Skip to main content

HT Talks Tech: Elle Rustique, CEO and Founder, TipBrightly

Explore how TipBrightly's QR technology is empowering hoteliers to embrace cashless tipping, elevate service standards, and foster a culture of appreciation.
elle rustique tipbrightly founder
Advertisement - article continues below

Recently, IHG Hotels & Resorts announced that TipBrightly was approved as a cashless tipping vendor for its North American properties. TipBrightly makes tipping quick and easy for guests via QR codes. These QR codes can be found around the hotel and within guestrooms so that guests can tip housekeeping, valets, baggage attendants, and others even if they don’t carry cash. TipBrightly was founded by Elle Rustique. Rustique’s mother was a housekeeper and growing up, Rustique quickly realized as a child how much tips mattered to her mother.

“I always knew whenever she earned a big tip because she would take us to McDonald’s,” Rustique explained.

As an adult, Rustique was once sitting in a taxi and was unable to leave a tip. She began to wonder why mobile payment technology wasn’t being used for tipping employees. So, Rustique began the journey that would eventually lead to the creation of TipBrightly. Now, TipBrightly is on track to reach $1 million with 100,000 tips and a presence in every U.S. state by the end of the year.

In this Q&A, Rustique talks more about TipBrightly, how it works, and the benefits it offers to employees.

What was the TipBrightly development process like?

It took several years after my research to go from proof of concept to our MVP (minimum viable product). In 2017, we were pioneers and began piloting in different markets. When COVID-19 happened in 2020, a key development occurred that changed the mobile tipping game: the ability to scan a QR code using a smartphone. Prior to 2020, many people did not know how a QR code worked or that it required a separate barcode reader. It was COVID-19, and the need for touchless forms of payments, that brought the QR code and the mobile phone together. We had already been working on cashless tipping and piloting TipBrightly years before the pandemic, so we knew how to roll out to hotels and hospitality groups.

Why is TipBrightly an appless solution?

As travelers and hotel guests are generally in a rush to check out, I knew it was critical that TipBrightly make tipping fast and easy. Downloading an app is the biggest source of friction for any mobile app. A hotel guest on the go will not take the time to go to the app store, search for the app, and register.

What kind of technological "bugs" did TipBrightly have to work through to become the great solution it is now?

For a cashless tipping provider, choosing a payment process is the most critical decision. I had been following Stripe as part of my research and knew it was developing a way for small businesses to process payments. I contacted Stripe and their team started working with us. It was risky, especially as we didn’t have any data about how our platform would work with Stripe. There was also some confusion as to whether we were a money service provider and transferring funds. We’re not a digital wallet – we don’t hold funds. We simply direct Stripe, through our platform, where to transfer the funds and which employee was receiving each tip. Stripe is expensive, charging 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. For small amounts, it amounts to a high cost to us. I’ve decided that the tradeoff is that because Stripe does all the work, we’ve not needed to have a large development team, which has kept us lean and streamlined. I play a direct role in product development and work alongside our architects. This means that the business side of our decisions was always transparent.

What kind of positive results do your customers and their employees enjoy?

We have seen positive results -- some intended and some surprising. For example, tips have increased in amount. It is common for us to see $50, $100, or even $200 tips go to employees. We know that these large tips would not have been left in cash. Our clients also report that the amount of tips recovered is more than expected and is increasing their employees’ pay by $1 per hour.

Additionally, guests are already appreciative and use the app to commend employees. This information is invaluable and illuminating to management. Guests are also very sophisticated in how they separate an issue in the room from the housekeeper. For example, a guest might mention that there were not enough towels in the room but they will still give the housekeeper a $20 tip.

Lastly, digital tipping has a large impact on workplace culture. Both the data on tipping and the feedback guests provide are being used to improve morale, recognize individuals, and point out practices that guests appreciate. We did not expect that such transparency around tips would create a vehicle for training and employee appreciation.

Are you worried criminals will replace official QR code signage with their own and steal employees’ tips?

We have not had a single report from our customers of QR code signage being replaced or removed by employees or bad actors. I believe that the likelihood of bad actors and actions increases when the staff is not educated or trained in best practices. We do a thorough job of this, working with supervisors and directors during our onboarding process. We also monitor tip transactions and can detect unusual patterns with employees’ tips. The solution is not perfect, but I have not been told about any ongoing or major crimes committed.

Any other comments?

I come from a background of research and education and am always thinking about how humans learn, interact, and change their behavior. It’s critical that a product’s design reflects the company’s vision and core values. For TipBrightly, our vision is to develop technology that empowers everyone to act in ways that are good, kind, and meaningful. When appreciation is the goal, everyone wins.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds