal with than it’s worth.
“At the moment there are quite a few hotels that we expect will contact us when their current tech contracts expire. But if we sign these major chains up for the Lifestylepanel systems we won’t need to be chasing contracts anymore.
“It has been a long, hard road for us to be honest, but now we are starting to see the confidence in the technology and the company pay off.”
Lifestylepanel has taken out the August Gold Coast Business Excellence Mayor’s Innovation Award.
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