We expect to raise people’s expectations for what high-quality accommodations look like and how much they cost. It starts with our name — WhyHotel. Because why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home? The name is meant to pose a question that challenges the value of a hotel room when guests could instead stay in a product like ours. We expect to continue to push the boundaries of “flexible” real estate and work on products that have an even greater impact on the value chain. Real estate will become more dynamic with a robust set of customers that can change as markets and individual customer preferences change.
As a part of my series on “The future of travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Fudin. Jason is the CEO and Co-Founder of WhyHotel. Prior to WhyHotel, Jason was the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Vornado Realty Trust where he worked on large asset repositioning and developing innovative commercial real estate concepts for the organization. Over his career, Jason has managed commercial real estate development projects valued at over $2 billion and has worked in development, acquisitions, and capital markets. He has his B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Management from McGill University and his M.S. in Finance and Real Estate from American University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
WhyHotel’s story began, as many stories do, with a couple of people bent on improving what they knew best. In our case, it was newly built high-rise buildings in city centers. At the time, I was working as an executive at Vornado Realty, and my co-founder, Bao Vuong, was working as an executive at PN Hoffman.
In my role at Vornado, I was tasked with taking an inward look at our assets and identifying opportunities for improvement. After an afternoon of whiteboarding, the idea for WhyHotel was born. We realized there’s an underlying inefficiency to how newly constructed apartment buildings are delivered to market, so we set out to take advantage of this “timing inefficiency” by temporarily operating a spacious, innovative, and “like-home” hospitality experience out of the vacancy of brand-new luxury apartment buildings.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I suppose it depends on what you mean by “interesting”. Early on in my career I attempted to have a dance off with MC Hammer at a black-tie gala, only MC Hammer refused to dance back…
I think the most interesting career moment for me came when a high-rise apartment construction project I was working on got green-lit to move forward in 2012, but ended up overperforming when it opened in 2016 because Uber had changed the perceived value of the building’s location. Essentially, Uber made a more desirable entertainment area only a $9 ride away so we were able to charge more in rents. It crystallized for me how the impact and speed of technology is completely misaligned with the timing and decision making of building skyscrapers. This further drove home the importance of having flexible real estate assets.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early in my career at a large publicly traded company I was pulled aside by a couple of my supervisors and told that my style for “professional dress” didn’t match the standard “uniform” of dark suits, white/blue shirts, and plain ties. I was more of a pastel shirt, loose tie, rolled up sleeve kind of guy. I took the hint (they were just trying to help me) and dressed the part. Now that I run a company, I have my individuality back (no more pastel shirts — thank God). We empower people to be themselves at WhyHotel (including how they dress themselves as adults — go figure)
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a product that would appeal to pretty much any traveler. Brand-new, luxury, full-size apartments in city centers that are operated by a 24/7 onsite hotel staff and at a price that is less than a tired Marriott or Hilton. We have had the pleasure of hosting groups on vacations, Mon-Thur business travelers that now have a “home away from home”, and the families of patients who are undergoing treatment in nearby hospitals. We get to have a positive impact on all of our guests!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
Focus on what you do best and, when the time is right, bet on yourself. Surround yourself with people you respect and enjoy working with. Build out a diverse professional network of people you enjoy helping. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your personal life in your quest to build a career. My relationships with my wife and son are the most important thing I have. Every once and a while, sleep in on a weekend!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The reality is that anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to grow into a role like mine at WhyHotel, has been lifted up by hundreds of people along the way (both personally and professionally). I can think of one person who had an incredibly outsized impact on my career, Toby Millman. When I was early in my career as a real estate development analyst, I had taken on a tremendous workload and set of responsibilities (senior manager level work) as my employer searched for an executive to take over my projects. When they finally hired someone, Toby, I prepared to hand over all of my work over to him at the end of his first month on the job. At the end of that month he said to me “it has been a pleasure to work with you and I can see your potential here is huge. Instead of taking over your projects, I’d like to empower you to continue to take on more and do bigger things. Think of me as your resource and think of these high-rise developments as yours to ‘own’ and manage”. This catapulted my career and Toby is now a good friend and was one of the first investors to back us!
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The core innovation at WhyHotel is bringing flexibility to the most inflexible asset ever, high-rise real estate, by blurring the line between hospitality and home. WhyHotel is a tech-enabled hospitality management company that operates fully staffed, pop-up hotels out of the vacancy of newly built, luxury apartment buildings — creating significant “found money” for developers by offering superior, differentiated hospitality experiences for customers.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
WhyHotel came out of personal pain points as both a real estate developer and as a traveler.
As real estate developers, my-cofounder and I were faced with inefficiency in every new high-rise development. Newly constructed high-rise apartment buildings open completely empty and take a year or two to fill up with residents (highly inefficient and very costly to operate).
As people with young families, we have experienced the mismatch of hotel rooms to those traveling with kids. As a Mon-Thurs. business traveler with IBM (early in his career), my co-founder, Bao Vuong, experienced living life from a hotel room.
Our product solves all of these pain points through found efficiency and a hospitality product laser-focused on our customers.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We expect to raise people’s expectations for what high-quality accommodations look like and how much they cost. It starts with our name — WhyHotel. Because why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home? The name is meant to pose a question that challenges the value of a hotel room when guests could instead stay in a product like ours.
We expect to continue to push the boundaries of “flexible” real estate and work on products that have an even greater impact on the value chain. Real estate will become more dynamic with a robust set of customers that can change as markets and individual customer preferences change.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
1) Bringing flexibility to the otherwise completely inflexible asset of real estate (Airbnb got this right)
2) Better matching the end product to the consumer need (WeWork identified this in office)
3) The integration of technology and the physical space (think Latch)
4) Creating experiences that are personalized (hospitality that knows YOU)
5) Traditionally, real estate assets have been built for a single use, but the market is changing, consumer perception of short-term rentals is changing, and we are already seeing hospitality product and multifamily product offering a very similar guest/resident experience (WhyHotel is leading this effort to blur the line between hospitality and home)
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”? One that you daydream about for years afterward!
For me, that vacation was at Glen Clova in Scotland. It was my girlfriend (now wife) and my first long vacation and it was spent in the rolling hills of Northern Scotland in a quaint cabin at the foot of a mountain with a Loch on top. There was an onsite restaurant that served incredible fish and chips and steak pie. When a vacation can bring together emotional connection, great experiences, and great food you can’t miss. At WhyHotel, we aim to provide the perfect backdrop for others to discover their “perfect vacation”.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It is still early days at WhyHotel, but the most rewarding way we have been able to have a positive impact on the world is by first having a positive impact on our guests. We have been with them and supported them in difficult times (emergency hospital visits for their family members, visiting for funerals at Arlington Cemetery, unexpected tragedy at home while they were vacationing with us, etc.). We have been with them in the best of times (the birth of a first grandkid, weddings, graduations, etc.). We hope this is just the start of what we can do to have a positive impact on the cities and communities we are a part of.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement to celebrate human’s capacity for kindness. We are inherently empathetic creatures and being reminded of that might inspire kindness to become contagious!