10 Years Of Kellogg’s Zell Fellowship: ‘If Everyone Is Going Left, Look Right’

Jordan Hollander, MBA ‘16

Zell Venture: HotelTechReport.com

HotelTechReport.com is the hotel industry’s app store. Each month more than 290k hotel industry professionals leverage the platform to find the best software and technology solutions to grow their businesses. At the core of the hotel app store lies a proprietary database of 40,000 solutions reviews along with hundreds of free articles, reports and interactive software buying tools.

Why did you choose Kellogg? Before Kellogg I was a big skydiver and surfer so my dream was to work in brand management at Redbull and there isn’t a program that knows CPG better than Kellogg. I always knew in the back of my mind that I’d eventually want to take the entrepreneurial path but it felt like something that would happen 5 or 10 years out.

During my summer internship I ended up working for Starwood Hotels while at the same time my twin brother was in California working on a hotel software startup. It was a combination of him begging me to help him with the business and my friend Stephen Lane who was a year ahead of me in the Zell Fellows program telling me what an amazing opportunity the program was. This piqued my interest and prompted me to kick start my entrepreneurial journey sooner than expected and honestly it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I can confidently say that without my Zell Fellows experience there is a near zero percent chance I would have started my entrepreneurial journey that got me where I am today.

Jordan Hollander

What prompted you to apply for the Zell Fellows? I had been helping my brother with his hotel software company at night while working at Starwood Hotels for my summer MBA internship. My good friend Stephen Lane had just been through the Zell program and I saw first hand through him the amazing entrepreneurs he met, resources he was able to leverage and the strong Zell community around him. Stephen pushed me to go for it and convinced me that it was the best possible thing I could do with my second year at Kellogg and he was 100% right.

Zell connected us weekly with some of the best entrepreneurs in Chicago which was super inspiring and motivating. The director of the program, and current director of entrepreneurship at Kellogg, David Schonthal, is also just a natural born leader and has a gift for believing in students before they even truly believe in themselves – that was the case for me. Between David’s leadership, the peer group in our class and the workshops (e.g. leadership coaching, branding seminars, etc.) it really helped fill in those “unknown unknowns” that most of us have as we’re starting our businesses. Zell never felt like a chore – it was always the thing I looked forward to most in business school. The progress we [my co-founder and i] made in Zell helped us get into the Pritzker Venture Fellows program that was instrumental in helping us get the confidence to pivot our business into what it is today.

What was most helpful about the program? What was the most unexpected? The most helpful thing for me was having a like minded peer group going through the same challenges and rollercoaster. Entrepreneurship didn’t feel lonely because we were all doing it together. What most of these accelerators market is what Zell actually does and teaches you at its core. It’s simple but the money is also huge at that stage – it’s really hard as a student even if you have some savings, to justify an investment into what is truly an experiment. Even though the monetary resources may seem small, now 5 or 10 years out, it’s that initial capital that is the spark most students need to take some risk.

In terms of most unexpected, it’s really the relationships. To be honest I went in looking for outcomes – i.e. growing my business. The relationships I just didn’t expect would grow as strong as they did but with the retreats and trips it really forms a strong bond.

What challenges did you encounter with your venture that the fellowship helped you overcome? David Schonthal has a saying that he drills into all his students to “get outside the building.” As a former equity analyst, going into the field was something I did often, but when it came to building my company, I think there was a sense of vulnerability that prevented me from actually going out and getting feedback. I was stuck in a loop, continuing to build and market to customers, without collecting any feedback that I now know would have made our company stronger at the time. The Zell program, and to an extent the peer pressure of watching other companies succeed or growing faster by building those critical feedback loops, helped me get outside my comfort zone and really start listening to the market.

How would you say the fellowship aided in the success or development of your venture, and your skills as a founder/leader? For me it was all about building my confidence as an entrepreneur. You can get good grades, succeed in your job or get into a great school like Kellogg, but honestly, what matters most is the founder – everybody starts guilty until proven otherwise. The recognition as a Zell fellow and direct access to the best entrepreneurs in Chicago really helped to kickstart my belief in myself – to see that I wasn’t so different from these people and start believing that I had what it took to succeed.

What’s next for you and/or your venture? We’ve bootstrapped HotelTechReport.com to 11 team members and have been profitable since our second full year in business without ever taking any outside investment. For us it’s not about the next funding round or flashy product launch but about executing on our mission day in and day out.

The hotel industry is one of the largest most important industries on earth but it’s notoriously looked at as a technology laggard and we want to change that by providing the industry with better knowledge, tools and information. We want to be the starting point for every technology decision in the hotel industry globally within the next 5-years and with 290k monthly users we’re well on our way.

In terms of what’s next for our venture, our goal is to continue exceeding 60% growth year over year for the next 5-10 years. We love what we’re doing and have only scratched the surface with tons of opportunities to reimagine user journeys, develop new commercial models and reach hoteliers in new ways.

Celebrating 10 years at Kellogg, the Zell Fellow program has supported more than 100 Kellogg students. What does it mean to you to be a part of this community-oriented group of people? The people in the Zell Fellows program quickly became some of my best friends at Kellogg. Entrepreneurship creates an immediate bond – something I imagine is similar in feeling to the way soldiers feel – you are experiencing something that few others do. Admittedly nothing is as strong as the bond between soldiers who have been to war together. Having the Zell Fellows network for support, idea sharing and also as a social outlet is invaluable. I still lean on Zell Fellows to help talk through business problems nearly 7 years after my MBA.

The Zell community is super tight knit and I continue to keep in touch with many I surf in Los Angeles with a Zell IDC alumni. I send vertical market software deals to a Zell Michigan alumni who works for a former client that launched his own fund. I had multiple Zell alumni at my wedding. We’re now using a Zell IDC alumni’s software tool within our marketing stack. Where else can you get that kind of cohesion more than 5 years out from a graduate program?

Needless to say, Sam Zell’s brand precedes him so I’m super humbled and proud to carry that name with me everywhere I go professionally. The entrepreneurial community Sam, Ellen and David Schonthal have built across top business programs is really remarkable and only gets stronger with time as they add new programming, retreats and opportunities to connect. My favorite Zell experience was a trip that program offered to Israel a couple years out of school. I don’t think there’s another business program on earth (at least that I’ve heard of) that offers opportunities like this to alumni, better yet, continues to offer skills as a life-long learning tool, the way Kellogg does. It was really special to be in a remote location without phones being vulnerable, reinforcing connections with our friends and making new ones.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.