• Zoku the End of the Hotelroom


    Case study Zoku 

    The end of the Hotel room.

    Zoku, which  isJapanese for family, tribe or clan,will disrupt and create a new category in the hotelindustry.  Facilitating global living and working for the internationalt ravelling professional, a home-office,hybrid, also suitablefor  longstays,with the services  of  a hotel and the social buzz of a thriving neighbourhood.



    Those that spurred Meyer and co-founder Marc Jongerius to launch Zoku are globalisation, mobility in the workplace, the blending of work and leisure, now known as ‘bleisure’, and last, but certainly not least, urbanisation. “Space in cities is scarce,” says Meyer, who has never just wanted to put heads on beds but “to create more value in less square metres”. The idea was to create spaces that not only connect people and ideas. “We wanted to go even further, by making the right introductions to enable people to feel at home and connected as quickly as possible in the cities they are working for long periods. Think of it as a sort-of offline social network,” Meyer adds. The entry of the concept of ‘customer experience’ into the boardroom has been driven by a number of consumer trends. 


    The changing travel market

    Personal and professional lifestyles are changing, boundaries between work and leisure are fading and blurring borders have made people more mobile than ever. Internet gave us new opportunities for progression: driven by advanced technology and a better infrastructure ,people from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities and disciplines are part of a growing collaborative travelling business movement. They work for fast growing companies or outside the traditional employment relationship. While demand is rising,all there is still missing is a homedesigned for these travelling professionals. Even-though the online connection is strong with in this tribe,the formation of an offline connection-area and physical one-is still lacking.

    Traditional hotels or service dapartments can be pretty lonely and are often nomore than ashelter where you have to adapt rather than the otherway around.Instead of more of the same, the world desperately needs smarter solutions for this growing demand:a business/living environment that feelshomely and can be personalized, topped with professional services, great fun and a social structure,giving global nomads a local social life.


    “Driven by advanced technology and a better infrastructure, people from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities and disciplines have become a growing, collaborative, traveling business movement roaming the world,” Meyer explains. Though these people enjoy strong online connections, their offline–real and physical–connections while traveling away from the office and home are often weak, with traditional hotels or serviced apartments often functional, lonely and dull.

    What is the core idea and your vision?

    The competitive travel market is dominated by a few big brands, one of the biggest challenges is how to stand out. A lot is being said about the need to apply technology to hyper-personalise, but for Zoku it has been more about hyper-differentiation. “We decided that we wanted to try to have a very specific target audience and be big in a small market,” says Meyer. The target segment is extended stay business traveland the audience is what he refers to as the global nomadic tribe – international entrepreneurs, project managers, project consultants, techies and creative sorts who need a place where they can live, work and play at the same time. In the extended stay segment, Zoku spotted plenty of room for innovation. “This is an incredibly big market in the US and is growing at a fast pace in Asia and Europe. 


    What is the experience value proposition? 

    “A fundamental aspect of Zoku’s proposition is providing global nomads with a local social life,” he adds. Public areas offer a warm welcome, a bar, a living room, a kitchen, co-working spaces and tailor-made retail well-stocked to cater to all users’ practical needs, additional back-up from on-site staff called “sidekicks” and even a local events program. Meanwhile private areas–the lofts, each with a 25-square-meter floor space–have been designed for hybrid, compact living. Each Zoku Loft is designed around a four-person table, with a fully-equipped kitchen, alcove desk with office supplies, extensive storage and screen-able sleeping space reversing the bed-centric focus of traditional hotel rooms. Furthermore, each loft is customizable, with users even able to select their own art from a lending gallery to make their own space more personal for the duration of their stay.


    Fig; 2.Loft picture



    Involving the target audience

    According to Meyer, the key to success has been the close involvement of the target audience. “Our customers were involved from day one. To test the market, the Zoku team spoke to 150 people from its target audience, the core being business travellers on the road for extended periods. While they couldn’t articulate exactly what they wanted, they could say what frustrated them when working and living internationally. “So, we asked people ’what ideally do you want to do in your room, and also in your social space?’We built various hotel rooms as prototypes and asked the guests to evaluate them. This enabled us to completely attune the concept to their needs.. That’s why the current rooms meet their exact wishes and demands.”


    To further understand his audience and to experience their lifestyle, Meyer took to the road for six months, spending two months in Buenos Aires, Washington and Bali to run his company remotely and independently from time and place.

    All were positive. Forward-thinking companies understand how important it is to look after their employees’ wellbeing while on the road. This led to the building of six life-size prototypes and for each one Zoku invited 150 to 200 people to validate the product. 

    In most hotel rooms and studio apartments the dominant piece of furniture is the bed. Zoku’s biggest innovation, says Meyer, was to change this by offering the possibility to easily hide the bed, and making the kitchen table a focus. 

    The result of all these efforts is effectively a home office hybrid, where people can also stay for longer periods and where Zoku provides the social buzz. “We actually help people to build social lives within a few days rather than a few months. We help them to ground in the city, and act as a jumping board to connect people to all relevant networks,” Meyer explains. Zoku offers

    ·            a very smart Zoku loft to work, sleep, live and play, 

    ·            a better social context, which significantly improves the well being of its specific target audience,

    ·            mor einspiration by nurturing talent in a rich environment

    ·            innovative technologies to support Zoku’s guest journey and social structure  in order to create a seamless on-and offline experience.

    What innovating processes and experience technologies are implemented? 

    From a customer service point of view, we didn’t have a receptionist looking at a computer trying to find a guest’s details, we had them in the lobby, meeting and greeting and making them feel welcome,” he adds. Zoku is using a lot of ‘cool technology’. In testing its first life-size design prototypes, Zoku used mobile EEG technology to measure people’s emotions when they entered the room. “We could see from the data, before they could tell us, what they liked and what we should improve,” explains Meyer. It has also used virtual reality to design its spaces, has an app, which allows for keyless entry, and has experimented with IoT which, says Meyer, is “a very cool tech but is still very sensitive from a privacy point of view”.  When it comes down to the wire, however, the human touch is what matters most in travel and hospitality. 


    Meet the resident; Jamie North is a Client Partner (New Ventures) at 101 Ways, a product-focused technology consultancy.


    What brings you to Amsterdam? Why Zoku?

    Following the success of 101 Ways in the UK, we decided to take our successes and ability to help others across Europe, starting with the Netherlands. We’ve been here for 1 year now, and gradually growing our presence.

    As I live in Malta I travel every week and have been a long term ‘stayer’ at Zoku. Personally, I love how Zoku has a very friendly and casual yet professional approach. In the evenings the common area feels very much like a lounge, and unlike in regular hotels, if you want to retreat to your room, it’s not just a bed and TV, but you have the opportunity to cook in the kitchen, or even just relax in what feels like your own mini apartment. It's a great combination!


    Creating social buzz                                                                                        Sticking with a purely customer-centric approach led Zoku to first build prototypes of its private and public spaces, starting with the private. Given that city space is at such a premium, the team first set about establishing whether it was possible to create a spacious micro apartment in 24 square metres, the size of a typical double room in a hotel, where guests could both live and work. They created an initial design and tested it on the target audience, as well as going to companies like Booking.com, Microsoft and Accenture to ask: “How would your talent evaluate this product?” 

    With such a customer-led concept, it didn’t take long to get the message out. The team shot a short video with the tagline ‘the end of the hotel as we know it’, which had 4.2 million views within two days. Then Zoku won the Radical Innovation Award for Hospitality in New York.


    What does this mean for the staff, their competences and the culture of Zoku?

    Nowadays, in a world where there is a serious war on talent, companies are starting to understand that we don’t just need to hire people, we also need take care of their well-being in order to have them on board in the best possible way and to keep them.” Innovative companies also view their employees as customers, if not their family! At Zoku, the biggest selection criterion is not the CV. When hiring Meyer asks: “Do I want to introduce that person to my best friends, and my parents? Do I think, ‘you should meet this person because they are so nice, so genuine, so hospitable? The rest we can teach them. You are either a nice person or you are not a nice person. It might be a bit blunt but if you are not, then you are not suitable for his industry.” 


    What is Zoku’s business model with which money is being made?                        What makes the Zoku concept truly unique, is the social aspect. Guests meet each other in lively, open spaces. They can chat or exchange business ideas. An appointed community manager organizes inspiring social events. Meyer: “The meetings help to create a social and business network. Its main purpose is to get people and ideas together in an informal way. The guests have to be happy and relaxed.”

    The financial backing has come from ‘family offices’, private wealth management advisory firms that serve ultra-high-net-worth investors, and Cooperative Rabobank. So confident are the people behind Zoku that there are plans to roll-out more properties in London, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna and Paris.

    Questions about this case study

    1.    Who are the core customers of Zoku?

    2.    What is their unique value proposition

    3.    What are the basic needs of their specific target group?

    4.    What are the key innovations at Zoku?

    5.    Design the guest journey of Zoku customers.