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on April 25, 2018 / by Nancy Dahlberg ,

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HQ: West Palm Beach

Business: leading online platform for group travel bookings worldwide

Co-founders: Tim Hentschel and John Prince

Employees: 150



HotelPlanner’s technology is cutting edge, but the co-founders grew the global leader for group travel bookings the old-fashioned way: through passion, perseverance and hard work.

Co-Founder of HotelPlanner, John Prince

Tim Hentschel and John Prince started the hospitality-tech company in Prince’s San Diego apartment in 2003, after the dot-com bust. “He was customer service sitting on my couch, and I was the programmer,” said Prince, who back then had recently studied computer science at Northeastern graduating top of his class and was working full time as a software engineer.

Hentschel grew up in the hotel business (he’s a third generation hotelier), studied hospitality management at Cornell and was working at his mother’s travel company at the time. He saw how negotiations of group blocks were being done very manually and asked Prince to automate it online.

“When we looked into it, one in three hotel rooms was booked into a group block and there was no real online player at the time. This gigantic market was all fragmented offline and we built a system where hotels could bid and compete for a group block,” said Prince, recalling the early days and the reverse auction process.

“We both quit our jobs to start the company and raised a small amount of money from friends and family. We were paying ourselves about $1,000 a month and that is how we got started.”

Prince and Hentschel grew the team over the next five years in California, but decided the state wasn’t a fit for their big vision. For one thing, the time zone made it difficult to work internationally, and business-friendly Florida invited a look.

In 2010, they checked out several areas around Florida but settled on West Palm Beach because of the quality of life and easy access to the business community. It’s also a good place to raise a family, said Prince, who grew up in Maine and was once a commercial fisherman.

At this point, then about 15 employees, began to take off.

HotelPlanner made a big push into the corporate travel world and acquired, a leading corporate meetings brand, in 2012. Around the same time, HotelPlanner opened satellite offices in Hong Kong, London and Las Vegas. Hentschel. the CEO, moved his family to London to run the international operations. And the company ultimately leased 15,000 square feet of space in the downtown West Palm’s PNC Building, overlooking the intercoastal, for its new headquarters.

Now the company is 150 employees strong, with about 75 in the West Palm headquarters. Last year, HotelPlanner added about 25 people.

The company services 3,000 to 4,000 new groups a day all over the world booking blocks ranging from 10 to 500 rooms a night. “We power the group bookings for all the major travel sites,” Prince said.

That includes wedding blocks, teen travel, college groups, professional sports travel, corporate and government meetings and family reunions. HotelPlanner booked about $600 million in hotel reservations last year, growing about 30 percent, and expects another 40 percent growth this year, Prince said.

And it did all this without raising institutional financing, a rare feat in the world of travel-tech. “We are 100 percent employee owned,” Prince said. “It’s great because we have complete control but it definitely puts a strain on cash flow. At the same time we don’t have a private equity or VC company breathing down our neck. We figured we would grow the company the old-fashioned way — with blood, sweat and tears.”

Growing a company in Palm Beach County has its upsides, beyond the sun and fun.

“If we were running the company in San Francisco or New York, we would probably be just another interesting tech company. Being in Palm Beach, I feel like the area really appreciates and supports us and I feel like we get access to a lot of the best tech talent. There are benefits to being a big fish in a small pond.”

What’s the secret sauce? Working hard and smart, said Prince.

“We are all into this for the long term and building something great. The time we put into this is unparalleled.

“We didn’t do this overnight. It’s been 15 years of excruciatingly hard work.”

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