By Deborah Stoll
December 26, 2016
Reprinted with permission from YPO
Vanessa Ogle’s (YPO North Texas) entrée into the tech world was selling memory modules out of her dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, USA.
“I remember the day campus police came to the dorm room because so many students were coming in with cash and leaving with foil packets,” Vanessa recalls. “‘It’s just a memory module officer,’ I told them. ‘Honest.’”
Today, Vanessa is the CEO of Enseo Inc. – the fastest growing integrator of technology services for the hospitality industry. Enseo’s innovative technology platform is additionally used in dozens of professional, college and civic stadiums and arenas and their MadeSafe™ alert system provides a safe work environment for hotel staff using Bluetooth audio connectivity and Over-The-Top (OTT) applications.
While Enseo had enjoyed 15 years of technology innovation and operational experience, it wasn’t until 2014 that they catapulted into the limelight. Securing a partnership with Netflix, Enseo become the first hospitality integrator to license and deploy the world’s leading internet television network application in hotels.
Like most people, the idea of paying USD20 in a hotel room to “buy a movie” never made sense to Vanessa. As the years went by, and more and more travelers journeyed with their own personal mobile devices on which they could work and watch movies and stream TV, it seemed like a personal affront. Vanessa wondered, Were there other people out there who felt the same? And if so, someone should do something about it.
And then one day she realized that person should be her.
Pivoting Enseo’s product development focus, Vanessa added cloud content and OTT services to create a platform that would enable hotel guests to subscribe to Netflix in their hotel rooms or sign into their existing accounts by accessing an application on their in-room TV.
When it was ready, she excitedly took it to Netflix. They were not interested.
She tried again. Still, not interested. After years of attempting to entice Netflix without moving the dial, Vanessa secured a meeting with the President and CEO of Marriott International, Inc., Arne Sorenson.
“We made a friendly wager,” says Vanessa. “I told him if he could get Netflix to agree to the partnership, I could make it work. I had no idea Arne was as well connected as he was … I was kind of bluffing … but the Netflix team gave us a chance and now, keep giving us the chance to innovate and entertain.”
Since launching, the Enseo/Netflix collaboration has changed the face of in-room entertainment for the hospitality industry and put Vanessa in the enviable position of operating in a sector filled with “fun people who like to make others feel comfortable and welcome.”
“Hotel owners are a phenomenal group of entrepreneurs willing to try new things and share their needs and challenges, giving us a chance to solve them,” says Vanessa. “Ours is truly the story of a small company who was given a chance and succeeded in a way that has benefited everyone.”
Unity in Technology
This innovative collaboration has given Vanessa the opportunity to combine two seemingly disparate sectors in order to create a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.
“There are so many brilliant minds in U.S. companies driving technology,” says Vanessa. And I am constantly inspired by the teams in all of our hotel properties – these are incredible human beings who have dedicated their lives to making people feel at home and surprising and delighting guests. It is inspirational to see the two groups working in tandem.”
The Enseo/Netflix collaboration bodes well for those invested in our burgeoning sharing economy where many old enemies are joining forces for the greater good, i.e., Apple and IBM combined one’s consumer know-how with the other’s ties to corporate IT departments to create a new unassailable force. And Cisco Systems and Ericsson are leveraging their respective expertise to provide networking solutions in a united front against the rapidly shifting telecom market.
“If more people could step outside their political structure, trying to grab fame or credit for any one particular item, we would see even more successful collaborations,” says Vanessa. “I struggle when I see amazing leaders who want innovation, but the politics down in their ranks keep it from happening. I am trying to create a culture inside Enseo where we follow the model of companies like Netflix, Amazon and Zappos to create a culture of celebratory collaboration.”
Waves of Change
As waves of disruption in the tech world wash ashore daily, Vanessa points out that unless everyone works together, neither hotel owners nor guests will get what they want – a great network in-room over existing cabling that saves the hotel owner millions of dollars.
“No matter how much hotel brands or companies like Enseo want to innovate, we will never be able to meet everyone’s individual preferences without the support of personal area networks which can connect to a higher level network,” says Vanessa. “This would enable guests to have what they want, when they want it … I can say that lots of IT groups want my head on a platter for this ‘all the network a guest can eat’ model … it’s not a very poplar concept.”
But that’s how most outliers start, right? The unpopular kid who grows up to be a genius, the underdog team who go on to win the World Series, the fear of what’s different all too often stops us from embracing a revolution.
Perhaps Vanessa, in her quest for continued transformation of the hospitality industry, will find leverage in YPO for her next steps.
“The true benefit of YPO has been in the camaraderie between like-minded and like-burdened people,” says Vanessa. “I still have a lot to learn about how to lean on my YPO peers to seek out professional assistance but with Enseo’s international expansion on the frontier, this might just be the perfect time.”