Reinventing the hotel experience with CityHub

Pieter Van Tilburg
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Reinventing the hotel experience with CityHub

Starting a hotel chain is not something that can be done in a rush. And when you have no experience in the industry, or in running a business for that matter, it doesn’t seem like an obvious idea. 

For Pieter van Tilburg, co-founder of CityHub, things have been going pretty well so far. After studying Entrepreneurship, Pieter and his co-founder Sem Schuurkes came up with a business plan based on an idea they’d had for a new hotel concept. “And from that moment on, we just kept going!”, Pieter explains. Their idea was for a self-proclaimed “hotel of the future”, which would fulfil the expectations of the tech- and travel-savvy Generation Y, enabling them to explore the city using a city app and an online personal host, before coming back to sleep in unique Hubs controlled by technology. 

We dared to go further in our elimination of aspects that are features of a traditional hotel room.

Guests at CityHub can check in using machines, control their room lighting and music through an app, and even serve themselves a beer at the bar using their electronic bracelet. The company has been operational since 2012, with their first location - in Amsterdam - now open for two years, and a Rotterdam CityHub opening in early 2018.  

Not your typical startup

Pieter still sees CityHub as a startup, even though it doesn’t fit the stereotypical definition of a company able to test their MVP and iterate on it quickly. This also means that CityHub faces a different set of challenges. Pieter explains: “we don’t really have economical growth like a lot of businesses do, where they can sell let’s say one or two or three products. Instead, we need to take very big steps with every hotel we open - we go straight from 0 to 50 hotel rooms”. 

Inside a "Hub" at CityHub Amsterdam

Once the business partners have decided to open a new location, it can be a few years before the project comes to fruition. “You’ve got to find a location, get financing, and secure the licences, and making everything come together at the same time is still a challenge for us”, admits Pieter. Often, one or two of the puzzle pieces will be in place, “but it’s only when all the lights are on green that you have an actual project”.

Pushing the boundaries further than ever

When Pieter and Sem co-founded CityHub, their aim was to create a product that reinvented the hotel experience. While companies like Citizen M have attempted a similar feat, Pieter notes that CityHub pushes the boundaries one step further. “We dared to go further in our elimination of aspects that are features of a traditional hotel room”, he explains. CityHub focuses on personal hosting: “we place locals at the CityHub who act as the traveler’s local friend, telling them where to go and making small talk”. That way, the more mundane aspects of staying in a hotel, like checking in, are left to technology, leaving the visitor to focus their energy on planning a fun itinerary. 

In line with their lean model, CityHub only has five employees who work on the development side, including the two co-founders. Their next challenge will be dealing with expansion, with a London location already in the works. In five years’ time, Pieter wants to have at least seven locations open throughout Europe. “We want to establish a European-based CityHub hotel chain first, and then grow worldwide someday”, says Pieter. It might seem like a steep mountain to climb, but Pieter and Sem have already shown they can create a tech-based hotel with experience in neither field, so it’s no doubt a mountain they’ll manage to surmount. 

Which three blogs/books would you recommend?

One book I read a couple of years back that did make a difference was Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much. It helped me in putting things in perspective and structuring my day, it’s very practical. It helped me with dealing with business in my life. I get most of my inspiration from people, I travel a lot and have friends all over the world, and just talking to people that I meet in daily life is where I find most of my inspiration. It’s more the interaction between people that leads me to create new ideas rather than reading.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Be confident about what you can realise, and be a bit naive about how much time and money it will take. Come up with a scenario that will take you three times as much money and effort as you’d expect and just get started. When you’re starting up, it’s ok to be a bit naive.

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