You Can Mold a Skillset But You Can’t Mold a Passion
Interview withRedeam CEO Melanie Meador.
Worldwide travel has come to a grinding halt during the ongoing pandemic. But the travel industry always bounces back after a setback, and it always comes back stronger than before. Helping to make that a reality is Redeam, a startup that connects travelers, operators, and re-sellers by bringing the same technology used by airlines and hotels to theme parks, attractions, and countless other tourist activities.
On the newest edition of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast, Roland Siebelink spoke with Redeam CEO Melanie Meador. They discuss how Redeam will change the travel experience and how the company has adjusted following the pandemic:
- How Redeam addresses both the supply side and the demand side of the travel industry.
- Melanie’s unique challenges of becoming Redeam’s successor CEO in 2018.
- The role that emotional intelligence plays in being a CEO.
- The importance of CEOs remembering why they hired team members in the first place.
- How Redeam has put in the effort and energy to maintain company culture with everyone working remotely.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I’m a scaleup ally for tech founders. And today I’m so excited to be speaking with Melanie Meador of Redeam. Hello, Melanie.
Melanie Meador: Hello, nice to be here.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely, so glad you could make it. So for those who haven’t heard about Redeam yet, can you tell us all about what dors your company do? Who does it serve and what difference are you making in the world?
Melanie Meador: Sure. Redeam is the only agnostic channel manager solution that provides a connectivity platform connecting the supply side of the experiences and things-to-do industry to the demand side or those that are reselling tickets to theme parks, attractions, tours, et cetera. Currently, our industry is somewhat fragmented and technically antiquated in the sense that. When a consumer books on an online travel agency, or even sometimes direct with the operator, they may be told to print out a paper voucher. They would have to take that paper voucher to the equivalent of a will-call or box office and turn that into a gate-readable ticket.
Our technology mitigates that entire process and provides realtime connectivity between the operator to those reselling their tickets. The consumer will purchase transact. That information is then sent back into the operator’s ticketing system. So when the consumer receives their confirmation, they can take that go straight to gate and into again, the attraction, the theme park, the tour.
Roland Siebelink: Oh, wow. So you’re basically offering a platform between re-sellers and, let’s say theme parks and other events, to make it much easier and seamless for these consumers to have the information on their phones. But also for the operators to know how many have been sold. And in real time have all the data available. Is that a layman’s summary?
Melanie Meador: That’s exactly right. So when you think about travel in general, today, you can book your air ticket on your mobile device. You can get your boarding pass. You can go straight through security and straight onto the plane. In the hotel industry, same concept. You can book your hotel on your mobile device. You can check into the hotel on your mobile device. And now you can receive a mobile key to go straight to your room.
It means our technology is helping the experiences and things-to-do inventory evolve in that manner. So it can be a very seamless process for the consumer. You would be able to book on your mobile device. You would get your confirmation. And you will be able to go straight into the experience, again, theme park, attraction tour, et cetera.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. Such a digital transformation experience of what sounds like a very antiquated system. Do you have some interesting stories, Melanie, about some of the messes that happen when people haven’t gone through that digital transformation yet? So what is some of the pains that people are dealing with before they implement a system such as Redeam’s?
Melanie Meador: From a consumer perspective, it’s a very clunky process today. Again, you booked your air, you booked your hotel, and now you’re in a market and you’re excited about experiencing that destination. Yet you go to book and you’re told to print out a paper voucher. And so the experience is very fragmented compared to what you just went through and booking other aspects of your travel.
Really, the goal is to make it very seamless for consumers to be in a market and experiencing all that that market has to offer. Whether it’s going to Disney, or the Empire State Building, or taking a pizza tour of Brooklyn. You want to make it easy to experience that and improve the consumer’s travel experience overall.
From an operator perspective, you want to be able to get your product in front of as many traveling consumers as possible, right? You want them to be aware of the product, the experience, and the value of attending your tour, going to your theme park, or experiencing your attraction. So from an operator perspective, we make it very easy for you to distribute your product to those that are reselling. Whether that’s Google, Expedia.com, Viator, we want to allow the consumer to book in real time and the operator to be able to maximize their revenue by getting as many consumers in the door and aware of their product as possible. So we mitigate operational strain. We mitigate fraud. And we make it easier for you to distribute your products in a seamless way.
Because we’re agnostic and we do sit in the middle of the industry, we can essentially work with all players. Whether you’re Walt Disney world or the guy with two kayaks in Hawaii, our technical solution allows you to engage with consumers both directly, as well as through the re-seller community. And then on the reseller side, obviously, it’s somewhat of a plug and play solution. Given the fact that there are 1 million bookable tours and activities, very difficult to acquire that supply as a reseller. By engaging with Redeam via a bi-directional API, you have the ability to pull all of the supply that we have on our platform in one seamless and efficient manner.
Roland Siebelink: How have you seen through the history of Redeam building up that marketplace on both sides? It’s the classical challenge, I would say, for platform companies. Were you first building one side and then trying to come up with the other, or was it more of an iterative history? How did that work?
Melanie Meador: No. It was an iterative history. Redeam was founded in 2015. And the initial product that we went to market with was a voucher-processing platform. Before digitization was evolving in our space, there were still a lot of manual processes that were in place. And so we launched a product that allowed the operators to at least recognize a consumer upon arrival and provide reconciliation back to the re-sellers.
Prior to Redeam’s solution, consumer would arrive with a piece of paper that gave information on their reservation. The operator would look at it and give a gate-readable ticket but then would have to manually process all of those paper vouchers at the end of the day. As you can imagine, not a great use of anyone’s time.
The first product was a handheld scanning device that allowed the operator to scan the voucher in real time, verify its validity, mitigate fraud, so you could determine if that voucher had been used previously or not. And then a web portal for reconciliation back to the re-seller, so you didn’t have to manually process. To me, that was a bit like treating the symptom but not the disease. There was a lack of digitization and we really needed to evolve the industry to a point to where the operational processes were mitigated.
At the end of 2018, Redeam went through a major evolution and we evolved to offering a pure connectivity platform. By having connections in place with the operators, and on the other side of our funnel, connections in place to the resellers, right? You mitigate all of that operational strain. You mitigate the paper component to it. And so it was important for us to build value on both sides of the equation. We are only as meaningful to our re-sellers on the number of operators we have on our platform, and vice versa. We’re only as important to the operators based on the number of connections we can offer them for their ticket distribution.
Because we entered the market with voucher processing, we were pretty established with both sides. And once the connectivity came into play, you have the ability to very quickly scale on both sides. When we made that major pivot, we brought in an executive team that has extensive experience in building connectivity platforms in travel. And so we were very quickly able to iterate the business and ensure value was increasing at a significant rate on both sides of our platform.
Roland Siebelink: That brings us back a little bit to that team and the upscaling of the executive team that you started, I believe around that big pivot or upgrade in 2018. Can you talk a little bit more about that? I think you yourself came in as a successor CEO, is that right?
Melanie Meador: That is correct.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. I’d love to hear a little bit that evolution. What does it feel like to take over a startup founded by somebody else and then to bring in that new team? How did that go? Melanie Meador: Yeah, thank you. I was not the founding CEO. I was brought in by our board of directors and some of our investors who had previously been in my network. My background is almost extensively in travel. I’ve been in this industry a really long time. Mostly on the hospitality and online travel side. And I’ve seen and been part of that evolution where we went from faxing reservations to hotels to a fully digitized ecosystem.
And so, a little bit of a “been there, done that” scenario. That’s exactly what we’re doing on the experiences side of the space. I think there was a recognition that we needed to have someone with experience going through that evolution, that growth, and continuing to focus on product evolution. You’re not just meeting the needs of where the industry is today, but you’re building technology that will be at the forefront five years from now, 10 years from now.
I was brought in based on that experience. Taking over from founders, you get excited about their passion and waht their vision was when the company started. And it’s your responsibility to take that passion and harness it and really look at evolving the company and transforming it in a way that’s going to have it meet its growth expectations. That essentially is my background is transformation, product evolution, and change agents, so to speak.
When you take on that responsibility and you take on that goal, you need to make sure that you have the people around you that have the experience in doing that. Both on the sales side, selling new products, and on the technology side, specifically, bringing people in who have experience building connectivity platforms in travel is going to be paramount if your goal is to build a best-in-class solution. And that is ultimately our goal at Redeam, it’s to put very high quality technology in place that’s sustainable, that is iterative, and continues to exceed industry demands.
We rebuilt our executive team. We brought in our CTO who had 25 years experience in building activity and travel. Our head of business development had 15, 16 years in business development for connectivity solutions in travel. Our head of sales, extensive experience in selling technology and distribution to experiences. Honestly, in marketing, bringing in somebody who was a senior content writer for Phocuswright, who has experience marketing content for travel.
We went through the process. We were very selective about what we wanted to bring in. We wanted to make sure we had experts in place. And we did that. Honestly, that was a major contributor to our growth
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think the question I often get from founders is, “When we do bring in those experienced people? Are they not gonna want to run it more like a really big company?” Maybe like a big bureaucracy is the fear you often hear. How have you been able to manage that fear that, that risk maybe that it would turn into too bureaucratic an organization too soon? How would you keep that zeal of that startup alive?
Melanie Meador: It’s really important to allocate time and energy to your culture. Culture is going to dictate how the former founders versus the new team work together. It’s about creating a culture that’s open, that’s inclusive, that allows for discussions that are respectful and healthy and challenging.
And you need to have a culture that aligns with that. The goal of a CEO, regardless if you’re a founder or taking over, is to bring in the experts and allow them to have a voice and respect that voice. And not to feel like it’s your responsibility to set the direction. It’s a collective responsibility of the organization, inclusive of everyone, every employee, every executive to really align and figure out what the mission is moving forward.
And that takes a lot of time and energy. But it’s critical to an organization. Again, it’s critical to the morale of the employees. It’s critical to making sure everybody’s on the same page, working to the same goal. And with that, it’s really important to have a diverse workforce. Whether it is race, age, experience, gender, all of that matters when it comes to formulating who you are, who you want to be to your partners, who you want to be externally, how you want to be perceived, and honestly, what your working environment should look like.
Roland Siebelink: I love it. Yes. I think those two points are so important. I see a lot of CEOs that feel like it’s their role to set all of that direction. Or they may be fearful of too diverse a workforce, too many people that aren’t just like them. Did you have that fear in the past yourself and/or did you overcome it at some point in time?
Melanie Meador: When anyone starts in their career, there’s a certain ego that comes into play. That’s just the reality of it. But as a leader, it’s really important to evolve your leadership skills. And part of that is emotional intelligence and recognizing that you aren’t the expert in every area and that you intentionally hire people that are smarter than you and better than you in certain aspects of the business. For you to go through the effort of finding the best-in-class team, bringing them on and not allowing them to have a voice is probably one of the single most detrimental qualities to an effective leader.
I don’t pretend that I should be the one setting the strategy. I hired the team for a reason and reason was their experience, their voice. And it’s a collective responsibility to figure out what your mission is, what your vision is, and how you want to be operationally. And what excellence looks like. And then once that’s been established, we’re all supportive of it. And that’s what we drive and strive for every day.
Roland Siebelink: Very good. A lot of startup CEOs that I work with do have trouble with that last point you brought up. Defining what excellence looks like. They tell me, “I’d like to make sure that my people are motivated. I’d like to encourage them, build them up. But at the same time, sometimes I’m not just quite happy with their performance.” How do you balance those two concerns?
Melanie Meador: Leadership is not a one size fits all. Meaning, what motivates people is personal to them. What motivates me is going to be very different than what motivates you. And as a leader, it’s really important to understand those nuances by person. Someone in my career once told me it’s equally important for you to manage your boss as it is for them to manage you. And what that statement meant was you need to let your boss know what works for you, what motivates you, what excites you, so they can manage to it. So you can have a very effective and open relationship.
I also think it’s really important in a culture to allow people to have that voice. Even if it’s a conflicting perspective, or you don’t necessarily agree, they should have a safe and comfortable and reassuring environment that allows them to speak up without concern of negative impact. I think fundamentally in a culture that’s pretty critical. That’s something that evolves over time. Again, when you first started in your career, there’s a certain ego that comes into play. I have to daily work on suppressing the ego, not having that be at play, that emotional intelligence that comes in and learning from others. Again, we may be the CEO, but that doesn’t mean we’re the expert in all areas.
Roland Siebelink: You talked about the diversity of your team. But one of your team members seems very diverse to me. This is the chicken that I see standing right behind you. Can you tell us a little bit about Hei Hei?
Melanie Meador: I do have a chicken on my desk in my office. I call it my office mascot. Honestly, here’s why it came about. Walt Disney World is a big partner of ours. And I always like to show support for partners, not just in the technology that we deliver, but who they mean to the industry, who they mean to consumers. The chicken is Hei Hei from the movie Moana, which has a special place in my heart because I’m from Hawaii. I put it there so when I started to have calls with Disney, they could just see the show of support in the background. Honestly, it’s become such a fan favorite, it’s now a permanent fixture.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. Did You change your logo already to incorporate Hei Hei?
Melanie Meador: Not yet. Not yet.
Roland Siebelink: Well, that might be a tip for the marketing team.
Roland Siebelink: As we have some listeners here on this podcast who might be interested, what kind of people are you looking for? What’s the typical, ideal Redeamer, if that’s the word you use? What kind of values do you typically look for? Also, what functions are you particularly looking to fill?
Melanie Meador: We value integrity. We value passion. We value experience. But that’s not the first and foremost thing that we look for. It’s a quality of person that’s going to align with our mission and our values. Being dedicated, obviously, hardworking, being open, being a great team player operating with integrity. Having a voice and feeling comfortable voicing your thoughts, your opinions. We look for personal qualities to start almost more so than experience because you can mold people on a specific skillset. You can’t necessarily mold someone to have passion, to be necessarily a good team player.
We look first and foremost for qualities. We look first and foremost, we want diversity within our organization. We can help mold the experience. I’m also a firm believer that we hire for talent, not necessarily location. We have a very global workforce and that is intentional because, again, we want different cultural perspectives. We want global views. We’ll be looking for additional engineers, additional product team members, additional customer success participants, additional account managers, and additional sales. We’ll start with engineering and product and customer success. And then we’ll evolve from the account management and sales perspective.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Okay. So global workforce, does that mean you’ve embraced a remote work style in this pandemic? Or were you already on that before?
Melanie Meador: We had a pretty remote workforce. Our headquarters was in Boulder, Colorado. But we have teams in the Ukraine, in Russia, in London, in Texas, in Delaware, in Phoenix. We were pretty remote. About 40% of our organization was in Boulder. As everyone did when COVID hit, we did shut down our office in early March. We wanted to protect the safety of our employees. And ultimately, what we found is we really didn’t see a decrease in culture, in engagement, in productivity.
And so, we actually permanently closed our office in Boulder for the time being. And now we have a hundred percent remote workforce. And with that, it takes effort. It takes effort to maintain your culture. It takes effort to maintain that inclusivity. And so we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that our employees feel connected and they feel part of something larger. That they’re not isolated within their home office. And so we do take a lot of time and effort to make sure that we continue the culture and engagement on all levels.
Roland Siebelink: What been some of the most important fixes you did or improvements you made to really embrace that remote culture and make it as successful as an in-office culture?
Melanie Meador: A couple of things. We do a video call with every employee every Monday morning, where we talk about highlights of the business. We celebrate our successes. Candidly, we celebrate our failures because we feel like they’re are learning opportunities for the the industry and organization to improve.
Those have become very meaningful to the organization. We’ll sometimes bring in outside speakers to those so they’re not always just hearing from me. We talk about trends we’re seeing in the industry. We’re talking about feedback from partners. We’re talking about new technology that’s coming up.
We often do game days where we play games online together. We do theme parties where people get to dress up and have some fun. We do videos where you bring a plus one. Now we get to know you from a professional perspective, but we also get to know about you a little bit more personally. And so, you can bring your spouse, your dog, your kids, whatever.
Roland Siebelink: I love that. That’s actually the first I heard of a company adding plus ones to remote meetings. That’s a great idea. I love it. So many people are looking for new tips, right, to make the remote culture work.
Melanie Meador : Well, that’s it. The more you know,about someone personally, the better team player you can become. Because again, you know what’s important to them. You know what they’re passionate about. And it doesn’t always just have to be about the work. When you know more about people personally, you engage with them on a deeper level. And that’s really important to our culture.
Roland Siebelink: As a closing question, Melanie, once travel does rebound or we can all travel again wherever we would like, what’s your first big trip on the agenda?
Melanie Meador: I have two, to be honest with you. I’m very homesick at the moment. I want to get back home to Hawaii. I will definitely be doing that when it’s safe to travel again. And honestly I want to get out and spend time with our partners again. I desperately miss that face-to-face engagement. And while video conferences can be meaningful, I do want to get out and work with our partners to understand what challenges are in front of them and to figure out how we can deepen the partnership, offer better solutions, and really support them in their growth. What that means is probably an around-the-world trip to some of our key destinations to spend some time with our key partners.
Roland Siebelink: I see your strategy. You’re just getting travel to rebound all by yourself. So little effort. It’s really good. I love it.
Okay. any listeners who would like to figure out more about Redeam, where should they go and what should they download?
Melanie Meador: We have a pretty comprehensive website when it comes to content. Obviously, www.redeam.com and Redeaam is spelled R-E-D-E-A-M. In the About Us section, we have a ton of educational content that would be meaningful to learn a little bit more, not only about the products that Redeam offers, but the trends we’re seeing in the industry. There’s a lot of educational resources there to help people understand why digitization in our space is so critical. From a investment or executive standpoint, I’m happy to entertain any questions at Melanie@Redeam.com.
Roland Siebelink: Yes. And of course, if you’d prefer to work through an intro, I’m also happy, if you know me already, to provide the introduction to Melanie.
Thank you so much, Hei Hei and Melanie Meador of Redeam. It was a pleasure to have you both on the podcast.
Melanie Meador: My pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Roland Siebelink: I think I’m supposed to say “Mahalo nui loa,” is that correct? Thank you very much. This was an absolute pleasure. And we’re looking forward to having more CEOs again on the podcast next week.
Melanie Meador: Thank you everyone. Thank you.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.