After a career spent largely in the video game industry, Intelity CEO Robert Stevenson switched tracks and found a niche in hospitality technology—and learned that the two industries have more in common than one might expect.
Stevenson discovered an interest in technology as a child in the 1980s and ’90s, taking computers apart to understand how they work. Like many Gen-X teenagers, he also enjoyed video games, first in arcades and then at home with consoles and computers. “I was born at the right time to sort of gravitate to this as a thing to do, and I found it always enjoyable,” he said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in design and computer science at North Carolina State University and his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, he worked with a range of gaming companies like Atari and Namco while also serving as an advisor to tech giants like Microsoft and business firms like Goldman Sachs and KDB Financial Group.
As he rose up through the ranks, Stevenson also invested in other businesses, including what was then hospitality technology start-up Keypr. Some years later, while Stevenson was working as head of content strategy for Facebook’s virtual and artificial reality platform Oculus, then-Keypr chairman Rudy Karsan contacted him and invited him to run the growing company. “From a technology standpoint, it was quite interesting,” he said. As an industry, he felt hospitality technology had “big gaps” in it. “Coming and doing this as a role could be potentially exciting to help fill those gaps,” he recalled thinking. “I've done a ton of work at different levels and two different types of companies but haven't run a company solely on my own at the size and scale and the market opportunity as Keypr.” As a road warrior who has lived in hotels, he felt familiar enough with the industry to put his knowledge and experience to good use and joined the firm as its new CEO.
Two Sides of One Coin
While video games and hotels may use technology in very different ways, Stevenson sees a good deal in common from the back end. “There's a lot of making things pretty bulletproof and pretty solid,” he said. Similarly, designing video games is a never-ending process with ever-growing room for improvement. “In hospitality, you kind of have the same sort of thing: We can continue to make features and enhancements—how [is] somebody dealing with the [point-of-sale system] behind the scenes on that room dining order? [Are they] going to be able to deal with that weird marmalade request that was asked for, but they're out of? What tool can we provide to make that seamless and support a flawless interaction with the guest?”
After a year of growing the marketing sales efforts around the existing technology platform, Stevenson learned from an investment banker that a competitor was interested in forming a partnership—or maybe even a merger. By process of elimination, he quickly learned the company in question was Intelity and started a conversation with then-President/CEO David Adelson. The two found themselves to be kindred spirits in terms of vision, and within a few months the executive boards of the two companies started negotiating terms. “We recognized that both of the companies were deficient in certain areas, and we assessed our strengths on both sides—what each side brings to the equation,” Stevenson said. Keypr officially merged with Intelity in 2018, the combined companies keeping the latter’s name.
A year and a half since the merger, Stevenson is still excited about the role technology can play in the future of hospitality. “Machine learning and AI really are areas where you can help provide the hotelier a lot of capability to operationally make their businesses more efficient,” he said.
Logic in Logistics
Having developed hotel technology for nearly three years, Stevenson now has a clearer idea of what the hospitality sector needs from a tech provider: “The technology of hospitality is largely message-passing and workflow and analyzing data and providing reasonable inputs into workflow for operation staff, for people to work with and to make their lives easier and to isolate the guests from what's going on behind the scenes,” he said. All of those steps, he said, make the business into “a complicated dance ... and it's not always occurring to the same beat or the same song. It changes from moment to moment, from hotel to hotel from general manager to general manager.”
Clicking with Clients
“There are a ton of ways we interact with hoteliers. At most properties that we work with, we certainly know the IT staff and we most often know the general manager. And if the property's large enough and has a dedicated staff that [is focused on] guest experience or operations, then typically we'll have knowledge of who those people are and maybe we have interacted with them. So that's the usual sort of property-level interaction we have. And then as you get up into the brand level, for some of our brand relationships, we have similar profile people at the brand level that we interact with—CIOs and guest experience executives and frequently operations or perhaps even the CEO-level that we’ll interact with.”