What a software developer learned from managing luxury hotels

What makes the story of Preno an engaging one is that it is very likely that the idea for the business would not have been birthed into existence if it hadn’t been for a chance opportunity. Amelia Gain was in her early twenties, fresh out of university when she took over managing an award-winning hotel in Queenstown: The Spire Hotel. She had studied software engineering prior, so she understood processes. However, now that she was owning a luxury hotel, service became her focus.

As a hotel owner, she understood how both back-end processes and front-end processes needed to work together to support the overall customer experience. Over the years, she found that the software available to assist hoteliers in day-to-day functions and planning were not up to par. The products were outdated and inefficient. However, Amelia had the background and the insight to create something new.

After the hotel sold in 2014, she teamed up with a former classmate and friend, Max Padolian, to play around with an idea to create software to solve the problems she experienced as a hotelier. These brainstorms and discussions would eventually lead to a business idea. In March 2015, Preno was born. 

Preno’s original mission was relatively simple: to help hoteliers compete in their market by automating and simplifying administrative tasks. With her unique background, Amelia knew what processes could be streamlined and envisioned a way to bring different systems together. In early 2016, Amelia and Max released a version of the software to beta customers. They received positive feedback within the industry, further validating their product as a ‘cure’ to the pain points Amelia once experienced.

 Full Start-up Mode

The feedback from the beta customers motivated the team to consider working on the business full-time. Before they entered into the accelerator, Preno had been a side project, something that they worked on during nights and weekends around a kitchen table. Both Amelia and Max believed that there was a knowledge gap between building the product and taking it to the world. To globally scale Preno, the team thought an accelerator would provide the path. After a meeting with Ice House in Auckland, one of Lightning Lab’s partners, Amelia and Max decided to dive full-time into Preno.

A weekend trip to Auckland turned into the 3-month immersion into Preno via Lightning Lab’s first Auckland accelerator.

This particular accelerator brought on companies with global potential and provided the support of over 100 mentors. Meetings with various mentors, all with valuable insights and useful information, filled the first few weeks of the programme.  However, mentors offered differing opinions on the product. This feedback encouraged Amelia and Max to go back to the drawing board and test their assumptions.

While the product changed quite a bit during the programme, the team found that their concept continued to prove viable and therefore, they could move more confidently into user testing.

When Amelia and Max began Preno, they were primarily solving the problems Amelia personally faced. Even though the initial feedback was positive, the accelerator encouraged the team to think broader in terms of their offering. Preno evolved to serve a larger segment of customers.

By homing in on the problems a majority were facing, Preno created a sharper focus. The accelerator assisted Preno in creating an MVP – a minimal viable product. MVP’s for early-stage start-ups are popular because it showcases more simply what makes a product unique to early adopters.

With a broader target market to serve and a clearer understanding of an industry’s problem, getting the message right for the pitch and relaying their vision became the focus for Preno. Their vision and story secured investment before Demo Day. One of their mentors became a lead investor, and many of their investors remain directors to this day. The accelerator helped Preno accomplish the goals they set out to achieve. The road ahead of them was long, but now, Preno was in full start-up mode. 

 Staying Customer-Centric in a Digital World

Preno has changed a lot from the side project that it once was. After the accelerator, the team set up an office in Auckland, and they have run several successful funding rounds since. The capital raised enabled the company to pick up momentum and ultimately brought their product to market. Preno was able to reinvest into their product and revenue functions. 

Since the accelerator, Preno has grown its customer base, team, product, and product integrations. Preno is a simple accommodation software management system with robust reporting functionality. On top of this core product, Preno has developed a range of integrations, including leading payment and point-of-sale solutions. Preno helps independent hoteliers compete in their market through channel management and rate adjustment with their unique back-end software.

Beyond the product, the real value of Preno comes from approaching their digital business similarly to managing a luxury hotel: by leading with the customer experience. Today, Preno presents its mission as building hotel property management software to simplify and automate delightful accommodation experiences. Customer-centrism is at the core of Preno and continues to lead how the company develops and grows.  It is a real win-win scenario, where Preno supports the functions that help create the customer experience while simultaneously making the lives of hoteliers easier. 

Global Growth

Preno now has customers in over 24 countries across the globe. The time spent in the accelerator proved highly beneficial, which Amelia attributes to the effort that the team put in. Their pitch has changed over the years, but they continue to use what they learned about relaying value and engaging investors in their journey. Now, it is easier than ever to sell the vision of Preno because they have the sales growth, metrics, and team behind them.

To check out Preno today, head over to our features page. 

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About the author

Erin is a talented writer for NZ Entrepreneurs Magazine. Thousands of businesses are started in New Zealand every year, and every one of them has a story. She is inspired by their stories. And when every product is actually providing a service, she turns its complexity into something more people can get behind. She is a natural campaigner passionate about the startup ecosystem in New Zealand.

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