In this episode, Jim is talking to Bart-Jan Leyts, a 23-year-old Young Entrepreneur who has built a company called Loreca in the hotel and hospitality industry. They discuss how Bart-Jan has managed to get 296 hotels to sign up for his AI-based hospitality revenue enhancement platform, as well as how he overcame the challenges of being a Young Entrepreneur and introducing new tech to a traditional industry.
They also talk about how Loreca works, and how the algorithm manages to “game the system” on sites like Booking.com and Expedia. They discuss how Bart-Jan has been proving himself and building the Loreca brand through speaking opportunities, trade associations and word-of-mouth marketing. Bart-Jan also shares advice on how to #getnoticed as a Young Entrepreneur, encouraging listeners to take one day in two or three weeks to be bold and send emails to local press, start endorsements, and reach out on social media.
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The Unnoticed Entrepreneur Podcast is sponsored by Prowly. The All in one tool for PR experts. Hello, and welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur with me, your host, Jim James. And today we are going to beautiful Bruges in Belgium, and we're gonna meet Bart-Jan Leyts, who is a Young Entrepreneur. He's got a company called "Loreca", in the hotel and hospitality industry. Bart-Jan, welcome to the show. Hi, Jim James. Thanks for having me. I really looked forward to be here. Well, look, I'm looking forward to talking with you because you're a Young Entrepreneur, still only 23, but you've built a company called "Loreca" and we're gonna talk about that because you've been overcoming the challenges of being a Young Entrepreneur. But you've already managed to get some 296 hotels to sign up to your "AI-based hospitality revenue enhancement platform", if I've phrased that right. So you've managed to also introduce some new tech to a traditional industry and overcome a number of barriers of not being noticed and not having a network. So explain to us, first of all, about "Loreca". Just let us know about what this business is doing. Yes. So, "Loreca" is a company specialized in the hospitality industry. But what we do is we build an algorithm that enhances or enforces the position on an OTA and an OTA is like an online travel agency, like, a "booking.com", and "AirBNB", "Expedia", "trip.com". So we put a hotel or a bed and breakfasts or client, we put them higher in the ranking. It's like, we call it "Booking Engine Optimization". It's like SEO for Google. And we start from this perspective, like if you are being found, if you're being seen, you're getting booked. But this changes the whole dynamic of how revenue management for hotels are done. Like, you can ask more money if like the demand for your hotel is higher because you're more seen. So the chances of selling a room increases, but it's a mathematical equation between all the platforms that determine it. For example, "Expedia" have an impact on booking and booking on "AirBNB". So this is what our algorithm does based on the data, based on the expected traffic. For example, if we expect that on a Thursday night in the beautiful city of Bruges, there will be a lot of people searching on "booking.com" to book a room for the next day, then we will maximize the position on booking despite of it, "Expedia". So this is where it's all automated. Wow, interesting. So the hotels that you are selling "Loreca" to, are they parts of chains or are they independently owned? At the moment our core clients are independent hotels. Yes. Okay, independent hotels and just tell us about where you've managed to spread the business to from your base in Bruges. So right now we are active in six countries where it's most of the root of our clients are in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands that we have in Montenegro, and Albania. Okay. And now first of all, I've got to ask, how do you get a business into, you know, so many independent hotels so quickly? Because you only started the company in 2021, just out of university. So you've managed to get a stellar start, in what I know is quite traditional industry. So, quite, yeah, and how did you managed that? Exactly. In fact, I was still in university. I was between my third and my last year starting my master studies. But what I did, so maybe it's good that I first start tell the story. So my parents have a bed and breakfast in Bruges, of course, everything starts in Bruges. And during COVID times they were really struggling. You know, they weren't having a lot of guests, so this is where I started like tinkering, like I was majoring in data and finance. What can I do to improve the revenue? So I was trying some things. I felt a lot of things to be honest. But, you know, I was making some progress and I thought, "Okay, I have something for my parents, bed and breakfast." But then the summer came, and I was like, "Okay, I want to earn some money and go with my friends on a beautiful holiday." Outside of Bruges of course, this time, but like, abroad, take some holiday. And this is where like I drafted an email and I was just, I will remember it. Like I had a very basic version of my product. It was still a lot of manual work. It was nothing compared to what it is right now. And I just wrote an email to them. I found like some email addresses online of hotels in our neighborhood. And I said, "Hey, I'm a 20 year old guy, at the time. I'm working at 15 hours per hour. I can do this. Do you want to work with me?" And suddenly my inbox started like exploding. Like all these people saying they really had a lot of problems with their digital story, with their digital setup as for hotels, that's hyper important. And this is where it all started and I started doing some extra services to raise some cash flow, to be able to fund like the further development of the algorithm. And this is where everything started. And like, I was just bold enough to send an email, and to sometimes contact some local newspapers where I get like a little ads, all for free. It's like all about just taking the step, not dreaming, but taking step. That's a wonderful a wonderful story being practical really, and just sort of getting in and getting the first installations. What would be some of the obstacles when you actually went in to these establishments, these hotels, and bed and breakfast? Because, you know, my own experience with the industry is that it's quite a traditional industry, isn't it, in the way that it operates. You coming in and offering to turn it upside down. Was there some anxiety there that you might sort of "lose them revenue" as well as "increase them revenue"? Exactly. It was a big hurdle for us. The aspect of ageism, you know, like, the average age of a hospitality owner is like twice my age or something. So in their point of view, we were like the young guys telling them what they need to change or what was wrong. So it was not always a fun conversation to be like harsh and tell them, "Okay, the way you are working, it's not optimal." Because sometimes we looked at the numbers of our then prospects, now clients, and like they have a loan of 25,000 for example, but they are only doing 20,000 to the revenues. So then we are saying, "What are you doing?" And sometimes it's like a very tense discussion in the beginning, but what I learned is we just have to prove ourselves. We just have to prove that we can do it, that we can make it easier for them, and that we can like enhance their processes. Because whenever we see a new client, this is the first thing we will do. We'll check at their technical setup. Like there, you know, a hotel works with a backend. If this is not working optimal, we can't motivate to bring like 20% more people in the hotel because then the operational systems will fail. So it's all about proving yourself and like making the things that you talked about come true. So you've been proving yourself. And then what about sort of getting into, for example, trade associations or speaking opportunities to build the brand, Bart-Jan? Do you want to share with us what have you been doing for Loreca to expand? Because with nearly 300 clients, that would be a lot of just word of mouth marketing, so you'd plainly be doing some other things as well. Exactly. The thing about the industry is that it's a lot of word of mouth. So like hotel, you are very familiar with each other. But regarding brand building, we had a lot of articles, some podcasts actually, and a lot of speaking gigs. I love to speak in front of crowds and also because we are in a way disrupting the way revenue management is done for hotel years. So that's like our stage to really prove to, like, the traditional way of working, how they could improve it. So this is where we got really a lot of brand awareness. And what is important for us too is collaborations. Like we have a lot of collaborations with a lot of partners from local governments to other service providers like we are growing on each other's back. If one grows, the other grows with them. And what I also noticed in the beginning, whenever you get endorsed by a local government, it builds that trust that you need in the early phases, especially if you have 1, 2, 3 clients, but you're endorsed by the city or something, people will be like, "Okay, it's not just 'snake oil' as they call it." Yeah. And how did you get endorsed by the local government? Because that in itself is not easy, especially as, you know, you are a Young Entrepreneur with frankly not a track record in business yet. I mean you just come out of university. So how did you overcome what must have been for them, a sort of almost a compliance risk? Exactly. So what I did was, I just wrote an email to them say, "Hey, can we just have a meeting?" So in the beginning, I had to wait a long time for those meetings. Then when everything started going, the meetings were coming more frequently, and some of them wanted a test case. Like, "Okay, we will give you one hotel and if it works, we will endorse you." So then, like, everyone puts 100% of their effort in this one hotel. And fortunately for us it worked. And this is where the accelerated growth started. So just explain then you, you've talked about it being sort of a "Booking Optimization System". Maybe just, you know, for those of us that are not in the industry, it sounds fascinating because we know when we go onto "booking.com" for example, we can sort by, you know, by location, and by price, and by ratings. Are you saying that there's a way of gaming that system then, and how is that done? Exactly. So, whenever you want to book on "Booking" or on "Expedia", the way you see the results are, of course, not random. They're like influenced by a lot of parameters, but these parameters, they differ from region to region, from cities to city. And this is what our algorithm does. Our algorithm, like, automatically search or it's like searching for the parameters that are relevant and it is like applying them, with respect of it's strategy to be on the top. So this is what the algorithm does. Wow. So in terms of the the variations, are you saying that for the hotel there'll be different sort of parameters or characteristics that are more important in different geographies or maybe at different times of the year? Because from a sort of getting noticed point of view, people constantly say, you know, "Nice location" "Nice rooms" "Nice breakfast" It sounds as though you're saying that those actually change according to location and time. So, what we noticed, so we have those like, parameters that are client based. Like you, Jim, you want to go to, let's say, Bruges again, and you say, "Nice location and I want a nine plus review." Of course, this is something we can't influence. If it's in the middle of nowhere, we can't put it on top of Bruges. This is technically impossible. But what we can do is based on the data, seeing, like people searching for Bruges are more, most of the time, for example, people who prefer sustainable properties. So we try to enhance like the perseverance, like the performance and the sustainable search fuse. But also in regards to the distance from the center, so that's what is always called. We try to, like, increase it there. Like, if it's three to five kilometers from the center, this is working for us too. It's all about being seen, being booked. But what also is very important, some of the hotels, they say, "Okay, you need to stay for a minimum of two nights. Otherwise our cleaning team, they just can't cope with it on an operational level." So then we have to like really play with the visibility. Like, the being seen on the two-night markets. So the people staying for two night, despite of the market of one night because everything is connected to each other. Oh, how interesting. You see all these different parameters for "Loreca" to manage. So it sounds as though each hotel is getting its own customised sort of solution. Is that the case or is "Loreca" sort of a drag and drop in every hotel can manage their own implementation? No. So we are not like what you said, "Drag and drop and start." So we are like an algorithm. So, means we are custom for every of our hotel. What we firmly believe is that every hotel, every bed and breakfast is unique. They all have their different strengths, their different weaknesses, their different operational hurdles, and their different, like, opportunities. So this is why we really take case by case and our sales team have a really personal approach with all of them because we need to understand their business 100% before we do something. Because if you only understand it 50% and we just try to put it at a maximum occupancy, it won't be like beneficial for the bottom line. It's all about getting the whole process done. But for us, of course, this means we are on a geographically basis exclusive because you can't put everyone on the top on of "Booking" or of "AirBNB". So this is where we limit our customers based on like geographic. Meaning that we need to scale on a geographic level. Right, right, I see. And you mentioned earlier about, you know, starting this business as a Young Entrepreneur. How are you getting yourself noticed outside of the "Loreca" brand? Are you finding that there's a good community of Young Entrepreneurs that you can talk with and share the challenges that you're facing? Yeah, so this is actually a good question. What I always do, and I am very active in this matter, is I'm always searching for different groups, different communities where I can just put my ears down or let someone hear my voice. And regarding to young entrepreneurship, this is a bit of like, disadvantage people are not talking about that much, is that the peer group is way different than an Entrepreneur who is a bit older. Because for us, for like the Young Entrepreneurs, the peer group, like the close friends, they're all still studying. They're all starting their first job. Like they're in different phase of their lives. So like, finding people you really relate with the struggles of Young Entrepreneurship is very hard. And that's why I always encourage other people that are like in similar positions, and myself too, a lot of the times to actively search these groups, search these forums, search whatever, where you can like find some peers where you can connect it because these are the people that are struggling with the same decisions. So in terms of getting your own brand out there and Loreca's, you've mentioned about getting into the media, into the press, are you also using some of the new tools like TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube to share the message of yourself and "Loreca"? Not yet. We have a new marketing guy in our team and we are planning to do it, but we are still like checking because like our ideal customer is not someone who is waking up and checking TikTok. It's the guy who wakes up and checks his hotel. So these are questions and solutions we still need to solve. But it's one of the possibilities. But I think it's a really good point. A little bit of a trick question, because actually, as you've rightly identified, it's not necessarily where you live as an Entrepreneur, it's where your avatar, where your customer lives, that's important, right? So they may be reading the hospitality publications and traditional trade media and so on as well, right, Bart-Jan? So if there's something that you've, well, you've learnt many things just in the last couple of years, but getting "Loreca" off the ground and surviving the first couple of years as a credit to you, what would you say to fellow unnoticed Entrepreneurs is the number one tip you'd give to getting noticed that you so far found to be, you know, the best thing for "Loreca" and for you? What always helped me was just, like, taking like one or one day in two weeks, or one day in three weeks to just be bold. Just write an email to a local press agency. Write an email to start an endorsements. Write an email to be referred on someone's LinkedIn. Just write an email. Just try it. If they don't answer whatever, then it just costs five minutes of your life. And you didn't even lose an opportunity. But like, just be bold. You always have a "No" but a "Yes" is something you definitely can get. And for Young Entrepreneurs, what I listened or what I learned is that people are, like, very welcoming. Not like just general Entrepreneurship. People are very welcoming for Young Entrepreneurs because they see theirselves in their beginning days. They see some of the struggles, so they will always want to help you, want to mentor you, want to endorse you. Bart-Jan Leyts at "Loreca" in beautiful Bruges. If you want to find out more about you and "Loreca", which sounds like an amazingly powerful addition to any hotel's revenue generation, where can they do that? So they can find this online. So it's "www.loreca.be". So, it's ".be" from Belgium or on LinkedIn. So we are on LinkedIn. It's "Loreca" on LinkedIn or if anyone wants to ask me like a personal question on LinkedIn, it's Bart-Jan Leyts on LinkedIn. Or if you're ever struggling with like the disadvantages of the Young Entrepreneurship, I'm always happy to assist in that matter. Bart-Jan, thank you so much for coming on this show and inspirational story. Yeah, as you say, for Older Entrepreneurs like myself, seeing Young Entrepreneurs like yourself coming through is just wonderful because it just shows the energy and the enthusiasm that still exists and the future that you're bringing. So thank you for coming on the show today and sharing what you're doing with "Loreca". Thank you very much, Jim, for having me. I loved it. Great, so you've been listening to Bart-Jan Leyts over there in Bruges, and I will, of course, include his details in the show notes. And until we meet again, if you've got the time, do please share this with a fellow Entrepreneur. It really helps. And if you've got the time to review the podcast on the player of your choice, that also really helps. Just a final note that the book, "The UnNoticed Entrepreneur Volume One," published by Capstone is coming out and it is available on Amazon and all other major bookstores. So thank you so much for listening to me, Jim James, your host on this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. Now I'd just like to mention our sponsor for this show. The Unnoticed Entrepreneur Podcast is sponsored by a company called Prowly. Prowly is an all in one software for leveraging your public relations activities. You can boost the media relations game for your business. Find media contacts, send out press releases, and get more coverage while saving time and money on everyday tasks. Check it out prowly.com.