It’s been barely five years since a conversation at a dinner party led to the creation of a Chicago startup fast becoming the gold standard in the highly topical issue of hotel security. As legislation in a growing number of states and cities is being passed requiring hotels to provide safety buttons for their employees, TraknProtect has burst from its incubator roots to emerge as the newest technological powerhouse in the industry. We recently spent five minutes with Founder and CEO, Parminder Batra, to learn more story behind that growth, why she thinks her company has a bigger story to tell, and how a misplaced teddy bear changed her thinking about how we keep track of things.
For a self-confessed non-engineer, from a non-hospitality background, Parminder Batra’s company is succeeding in a highly convincing role of disrupting the hotel technology market. Leveraging BLE technology, TraknProtect is providing a platform offering real time employee location and utility of hotel inventory. Her entry into the market couldn’t be better timed at a time when hotels are changing their thinking about employee security, and clients such as Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott have already added credence to the product. The initial idea for an advanced tracking solution came to Batra, as a working Mom, frustrated about managing a large family over multiple homes, and to the kinds of problems with which anyone can relate. “Just think about all the stuff in your home – everything from a desktop or a laptop or a tablet, or car keys or that teddy bear your child can’t do without,” she explains. “I honestly became a little obsessed about finding things, and finding a better way of keeping track of, well, your life.” Airing the idea over a dinner party with friends, Batra didn’t initially believe she would be the one to provide the solution. “I’m an attorney by profession and I really thought I had enough stress in my life!” she laughs, “but the more due diligence we did, the more we couldn’t find anything on the market that would really address that need.” She also admits that it was perhaps her naivety about technology that really powered the company’s birth. Early in the company’s founding, a friend told her to stop apologizing that she wasn’t a technical person, counseling her early on that by not coming from that discipline she could provide value and a unique perspective for the company. It did, and it has. Developed with the help of colleague and partner Arun Sobti, her initial idea for a domestic tracking application failed, (moms are too busy, and, at that time, tended not to be first adopters or risk takers, she notes), but a year later she was selected from 200 applicants by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition to be one of ten companies to pitch a pilot idea to Hyatt hotels, and it was that meeting where the real genesis of the company was ignited. “We were only five minutes into the presentation and they asked ‘So, tell us how we can use this?’” she recalls. Hyatt, it turned out, had problems; problems with finding and monitoring efficient use of an extensive inventory of room fridges, roll away beds, cribs – and all the numerous and expensive portable facilities hotels need to be able to provide for guests quickly, and so the need for a real-time tracking product for the hospitality industry was quickly apparent. And while shrinkage and loss figure large in the hospitality industry, TraknProtect obtained a further growth boost from an unexpected source. The Chicago lodging market needed to comply with looming legislation protecting hotel workers by providing them with a panic buttons and it was an opportunity that her company, with real time location tracking, was perfectly placed to provide. It was also the impetus Batra needed to propel TraknProtect from its fledgling roots with Chicago incubator, 1871, into the hospitality mainstream. “The purpose of the legislation is to protect the employees; the purpose of our panic button solution is to empower the employees while also helping the hotel with legislative compliance,” she points out. “The added bonus of the product is that is also helps drive inventory efficiencies,” she adds. It’s on this issue that Batra’s experience as a mediator particularly comes to the fore. “There’s a problem to be solved and here, and our job is not to sensationalize issues raised by the #times up movement,” she stresses. “We’re providing a balanced approach in helping our clients safeguard employees who in the past have been particularly susceptible to harassment, and in a way where we can also help drive better efficiencies, improve cost control and provide and enhanced guest environment,” she says. But Batra is emphatic that doesn’t make TraknProtect just another tech start-up, with the right product at the right time. “Yes of course, currently our conversations with customers start around our panic button solution,” she agrees, “but we’re here to serve the market with a host of other advantages; automating processes such as better tracking room tray usage, reducing time to fulfill guest requests for a specific item, and helping hotels increase efficiencies and productivity on the items they use every day. We’re definitely going to be here to stay,” she adds. Here to stay indeed, with similar panic button legislation likely to be passed in communities as far apart as California and West Palm Beach, and with hotels increasingly developing their own employee safety programs, Batra believes her business is poised at the beginning of a curve which could take her model into other industries such as education, healthcare and even property management and construction. “We’ll assess those markets to ensure we’re not missing out in a larger opportunity,” she says, “but we’re really invested in hospitality and expanding and extending our solutions to more of the industry. I love strategy, and developing the kind of vision that can help take new technology to market and where and how it can be applied,” she says. “Some of the most fun I have is looking at those opportunities and deciding where as a company we can go, and who our solutions can most help.”