Avi Goldstein, CEO and Founder of HotelRooms.com, is a pioneer in the travel website industry and remains a dynamic visionary today by creating new and valuable relationships between hotels and consumers worldwide. Before Goldstein found his footing as an innovator and entrepreneur, he attended Queens College and Touro College in New York, earning a degree in Business Management. Though he did not know at that time what career path lay ahead, he was always motivated to work hard, think outside the box, and sincerely believed that success would follow.
As the use of websites became ubiquitous around the turn of the millennium, Goldstein had the foresight to secure his place in that ever-evolving marketplace by purchasing domain names he felt had potential for growth. His taste in domain names ranged from the practical to the fantastical. Figuring that if he could not build a business around a clever, engaging name, someone else could. He was confident that there was always value in a good name. In doing so, Goldstein strategically carved out his own foundation for limitless possibility online. He launched HotelRooms.com in June of 2000. Of the domain names he controlled and pursued, the hotel rooms endeavor seemed to be garnering the best response. Once he saw that HotelRooms.com was a clear winner, he committed to it full time. A decade later, after incredible expansion and achievement, Goldstein launched Luxury Connections in June of 2010. Luxury Connections is a VIP travel site that caters to VIP flight and hotel accommodations offering renowned concierge, personal, and exclusive services at impossible to beat rates.
Goldstein never sought to be a third-party site. He did not want to be the middleman and left that saturated market to the Expedias and Pricelines of the world. When he created his model, it strived to work directly with the hotels, encouraging them to provide services that resembled an online hotel supermarket. It was his personal investment in speaking to each hotel that made the difference. In those early days, he was on the phone day and night negotiating terms with each hotel as he brought them aboard. Goldstein knew that hotels preferred to bypass Online Travel Agencies (OTA) and third-party travel sites. The hotels were always more interested in reaching the consumer directly, and Goldstein had given them a way to do that while being online.
HotelRooms.com began its journey to serve travelers when Goldstein developed the site and went live with a forty-thousand-page website. The site was the first of its kind and provided the means for consumers to book directly with hotels. In order to ease the expense for his hotel clients who were betting on him, Goldstein chose a payment model that worked within the hotel’s advertising budget.
HotelRooms.com began with only seventy-three hotels listed. All recruited by Goldstein himself and committing to him on faith. There was no precedent. Their trust in Goldstein paid off. HotelRooms.com has prospered enormously and now serves over thirty-thousand hotels all over the world.
Where did the idea for Hotelrooms.com come from?
HotelRooms.com was one of a hundred domain names that I was able to build around. At that time of my life, I wanted to explore as many opportunities as I might be able to create with these domain names. It was a new and fascinating field of commerce. The domain name that I owned which was recognized most was HotelRooms.com. Based on the attention the domain name received, I was inspired to use it to build my hotel travel business. I let the market dictate what business was meant for me.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day is managing day-to-day operations of HotelRooms.com and Luxury Connections. I make sure that all the hotels are well represented and that our customers are satisfied. Customer service is of the utmost importance. I evaluate workflow and make sure the sites are optimized. We are always in search of hotels that are not listed with us yet to open a dialogue and build relationships. We don’t advertise for Luxury Connections. Thanks to our referrals, we are getting three or four new clients per day. We are constantly receiving calls and our customer service centers are always busy and focused. That said, we never rest. We are consistently searching for new business.
How do you bring ideas to life?
An entrepreneur never loses that drive to improve a product or come up with a new one. I am always reading and researching. Because of the two businesses, I am quite fortunate that I do a lot of traveling. Traveling to beautiful and interesting places is actually part of my business! I bring ideas to life by attempting to become a connoisseur of worldwide travel. Not so easy for a kid from Queens. But, I venture to put my feet in the shoes of travelers. Both those seeking luxury and those who just need a break. Or are simply on business. I aim to experience the hotels that we advertise on our sites. I often, at my own expense, take the same luxury flights that we book for our VIP clients. I learn what consumers want from my site and from travel. I find out what they consider to be luxury. Because the term has a different definition for each person. Some luxury travelers want personal attention day and night, while others want to be left alone in a pristine setting.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I keep up on all travel trends as this is my business. I don’t know if this trend so much excites me, but, one trend that I am keeping a close watch on is Airbnb and the capacity for homeowners to rent out their spaces to travelers. It is a wonderful idea, and it benefits many vacationers and business people, however, it has the potential to greatly affect my business. It is a trend that requires scrutiny for the future and a decision about how to incorporate that element of travel into our model.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Being a religious person is not limited to my private life but influences my professional work as well. From living a lifestyle that is very disciplined, traditional, and focused on learning daily, I am always putting matters in perspective. An entrepreneur always needs to view ideas in context. Risk taking is important, but it is not the most important. In addition, my religion keeps me grounded. Placing integrity above profit has always proven worthwhile. When you chase a dollar at all costs, the dollar often manages to escape your grasp. I have found that doing the right thing ethically will usually lead to the right thing commercially.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Not to sweat the small stuff. When I first began in this industry, I would obsess over every detail and become personally invested in even the minutiae of my business. As we have grown, I have seen the importance of focusing on the big picture and delegating some of the details to my outstanding staff. It is a trait I wish I had acquired sooner.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People think that the more you work, the more successful you’ll be. I believe that you can still be successful without being totally immersed in endless work 24/7. When I practice my faith, it requires me and my family to unplug for at least one full day each week. No phone, email, social media – nothing. Whatever problems come up; they can wait. It is uninterrupted family time. Spiritual growth with no distractions. As I unplug, it is the ultimate stress-free relief. And that resetting allows me to be more productive during the work week. My business remains unaffected by the virtual time-out that other “serious” business people would never consider taking.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I set goals. I follow-up with all messages and emails regardless of how my day unfolds. I believe that happy employees are more productive employees. I’ve cultivated good relationships with my staff and do my best to assure that they are happy and know they are appreciated. A happy staff creates a productive environment.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My strategy is to acquire as many clients as possible. There are always new hotels and resorts popping up, being built, or even developed at the concept stage. It is an arduous task to keep on top of everyone, but we push ourselves to develop a relationship with them all. Every day we focus on making the calls and follow-up on emails and messages so we can cultivate the relationships that keep us going and growing. We have demonstrated proof of success at least thirty-thousand times so far. We will continue to forge ahead with the same enthusiasm and dedication to our clients.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The hiring process was a bit difficult for me when I first started the business. I’ve become a bit more discerning during the hiring process. Now it is much easier to identify the best of the best.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Back in my domain-name-purchasing-frenzy days, I purchased a domain name called flymetothemoon.com. I thought we would be transporting civilians to the moon by now through space tourism. If anyone wants to start that business….I have a great domain name for you!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best hundred dollars I spent recently was a charitable donation I made the other day. I “selfishly” donate to charity fairly often because I know it will benefit others, and it makes me feel good to give back. One thing that is very close to my heart that I donate to regularly is Torah learning.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Microsoft Office Suite, primarily Access, Office, and the Calendar. I have a tech team to manage my sites. But I am old-school when it comes to communicating with my staff. I like face to face communication. Or I just pick up the phone.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I read a book by Isadore Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons brand, and it motivates me every day. It is called The Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy. Mr. Sharp’s hotel chain is rated the number one brand in the industry for best in service and luxury. His book provides so much knowledge for someone in my field, but really for anyone in business. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a leader who is not only a brilliant businessman, he also embodies qualities such as leadership, trust, and integrity. He inspires me. Any entrepreneur can benefit from reading his book.
What is your favorite quote?
Don’t give up, don’t ever give up, by Jimmy Valvano. Even amid the most trying circumstances, as was facing Coach Valvano, it is possible to encourage others and give maximum effort.
● Unplug from work to remain well-grounded, centered, and more productive.
● Cultivate good relationships with staff and do your best to assure that they are happy and know they are appreciated. A happy staff creates a productive environment.
● A well-disciplined leader carries over to a successful business.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.