Jonathan Rojas is the co-founder of Whistle Messaging, an internal and guest communication software for hotels and hospitality businesses. The business, based out of the California Lutheran University’s incubator Hub101, has received $4 million in venture capital funds. The service allows guests a contactless way to message with hotel staff and for hotel workers to communicate with each other.
What inspired you to start your business?
Initially, my co-founder and I found this pain point within the hospitality industry. I was working within the hospitality industry with another startup, and I noticed this big issue in hospitality where it started to become more difficult for the guests to interact with hotel staff, whether it was calling the front desk and getting placed on hold or even just waiting in line at the front desk to get towels. So the goal there was to introduce a platform that can allow the guests to utilize their everyday behavior, which is messaging, to text the hotel.
Do you like being your own boss? Do you ever think about trading it for a steady paycheck?
Yes, it definitely has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it. When I graduated college, like all parents, mine wanted me to go into the workforce and earn a paycheck. So I did that initially, for the first year and a half after I graduated college, and it was good initially, but for me, it kind of got exhausting. I just felt like I was working towards someone else’s success. It wasn’t really my own, I was working for a company and building success for them. Yes, I was getting paid decently for it. But at the end of the day, I felt like I wasn’t getting enough from that. I didn’t really find any value in me just taking home a paycheck, and not really having much to show for it after that.
What’s the best aspect of running your own business? And the worst?
The best is that sense of satisfaction at the end of the day that you build something, and you have something that you have ownership in, and you have something to show for yourself. And as we scaled, also being able to hire employees and bring people along for the journey, and being able to provide them with a steady income and see how they become part of our family as well. I definitely think the worst part is having to juggle multiple things like finances, the operations of the day-to-day. On top of that, you’re managing relationships and managing spending, so there’s really a lot of things to be responsible for.
What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?
Initially, our biggest challenge was getting people to understand the concept and to adopt this technology, and actually showing them the value add of a product like this within our industry. Initially, people were hesitant to adopt something like this, but COVID, definitely expedited the hospitality industry adopting newer technologies and becoming more technology friendly.
What’s your favorite story about running your business?
When we first started the company, somehow I found this pitch competition for the largest hospitality and technology training conference here in North America. Last minute, we got into the competition, and in our five-minute pitch we had to explain the business, the business model and the problem that we were trying to fix within the industry. And we did this on a whim, at the last minute, my co-founder and I used the last of our funds to go to this pitch competition in Texas and realized we were the only company that was not specifically invited to the competition, because I had reached out to the email cold. And then we noticed the rest of the companies that were in the competition actually had to do with this incubator accelerator that was based out of Austin. So they all had a leg up in the competition, because part of the judging panel was someone that was running that incubator accelerator, and they’re the ones who vetted these companies and brought them to this competition. And all in all, we ended up being the outside company, the only company from Los Angeles. And we ended up winning the competition.
Has being Hispanic Latino affected
I take a lot of value in my Hispanic and Latino heritage, and I think that has built a lot of my character and my values today. A lot of it goes back to what I’ve seen, my grandfather build from nothing, coming to this country with nothing, and making something out of it, and building almost an empire. He had 10 kids and grew so many businesses out of his original idea, and then slowly as he got older, retiring, and distributing each one of those businesses to his kids. So that really instilled, I would say, a lot into my character, and also being able to overcome adversity.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business?
This one’s cliche, but honestly, it was probably the biggest piece of advice that I got: Never give up. There were a lot of times where I just wanted to quit, go back to getting a steady paycheck and income. But if you don’t give up, that only means you’re that much closer to succeeding. I think something like 90 percent of startups fail. So as long as you don’t quit or give up, you won’t fail.