“If we don’t innovate, then someone else is going to do it for us,” says Jared Simon. “And that wouldn’t be a good situation.”
Simon is a veteran of both the tech and travel industries who now sits as COO and co-founder of Silicon Valley-based hotel-booking app developer HotelTonight.com. HotelTonight is just 3.5 years old, but it’s building a strong following for its exclusive focus on offering users tailored, localized lists of inexpensive last-minute hotel bookings. (Currently, the app features hotels in more than 500 cities in 28 countries around the world.) “It’s proven to be a great discovery tool for consumers, says Simon. “And it’s a great tool for hotels to sell off what they call ‘distressed inventory.'”
As optimistic as Simon is about the strength of his product, he knows he’s operating in a hyper-competitive market niche; inertia would be akin to business suicide. That’s led him and his two co-founders to prioritize innovation within the company above all else. In this week’s BusinessCast, Simon reveals what he’s done to make disruptive thinking part of HotelTonight’s fabric. Here are three of his top tips:
1. Hire people who embrace disruption
Before Simon and his partners hired a single employee, they put a lot of thought into the culture they wanted to create. “From Day One, we figured out what we stood for as an organization and what kind of people we wanted to hire,” he says. “We established a set of values for the company.” HotelTonight, they decided, would be a place for employees who value hard work, who ask a lot of questions, who criticize the status quo and who aren’t afraid to take risks—all while behaving respectfully towards their colleagues and customers. And that became the lens through which the company has done all its recruiting. “We make sure we hire people looking for the same experience,” says Simon. “As long as we stay consistent in applying and enforcing those values, we can work with just about anyone, anywhere.”
Read: Innovation Made Easier
2. Encourage criticism of what you do
Simon’s business is one in which criticism of practices and processes is not just accepted—it’s encouraged. “We want our people to question just about everything that we do,” he explains. “In fact, we want them not just to question, but also to come up with solutions. And to not be afraid to try those solutions, even if there’s risk involved.” This approach, he says, amps up creativity and keeps everyone from getting complacent.
3. Let everyone have a say
At many firms—especially in tech—innovation is the purview of a few developers and/or engineers. Not so at HotelTonight. The company hosts a quarterly meeting it calls the “war room,” in which all employees gather to pitch whatever ideas they have for the app. Every pitch is vetted, no matter who it came from. This brings in diverse perspectives and keeps everyone focused on the next big thing. As Simon explains, “everyone has an equal opportunity to pitch new ideas.”
For more of Simon’s thoughts, including his experiences expanding internationally, check out this week’s BusinessCast, which you can listen to by clicking the button above or download by clicking on the iTunes logo below:
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Read: 3 Rules for Innovating