In the world of entrepreneurship, success often comes from a combination of innovation, determination, and the ability to pivot when opportunities arise. Or at least this was the path for Amy Read, the founder of Techsembly. Amy equates being a start-up founder to a thrilling roller coaster ride–with ups and plenty of downs. Working for large corporations early in her career, Amy moved to Singapore and while there she spotted an opportunity to bring artisanal European handcrafts and gifts to Asia through an online marketplace. This began Amy’s entrepreneurial journey, which has spanned nearly a decade, during which time she has launched three startups and successfully sold two. Amy shares her experience as a female founder and the story of how she turned her final startup, Techsembly, into a thriving business, leading to a successful acquisition by tech travel giant, Sabre.
Entrepreneurial Odyssey: From Unique Gifts to Travel Tech
Amy, let's kick things off by talking about your entrepreneurial journey. Can you take us on a voyage from your very first startup to your venture into the travel tech industry?
My entrepreneurial journey began approximately nine years ago when I moved to Singapore. I noticed a gap in the market for unique gifts and artisanal products that were hard to come by in Asia but readily available in Europe and the UK, where I had been living before. This realization inspired me to start "Gifts Less Ordinary," a digital marketplace designed to connect the best of Europe with local brands in Singapore and Hong Kong. We had a particular focus on offering personalized and customized gifts, which set us apart.
What gave you the courage to start your own business? And how did you fund it?
Once I had the initial idea, I recognized that I was the sort of person who needed to go all in and fully commit to make it work. So, I quit my day job leaving behind a steady paycheck, which was a difficult decision in itself. With some savings and a modest investment from friends, family, and a women-focused investment group, I started my first business. These early investors have been with me throughout the journey of all three businesses and I am eternally grateful for their support.
When I launched Techsembly and it began to gain traction in the market, I realized we had found the right market fit. I then ventured into the world of seeking external funding. We eventually secured investment from a number of private investors and a UK-based venture capital firm, all of whom played a pivotal role in helping us to raise over £2 million to inject into Techsembly's growth.
Fast forward: you built an artisanal goods marketplace, Gifts Less Ordinary, and it’s going well. Why did you start your second business, Lovingly Signed?
Well, Gifts Less Ordinary, was a cool concept but the margins were really low. We realized that in order to make money we had to do enormous volume or have our own products. The second option seemed more realistic, so Gifts Less Ordinary evolved into an in-house brand we developed, Lovingly Signed. This new company experienced remarkable growth.
What truly dawned on us was the incredible power of technology in retail. However, we had customized our tech platform to such an extent that we encountered challenges hindering our potential for growth. Recognizing this, we decided to bring the technology development in-house, with a sharp focus on scaling into a retail solution.
Did you have a big break or an a-ha moment?
Yes, we actually did. We were forced to take the technology in-house and build the solution ourselves from the ground up as we had outgrown the existing eCommerce marketplace solution we were using. This was a big investment for us at the time, but one that paid off.
During a conference in Hong Kong, Peninsula Hotels & Resorts approached us with interest in our tech platform to enhance their retail offerings. It was at that moment we had an epiphany, realizing the potential of leveraging our retail expertise to scale retail operations for hoteliers. The platform we had built could enable hoteliers to manage multi products, sellers and hotel properties on one single unified eCommerce solution, supporting them in driving new incremental revenue streams beyond the room. This realization prompted me to make the strategic decision to sell Lovingly Signed.
Wow, so you started and built two businesses before hitting on Techsembly?
Yes, and what I learned along the way is you really need to be flexible to make things work. And when you see an idea or something that you think can really stick, then that's where you have to channel all your energy.
Transitioning to Techsembly: The Genesis of In-House Innovation
How did you develop Techsembly?
We really drilled down and focused on the best ways tech can solve the challenges of integrating retail experiences into hospitality. Now, Techsembly's core mission revolves around delivering an all-encompassing retail solution meticulously tailored to meet the distinctive demands of the hospitality industry. We have built an extensive array of retail possibilities, encompassing gift cards, dining experiences, spa services and much more. What truly sets us apart is our marketplace-first approach, empowering hotels not only to showcase their own products but also to forge partnerships with local artisans and businesses, thereby curating an unforgettable and immersive guest experience.
Wisdom for Aspiring Female Founders in Travel Tech
What words of advice would you offer to aspiring female founders who are eyeing the expansion and potential sale of their travel startups?
The path of an entrepreneur is akin to a thrilling roller coaster ride, with its fair share of ups and downs. My advice is to discover something you are genuinely passionate about and adore doing because that passion will fuel your determination and innovation. Concentrate on what you love, and you'll find opportunities emerging when you least expect them. Don't rush the process of selling or exiting your business too soon. Instead, channel your energy into building something that customers truly crave. The right opportunities will naturally unfold.
Also, take time to enjoy the wins. If you never actually ever congratulate yourself, and just roll into the next thing, you never really quite embrace it. So I think that's the key thing, to notice when things finally happen and be happy about it!
The Future of Techsembly Under Sabre's Wing
What is your role at Techsembly now that it's a part of Sabre, and what lies ahead in the future?
My role at Techsembly, now a proud member of the Sabre family, revolves around refining and extending our retail solutions. We want to become the quintessential "Shopify for hospitality," offering a seamless, integrated platform that empowers hotels to elevate their retail revenue. I am super excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and eager to continue this journey with a larger team, supported by the robust resources of Sabre.
What trends do you see taking shape in hospitality retail?
Hoteliers are increasingly valuing a holistic and data led approach when it comes to understanding their guests. Their focus now extends to an integrated strategy for enhancing guest satisfaction, with the ultimate goal of optimizing revenue per guest from the moment they arrive until well after they have checked out. This goes beyond just pre-stay and in-stay interactions, extending to post-stay connections as well. It allows hoteliers to maintain a continuous relationship with guests throughout their entire journey, extending their impact even after guests have left the premises. The primary objective is to position the hotelier's brand at the forefront of the customer's mind, thereby converting guests into loyal customers and ambassadors. Our solution is tailored to the specific needs of hoteliers, streamlining the process of engaging with guests at every touchpoint, which results in a significantly more personalized and enriched guest experience.
Quickfire with Amy
What is your morning routine? Kids ready, Run, Coffee, Work
What do you do for self-care? Anything outdoors, walk, run, cycle, paddle board, and ski
What is your favorite piece of tech? My iPods
What is your best shopping hack? Shop online
What books / movies / TV / podcasts are you into right now? The Tim Ferriss Show