James Silva: Automating Hospitality as a Gay, Latino Founder
By John Kregler, StartOut
With the ongoing impact that COVID-19 has had on our entrepreneurs, the hospitality industry took large steps to adapt and survive. As more and more people are desperate for weekend getaways and long term stays with safety in mind, travelers and hosts have adopted new protocols to ensure that everyone stays happy and healthy on vacation.
James Silva (he/him) didn’t come from the hospitality industry when he started ConciergeBot. In fact, James didn’t even have a plan to create the “next generation AI-driven conversational assistant platform for travel and hospitality.” Instead, James started off as an AirBnb host with a single vacation property in Palm Springs.
The plan was to keep it small as a way to earn some supplemental income, but through talking to his guests, James realized there were bigger issues travelers were facing. Many would come to stay at his home needing help with things like restaurant recommendations, how to work the laundry machine, and more. With his busy schedule, James quickly realized that he wouldn’t be able to be available 24 hours a day for his guests, so he decided to automate it.
“There’s a greater need for contactless solutions and automation post-COVID,” James said. “Travelers want to feel safe and handle check-in from their phones. That’s where ConciergeBot comes in.”
Utilizing his degree in Computer Science from Stanford along with his experience in software engineering and product management at tech companies such as eBay, Expedia and Adobe, James went to work creating a system to automate his traveller’s experiences. For a virtual walkthrough on connecting to the WiFi, ConciergeBot’s got you. For nearby shopping and entertainment recommendations, the system provides custom recommendations from your host(s). Anything a guest might need, ConciergeBot can provide the answer or alert a staff member to matters requiring in-person intervention.
The process to get here today wasn’t an easy one for James. When he first started out, he didn’t have the resources or experience to navigate the creation of a startup. Based on the advice of a mentor friend, James applied for the StartOut Growth Lab’s Cohort 2 in 2018.
Through the Growth Lab, James was able to meet with other entrepreneurs with experience in hospitality and ask them specific questions for his startup. He also gained access to our founder resources that provided him mentorship, funding, and community opportunities.
“StartOut has been so influential to ConciergeBot’s success. I joined with just a prototype and applied for the GrowthLab to see what kind of feedback I would get. I honestly didn’t think I would get in because of my experience level, but I did! StartOut gave me the confidence I needed to start a business that was more than just a side hobby. Having the mentors and access to The NetworQ has been key. We all lift each other up as a community of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, and I love to give back now that I’ve established myself more.”
Today, James continues to meet with current cohorts of the Growth Lab and work with founders on improving their SEO strategies.
James, who proudly identifies as an out, Latinx man, has reflected on his journey during Hispanic Heritage Month. ConciergeBot recently won second place and a cash prize of $10K at a Latinx Launchpad startup pitch contest by Hispanics in Philanthropy. He was also recently interviewed on Cheddar News as part of their Hispanic Heritage Month segment highlighting Latinx startup founders.
“For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and successes in our community, and to uplift and support each other. As a gay man who is also Latinx, I think that being ‘out’ and visible is important to show that it is possible to both have a successful career in tech and live openly as an LGBTQ+ person. I hope that my openness can help others in the Latinx community to ‘come out’ and continue to build visibility and presence.”