By Ana Acle-Menendez
Perhaps no other industry relies as heavily on customer service as the hotel industry.
So, imagine if there was a way for guests to communicate to staff directly and conveniently through the touch of a button on their mobile phone. And imagine if guests would be notified of happy hour specials while walking by the bar in real time, allowing hotels to gather behavioral data and provide better service.
That communication platform was imagined and created. Now, it is offered by a guest service management software developed by Nuvola, a Miami-based company founded by Juan Carlos Abello, who worked as a manager at various hotels.
But while Abello developed a solution for hotels, he needed solutions of his own to grow his new startup business.
He heard about the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, a contest for startup entrepreneurs, through Florida International University (FIU), his alma mater. While creating the video presentation for the contest, Abello then learned about the Florida SBDC at FIU — the small business development center at the College of Business, which provides no-cost consulting to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
“My biggest obstacle was closing on my first customers,” said Abello, who earned an MBA from Emory University and a bachelor’s degree in international business from FIU. “In technology, if you don’t have references and you’re selling software that’s intangible, it’s a tough sales pitch. Closing on my first 20 to 30 customers was the biggest challenge.”
He specifically wanted guidance on finding an investor. “In my particular case, I was looking to accelerate the growth of the company,” he said. “I was looking for funds and I was assigned to an advisor who had experience as an investor.”
For the next six months, he met with the expert consultant every two weeks on Saturdays, going over spreadsheets, sales pitches and the program to grow more capital.
It soon paid off.
“I was extremely satisfied because I was able to raise additional funds for the company,” Abello said. “I closed with two investors and now basically I’m living my dream.”
What started three years ago with business development and sales of $30,000 doubled every year. Now Nuvola is well over $1 million in sales this year, Abello said.
What’s more, his one-man team has now grown to 18 full-time employees.
“I would recommend the SBDC,” Abello said. “First, because they understand that you’re an entrepreneur — you don’t have a flexible schedule — and most of the time they were able to accommodate my needs.
“Second, I felt that every single member of the organization that I interacted with was professional, willing to assist and the advice they gave was definitely significant in terms of the objective that I had,” he continued.
“Lastly, it’s a free service,” Abello said. “They do understand that starting a business is not easy and you’re going to face a lot of obstacles. Most of the time they know what obstacles you’re going to face so you can anticipate them, which is great.”
Additionally, he said he made friends during the process and still keeps in touch with his advisor. He is also mentoring others so they can sell to their first 20 to 30 customers before going to investors.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, Abello and his team won first place in that Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in the FIU Track category. That’s another feather in his cap that he can use for marketing purposes.
Ana Acle-Menendez wrote this article for Florida SBDC at FIU, which gave Starting Gate permission to post it.