By Nancy Dahlberg
By Alexina Prather
Samella Watson moved to Miami from Chicago looking for change and inspired to start a new chapter. From her subsequent years spent in the South Florida hospitality industry, she believed Miami was failing to provide exceptional customer experience for its guests and set out to change that.
The story: Watson got her bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management and she worked 11 years in the industry, including as guest services manager, night manager and and guest relations supervisor for hotels and hotel groups in Miami Beach, as well as in Chicago and St. Johns in the Caribbean. While her tech experience was admittingly nonexistent, Watson had a vision to improve the overall experience of guests visiting Miami and did not let her lack of tech knowledge stop her. Watson began her quest to find a developer and eventually met Marco Gastello, with a background in the hotel industry and self-taught tech skills, who would become her co-founder for My-Cierge. Last September, she quit her hospitality management position to go all-in on My-Cierge.
My-Cierge is an early-stage travel tech company that provides a platform to hotels and vacation rental property managers to support them in improving their guests’ experiences. With the My-Cierge app, hosts can provide local recommendations, property information, real-time chats, and more. Watson, My-Cierge’s CEO, describes her experience so far as a journey -- a journey in which she is educating herself on what it looks like to be not only a tech founder, but also a minority and woman founder, and she is learning along the way.
The model morphs: After a few years of hard work and determination, My-Cierge has developed into a two sided B2B platform that provides a service to both the guest and the host. The team has developed an app that is available for download on both iOS and Android. Initially, the vision for My-Cierge was to build the service for boutique hotels. Last July, Watson and her team decided to pivot and focus on the vacation rental market and to allow property managers and individuals to use the service, as well.
Watson explained that with the help of My-Cierge, vacation rentals can now offer “full service experiences” and be “more than just a place to sleep.” If needed, these added services can be managed remotely with the help of the digital platform. Rental managers will have the ability to partner with local vendors that they know and trust, and offer these experiences to any guests that they host. My-Cierge uses a monthly subscription model for the hosts and charges a transaction fee for any experience that is booked through the app, while the guest is able to use My-Cierge free of charge.
Milestones: The startup has a few key partnerships that are taking form and will soon be going live. One partnership is with Miami-based Noirbnb, a Black-owned vacation rental company. My-Cierge is also developing ties with both a culture tour company based in Overtown and a luggage storage company, said Watson.
Watson was excited to share that she recently appeared on Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch, Season 5 Episode 12, an experience that was scary but exciting. She did not win funding but it helped her to practice articulating her vision and begin to prepare for initial fundraising. My-Cierge also was featured with a two-page spread in the recent book Innovate Miami.
As a team, Watson and Gastello don’t listen when people tell them they can’t do something: “There is a way, we just need to figure it out,” she said. As of now, they are a team of two, but Watson wants to bring in more technical support for Gastello and marketing skills.
What’s next? Watson envisions a successful seed round, an office with 3-5 employees, and national brand recognition. That vision includes expanding beyond Miami and tapping into the Caribbean market. She recognizes the amazing possibilities and opportunities available there. For now, Watson is focusing on the right things, not chasing any shiny objects, and continuing to learn every day.
- Headquarters: Miami, FL
- Year founded: 2017
- Co-founding team: Samella Watson, CEO & Co-Founder, Marco Gastello, CTO & Co-Founder
- Business model: B2B
- No. of employees: 2
- Financing: Bootstrapped
- Website: https://www.my-cierge.com/
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