In today’s episode, host John Laurito is joined by the President of RealTime Reservation LLC, Shawn Tarter. They talk about his business, the importance of having the right team in your business, and how he leads his team as together they scale the business with combined efforts to have an even bigger reach. He also shares his vision for his ever-growing business years from now.
Where to find Shawn
[1:23] All about RealTime Reservation
[8:06] The importance of people
[10:14] What are the mistakes he made in terms of scaling the business?
[13:33] The problems he ran into as his business grew
[16:36] His vision for RealTime Reservation in the future
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership. Obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good, after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito, and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leader so good? Welcome to tomorrow’s leader!
John Hey, there tomorrow’s leaders. So today’s guest is the founder and CEO of Real Time Reservation, which is a cool system. As he was tell me about it, I’m like, Wow, I wish I knew about this when I went on vacation. So you’re going to hear it in a minute, but we also talked a lot about leadership. He’s grown a great company in a pretty short period of time. So many of the challenges leaders have is scaling an organization, how their leadership changes and what are the essentials that you need to be really great at. So he shared all that stuff and kind of the secrets to what he’s done. Very, very valuable. I love talking to him. I think you’re going to like hearing him. Here he is.
John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dive deep on all things leader-related, related to leading yourself, and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host with a great guest. Today I’ve got Shawn Tarter, who is the founder and president of Real Time Reservation, and he is based in New York. So Shawn, thanks for joining us.
Shawn Thanks for having me, John pleasure to be here.
John Yeah, real pleasure. I know we were chatting about your business. I’m really fascinated about the concept of Real Time Reservation, because as you’re explaining it to me, I’m like, Wow, that’s definitely a need I could see and I’ve had in the past. For the audience that’s listening, why don’t you share a little bit about the company, what you do, and what your inspiration was for getting it started?
Shawn Yeah, so Real Time Reservation is an integrated pre-arrival hub for guests and for hotel staff to book everything from amenities to activities to cabanas. Really, all rentable structures and events. Really all the property has to offer before they actually get on the property. So we’ve been really been white labeled into the hotels e-commerce platform for years now. I work very closely with our hotel partners to really understand the challenges, the demands of all these ancillary revenue opportunities, but really focusing on three main areas. And that’s the opportunity to have enhanced guest experience. Operations control, especially with the staffing issues that are happening today in hospitality, and then, of course, higher hotel revenue. It’s been a big focus and we have a really great strategy for hotels to jump on board and participate.
John That’s great. So are you domestic only or international?
Shawn Yeah, we’ve been really fortunate to do it the right way, so to speak. So we have all the corporate and brand approvals and master agreements. So we work with those global brands and we’re everywhere now from a global perspective. Especially during COVID, where everyone needed help, and the global outreach for the brands have been limited. It’s been only a few people left at the hotel brands to really expand this out. To really deal with one person, or three people, that represent globally the largest brands in the world. And we’ve teamed up with them to figure out solutions, especially bringing people back to hotels. Imagine a situation now where not only are all your customers shut down but the way that the hotel guests get to those hotels are shut down. How they actually bring people back in a safe manner. So a lot of work was done to expand globally and to get every language we can get into. So we have all the languages, all the abilities, all the integrations into the hotels. And now it’s what could the hotel offer with capacity control now. You have a yoga class now with only maybe six people in it, but there’s four of them on the property. So really, how do you do that effectively? And then after COVID, hopefully, it’s waning a little bit, and see people coming back to the industry, which is really exciting, really. How do you deal with not only capacity now, but now different opportunities that develop? Different partnerships on there? You see a lot of work. They will come out right now in terms of brands and partnerships and inspiring people to travel again.
John Yeah. So the concept is if I’m taking a vacation with my family, then I am not only booking the hotel, but I have the opportunity to book, you know, massages or cabanas or restaurant reservations. Anything that’s part of the hotel experience, is that right, ahead of time. So I go there. Peace of mind and knowing I’ve got it all set up.
Shawn Yeah. And really, how do we help the hotel with their staffing issues as well? You know, this was something, even on a luxury guest side, where you really want to make sure that not only you speak to someone, but that you have a confirmation email or text message letting you know that you actually have this activity booked and things like that. We would say, you know, before COVID, about 75 percent of guests were booking online, and now it’s 95 percent or higher working every activity when they get to the property. And now, because of that, the hotels realize that with our software, they could book packages and they could book all these types of add ons to everything they could think of. So you create this real customer experience that the world has adapted more to online everything.
Shawn I just got a call today. Everything’s online.
John So what about things like tours and excursions that you might book through the concierge? Is that part of it as well?
Shawn Yeah. So we worked very closely with partnerships and those towards excursion companies, and we really have a one-stop-shop when it comes to everything that we’re doing. And creating this hub allows you to book everything from spots, whatever it might be, to activities or cabanas. All in one place. And for the hotel side, it’s dealing with one vendor. We hear a lot of words like vendor fatigue. So by really working with them, getting approved for the brands, getting the asset managers and owners to understand the value. That’s been a really big question. And we’ve grown substantially during COVID, and out of COVID, this business and those concepts.
John That’s great. I love it. I could have used your services. In April, I booked a trip. I went, took my kids to Hawaii, Maui, a phenomenal place, loved it. But I had told them about all these excursions that I want to take them on and we got there and they were booked because of COVID. They had downsized the number of people, the number of excursions. We ended up having a blast and we did some excursions, but I could have gone through and used Real Time Reservation and ultimately had all that stuff planned. Weeks, if not months in advance, is what I’m understanding.
Shawn We’re heavily into Hawaii. It’s been great since the airlines have started flying again. It’s been great to see Hawaii, and we’re heavily in Hawaii, and obviously throughout the U.S., and the Caribbean, and globally. But in Hawaii, it’s really been a real big leadership. It’s always been the opportunity to develop things for honeymoon and for family events ahead of time. Candlelight dinners, things that we’ve set up before COVID. And now because of COVID, all of a sudden, now you’re planning your dinners. It might be a romantic dinner outside on the beach, but now it also might be for family. We also got heavily involved in luaus and all different types of things in Hawaii specifically. But really, you know, it’s every region has their own concept of candlelight dinner, picnic lunch, really something to pre-reserve, to reserve ahead of time. And we do something very special with the hotels is that we actually connect to their merchandising, to their credit card system. We’ve done it the right way through the approval. So all the PCI compliance stuff with the brands, and they tell us how to do it right. But because you’ve done it right, the hotels are now receiving the money ahead of time. They are not waiting for us to send them a wire or something that might not be in business tomorrow. They’re actually doing things with us as a partnership, so their guests are paying them money. Obviously, a lot of things with some vendors, that are maybe not the correct way, but they actually would hold the money. And when that happens during COVID, they’re using that money to survive as a vendor, and the hotels like, where’s my…? Where is it? So we believe in a real partnership with really getting into the hotel systems, understanding how they work to make sure the hotel is getting the guest revenue upfront. And also they can create cancelation policies and all these wonderful things that you could do.
John Yeah, I love it. So it’s better for the hotel, better for the guests. It’s a win-win all the way around. I know obviously, you know, the success of a business is not just the product or the service, but it’s the leadership behind it. You and I were talking a little bit about this earlier about some of the things that have helped make you successful. I’d love to talk a little bit about that and one of the things you started off talking about was the importance of people. How much is that? What specifically has impacted your organization, and what specifically about people, and how you think about building an organization do people need to know?
Shawn You know, I think the secret’s really building a winning team, so to speak. You know, that each employee should feel like they’re contributing to the success of the organization. And that’s really been a big part of it. You feel appreciated. Our team works long hours. I work long hours. But you’re building towards this, this dream, and you’re dreaming together, and that’s a big part of it. And it’s also really important who you hire. I noticed that we hired not just smart people, but we really put an effort to hire kind people. And that’s really been a secret to what we’ve done. Really bringing in the kind folks that are also very smart, to have a good product. But then when you’re speaking to our clients, they know that they have a company that really prides itself on integrity and partnership, and we saw a lot of that during COVID as well. We had a lot of hotels and even the people working at hotels that we’ve gotten to know personally over the years and now they’re like, What do I do? I don’t have a job anymore. What do I do? And it’s those kind of personal levels that we’ve really been attracted to as a company. And when you hire the right mix of people, even as you expand, and it’s hard to hire as you scale, because you have rapid growth, and you have to bring on the right people, the right mix all the time. But I’d say that, and really a message to everyone, is hire kind people because that’s who people look at when they do business with you.
John Mm-Hmm. Yeah, that’s a great point. You know, I don’t think many leaders think about that. If you listed out, OK, what are the attributes that you look for when you’re hiring people? That might not even make it on their list, but you found that that’s really the glue that holds the place together. I mean, in reality it bonds the team, but it also leads to a much better client experience, no doubt. Yeah, I like it. What are some of the things, when you think about building the organization – because you talked about scaling. That’s without a doubt a huge challenge for people. For organizations when you’ve scaled, and you’ve had to scale pretty quickly. I understand you built the start of business eight years ago. Last three years has really been, sounds like, pretty exponential growth. How as a leader do you do that? I mean, what are you thinking about? What are the things, the mistakes, that you see or know that you’ve maybe made when it comes to scaling either too fast or not fast enough?
Shawn Yes. I mean, you know, we spent years really on the ground not even looking at revenue numbers. Just really looking at understanding the industry. About three years ago is really when we started to push really hard forward because the corporate, you know, global brands have asked us to do it. And that was really the exciting part. So it’s really been, you know, years on the ground, years of working with the actual teams of folks on the recreation side, and the concierge side, just to understand what they’re looking for. And a lot of it is not even technology. So when you look at building an organization, where we’re building us now, a lot of it was more about strategy, really creating partnerships.
Shawn Our sales guy, we just went through a very large convention – the first one actually – down in Fort Lauderdale this past week. And you know, we talk about scaling and how to still do it. I still go back to, you know, finding people that are kind. You know, it’s this overlooked kind of part. It’s not on the resume. You don’t see that on the resume that people are kind, you see all the accomplishments. We are fortunate to work with some of the best people. Our staff is the most talented. Such a history with each one of them. And one of our sales folks is down with me in Fort Lauderdale and I overhear him say this. And he says, you know, he says to one of the people he’s speaking to, he’s like, all I have is my name. And this is an extremely accomplished sales guy. And that’s what he says. All I have is my name.
Shawn One of the vendors said to me, You know, how do I know you can deliver this? How are you actually going to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver? And I say, I’m the owner. If I don’t deliver it, you’re going to ask me why I didn’t deliver this, and I’m in it for the long haul. I think that’s the biggest thing. I mean, I’m in it for a long time, we’re not going anywhere, and we have the right people to progress, whatever it is in the industry where we’re seeing it, like obviously COVID. We did some hard pivots there with our hotel partners, but it’s really building the right team around you, scaling with the same concept of integrity, getting super smart people in one place. And the idea is partnership. You have to be able to partner with your customer and to know what they’re looking for. And then for us, we kind of hand it over to them and they build our product for us. There’s no ego walking into the door. There’s not, you know, this is our product and do it. We’re constantly learning. Our sales folks to our relationship guys, to our developers, we’re all kind of on the same page of building something out that means something to the industry, but also to the big customers of our customers. And that’s a big part of this.
John Yeah, I can see that. And as you’ve grown, is it harder to keep that kind of culture and everything the way that you want it to? I mean, I would imagine as your organization gets bigger, everything you did to start the organization and hiring everybody, you’ve got your hands on everything, but you got to let go a little bit as the leader. When you’re going, it’s getting big and fast, getting big fast. Have you run into problems or challenges with that?
Shawn You know, I have a really good group and I think that we, all of us, every level of the organization, really feel the same way. The challenge that you mentioned, especially during COVID, something I’ve never seen before, is how do you hire the right people with possibly not even meeting those people you’re hiring? How do you hire someone over a zoom call? How do you really do that? And then you finally meet for the first time. We had our first company event in I don’t know how long. And we were all together. And you see the marketing person meeting a salesperson for the first time, and they’re hugging each other. And you’re like, yeah I don’t think we’re allowed to hug each other anymore, haha. But you see someone on a Zoom call like we’re doing today, and you kind of feel like, you know the person, but you don’t know how tall they are. You don’t know how they move, how they walk across the room. And then also when you see someone, you have this enjoyment. But the reality is, you have to be a successful company to get the benefits of people really enjoying working together. And generally, its all driven by a good product, good ambition, industry, solving a real problem out there. So you have to have that piece in there. But once you do, you really don’t want to take any shortcuts. You want to hire the right mix of people.
Shawn It’s a lot harder to do that. It’s easier to say, I want to hire this senior person in the industry. It’s an easier road, but it’s not as organic. It’s something that you’re missing there. And we have a great mix of folks. We have some people who have been around the industry for a very, very long time. Real influential folks as well. But it’s hiring the right mix of senior people and junior people. I also think that getting involved in the local university. I think we’re reaching out to Stony Brook and some of these great universities at Hofstra. Really seeing, you know, what’s it like for those students coming out. Really across the board from developers, future marketing folks, future business folks, the future leaders. And I also say, you know, hire people better than you. Hire people that can really bring you on. We know we’re going to lose people that start their own business eventually. And those are the people that I want to be with because they are leaders, they are partners, and they kind of understand that there’s, you know, there’s something that at the end of the day, we are accountable.
All of our hotel partners know that we’re accountable for something. So if something isn’t the way they want it, we have to fix it. And everyone across our team knows that we have to fix everything we create to make it really a great product for the hotel to use. We don’t want it just sitting there, we want them actually for using it. And especially with COVID, all these pre-arrival opportunities were right there with the hotels, creating a great product for their guests.
John I love it. I know we only have a couple of minutes. What is the vision that you have with Real Time Reservation? I mean, what does this look like 5, 10 years from now?
Shawn Yeah. You know, the mission has always really been the same from the beginning. We started with cabanas. We started renting out structures. We look at hotel cabanas and opportunities as almost like hotel rooms, but they’re not hotel rooms. So we really built these like, I guess, miniature hotel rooms as a cabana. And then you do yield management, really all opportunities for revenue for the hotels. Also increasing their guest experience and looking at any kind of operation savings that you can do. And once we started that, properties started saying can you also do the kids club for us, and can you manage the hotel shuttle for us? Can you do the fitness center and parking? And we really started getting involved in all areas of this and integrating those parking systems, the valet systems, into our system. Some of the fitness centers are integrated into our system as well. So you say, where do we expand as we look at a holistic, pre-arrival experience where the guests are booking everything, possibly eventually hotel rooms, right through our site, and the hotel thinks it’s part of their own experience. So the hotel guest believes they go into the hotel site. They don’t know we exist, but all these amazing things are being presented for them and they are able to book ahead of time.
John That’s great. And the hotels, it’s their brand. It’s affecting it in a really positive way. And the guests are having a great experience. You’re obviously being rewarded because of the success of what you’re doing in the business. But that’s a perfect alignment of everybody’s best interest.
Shawn Yeah. And we also see a lot of the manual things that happen. We got heavily involved, all of a sudden, in accounting and finance because we realized that everything impacts everything else. And when you bring in extra revenue, who’s going to account for that revenue. All the accounting teams and finance teams, that you don’t see at a beautiful resort in Hawaii that you went to, are in a cubicle somewhere pushing numbers through, and reporting through, and it’s our job to make sure they’re doing it. That they’re doing it right, that that we’re supporting that. So you have different levels satisfying each part of your customer chain of workflow.
John That’s great. Well, this has been terrific, Shawn, I appreciate your time today. I know RealTimeReservation.com is how people can get more information. We’ll have it in, the show notes. Is that right? That’s the website?
Shawn Yeah, that’s perfect.
John All right. And we’ll make sure everybody has access to that. Without a doubt, check out RealTimeReservation.com. Shawn, it’s been a pleasure having you. It’s been really interesting as well as impactful and congrats on the success. I’m not surprised about it. Great idea, and great leadership behind that. So continued success to you.
Shawn That’s great. Thanks so much and we’ll see you on vacation pretty soon.
John I hope so. And thanks to all of you for tuning in today on this week’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. As always, Like, Share, Subscribe. Always appreciate your ideas for future content and guests. And, of course, go down below and give a five-star review and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks, everybody.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching. Reach me at John@JohnLaurito.com. Once again, that’s John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks. Lead on.