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HT Talks Tech: Jen Wong, CEO, Laasie

Now that we live in an era of instant gratification; Wong is reeducating the hotel industry on how to do guest loyalty.

When thinking of names for her company, Jen Wong was inspired by a television icon that immediately brings loyalty to mind: Lassie. But it’s not just her loyalty to Timmy that kept fans endeared with Lassie and her TV show for more than a decade, it was her intelligence. For Wong, whose company prides itself on using artificial intelligence and big data to power a new kind of loyalty for hoteliers, the name was a perfect fit.

“We’re powering a new kind of loyalty through instant gratification,” Wong explains. “There are no points, no tiers. Instead, we use AI to surface the most relevant instant rewards to every individual. This new way of thinking about loyalty means we can incentivize someone as they are browsing a hotel website to: book a room, enroll in a loyalty program, or transact with he property directly instead of using an OTA.”

The idea for Laasie came to Wong as she started traveling with her family a few times a year.

“For me, points just didn’t make any sense and weren’t any type of incentive because it would take too long or be virtually impossible for us to earn any type of reward, free night, etc.”

Just like many other consumers, she would start her booking process on OTAs and then visit the hotel’s website directly to “double check it looked good” before going back to the OTA website to book. She would book on the OTA because its points program was applicable to a larger network beyond hotels, thus making it more appealing.

“There’s such a great opportunity to capture the audience when they’re on the hotel’s direct website by prompting: ‘Instead of points on that OTA why don’t you book directly with us, and we’ll give you this instant reward?’ And we found this was a huge driver that really caught the consumer’s attention and got them to book direct,” Wong explains.

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Jen Wong Headshot

In fact, when Wong first began to experiment with this model she was living in Hong Kong and found significant success by offering guests free SIM cards to book direct. When she brought the business model back to New York City, she changed it to be a free Shake Shack burger and free Starbucks coffee. In both cases, consumers wanted that instant reward and it drove bookings.

Since its founding 2016, Laasie has driven more than $500 million in direct bookings with relevant instant rewards for 2,000 properties and has curated a network of 1,000+ instant rewards.

And while the company has become very successful, there have been a few rough spots along the path.

“The hospitality industry is very slow at adopting technology. We all know that,” Wong explains. “But on top of that, we have the added hurdle of trying to get the industry comfortable with the fact that loyalty doesn’t have to be complicated or require 20 people on a team, a lot of resources, effort or money to deploy. Instead of shying away from “loyalty” investments due to these pre-conceptions, we are eager to educate hoteliers on how loyalty can in fact be simple, turnkey, and seamless.”

On Being an Entrepreneur

When asked what’s one piece of advice that she has for other tech entrepreneurs, Wong says: “It’s incredibly important to develop you own support network of mentors, advisors, like-minded colleagues, and peers.”

When Wong first started working on the idea for Laasie, she created a network of support by cold messaging individuals on LinkedIn who she felt could be really helpful.

“I just asked if I could buy them coffee and pick their brains for 20 minutes, and now I have an incredible network that I can connect with when I’m facing a problem or need advice.”

Over time, some of those connections became mentors and advisors. Others connected her with different individuals from their own networks who could help out when they couldn’t. And some became good friends with Wong and even colleagues.

As the company has grown, Wong has now begun to take on the role of being a mentor herself.

“It’s really hard to hire at startups, so we do everything we can to demonstrate to our team members that we care about their growth. We want them to succeed, and we try to do everything in to help make that happen. The great news is that we’ve had very little turnover on our team since Covid, and that’s a testament to the great culture we have at Laasie.”

On Diversity in the Workforce

When asked how the industry can encourage more women to get into tech-centric careers, Wong believes there needs to be more action from leaders at the top of all hotel and hotel technology brands.

“The leaders of these organizations have to really be intentional about recruiting and hiring a more diverse employee base and then to nurture these individuals so that they’re well prepared to take on additional responsibilities and roles within the organization as time progresses,” she says.

And while this is a message that is constantly discussed, the industry doesn’t seem to be listening. At the recent ALIS conference, there was a diversity and inclusion session where all five panelists were middle-aged, white men. “I was glad to see Geoff Ballotti speak up and say: “How did you allow this panel to happen without a woman on the panel?””

“There is clearly a lot more work to be done to promote diversity in this industry,” Wong says. “That’s why, as a female CEO, I make it a priority for our team to actively recruit a diverse workforce, and I’m proud to say that 67% of our team members actually happen to be women.”

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