Business Monday

Spotlight: Hotel booking company based in West Palm Beach finds room to grow

John Prince, co-founder of hotelplanner.com, based in West Palm Beach. Since moving to the city five years ago, the company has outgrown executive office space downtown and recently leased a 15,000-square-foot office at the PNC Bank Building at 205 Datura St. The new, larger headquarters will open Dec. 1.
John Prince, co-founder of hotelplanner.com, based in West Palm Beach. Since moving to the city five years ago, the company has outgrown executive office space downtown and recently leased a 15,000-square-foot office at the PNC Bank Building at 205 Datura St. The new, larger headquarters will open Dec. 1. The Palm Beach Post

What does it take to run a fast-growing tech company?

A great idea, a willingness to work hard and a hospitable city in which to work and live.

John Prince found West Palm Beach to be the place for his company, HotelPlanner.com, the world’s largest provider of online group hotel bookings.

Since moving to the city five years ago, the company has outgrown executive office space downtown and recently leased a 15,000-square-foot office at the PNC Bank Building at 205 Datura St. The company employs 45 workers at its headquarters but needs space for up to 120. The new, larger headquarters will open Dec. 1.

HotelPlanner.com started in 2002, when Prince and his business partner, Tim Hentschel, were young, ambitious college graduates with an idea about how to use technology to make it easier to book blocks of hotel rooms. Their business has exploded.

Prince said his company has a unique system that allows hotels to compete for room blocks from major travel companies. Major clients now include sports organizations, such as the National Football League, and the federal government. The company also owns Meetings.com, which provides information on meeting and banquet venues around the world for corporate and association meeting planners.

Name: John Prince

Age: 35

Hometown: South Berwick, Maine

Education: Bachelor’s in computer science and minor in mathematics from Northeastern University

Family: Wife, Jessica; 3-year-old son; and 7-month-old baby girl.

About your company (revenue, clients/caseload, employees, mission): This year, we’ll do about $24 million in revenue ($240 million in hotel bookings). We process about 2,000 groups/meetings per day in over 75 countries and 20 languages. We currently have about 100 employees worldwide. Our mission is to be the primary distribution system and best service for groups and meetings booked into hotels. Most people don’t realize that one-in-three hotel rooms worldwide is sold as part of a group booking, making it a $40 billion market.

First paying job and what you learned from it: At 16 years old, I was a commercial fisherman and I also worked at a pizza place, making pizzas and subs when I wasn’t out on a fishing trip. I’ll never forget one fellow fisherman asked me why I was going to leave fishing and go to college because I would be giving up such great money (commercial fishing is a very coveted job in Maine). I learned that just hard work alone wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to work hard and also build something of my own that could last for decades.

First break in the business: We signed a deal with Priceline in the very early stages of the company that really catapulted our reputation in the industry. They are still a great partner of ours.

How your business has changed: When we first started, we were living the typical southern California start-up lifestyle with a fun, loft-style office space. As we grow into the hundreds of employees, we have gotten really good at screening new hires and hiring the right people. Since Tim and I can’t be involved in everything anymore, we have to put a major focus into hiring people who can carry our vision.

Best business book: Jim Rohn’s The Art of Exceptional Living. It also happens to be the first author of business books I’ve consumed, and definitely the most impactful on my life.

Best piece of business advice you ever received: “Everything affects everything.” It’s a simple concept about life balance, but it’s something I think about every day. If you’re not taking care of your health or personal life, you better believe those things will eventually start impacting your business and vice versa.

What you tell young people about your business: If they are potential customers, then I tell them about how hotels can bid and compete for their wedding or sports team travel. If they are entrepreneurs, I tell them that nothing is quick and easy in business. It’s thousands of small wins built up over time.

Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? In college, I had some small software “businesses” I started with some fellow programmers. Those businesses did not work out very well because I didn’t partner with the right people. They weren’t ambitious enough, and I learned that I needed to look for a business partner who was a true complement to my own skills, instead of someone with my same skills.

Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: I have young kids, so I’d probably be changing diapers or walking the dog. I like to imagine my future self with more free time, and I see my family spending time boating or other outdoor activities.

Favorite smartphone app: The HotelPlanner app, of course! Other than that, I’d have to say the TED app.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Passion for the job.

ALEXANDRA CLOUGH, PALM BEACH POST

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