The Capital’s IT director is now applying his creativity to the hospitality industry.
José Soares, IT director at The Capital Hotels, had an early introduction to computers, but his love for gaming really kicked things off for him. Together with a former university classmate, José started a mobile gaming company, but they wanted to push the envelope and give it a unique twist.
“We were thinking beyond your average mobile game and trying to engineer something new – a mobile game on a social level, way before Facebook and the like came into the picture,” he explains.
“The games themself weren’t very successful. However, we became a very successful mobile application company, which led to us doing a lot of work with banks, large organisations and well-known telcos across the continent.”
José and his business partners then added a slew of value added services to their portfolio, which later led to them being exposed to mobile wallets, and exploring the fintech space. The company grew from three employees, to 20 to 40, with roughly more than 200 developers in their employ at its peak.
“We were doing well, having become a part of a listed entity. We just saw dollar signs,” he jokes.
Through this journey, José occupied multiple roles, from web developer – building a big social network and gaming platform in the process that became very popular in Namibia called Moola Mobile – to global marketing officer, a versatile role, where he sat somewhere between the marketing, creative and technical guys in the team. “I gained a lot of exposure from that role from an international perspective,” he notes.
José points out that during this journey of experimentation, he and his team stumbled across something that at the time seemed insignificant, but later proved to be something that would’ve landed them serious success.
“We were one of the first companies in the world to pull mobile advertising into a mobile game,” he says. “It was a really untapped market at the time and we eventually moved away from it. It wasn’t until another company, AdMob, saw its potential – the same company that was later acquired by Google, and which became Google’s mobile advertising arm.”
The founders later parted ways and José took the consulting route, but still within the telco space. And it was around this time that he was headhunted by The Capital Group to come on board as an IT director.
“The group was essentially looking for someone who could take what they were doing on the ground and convert it into digital space,” he explains. “We’re about three years into the journey, two years having been put on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Switching from fintech to hospitality
It was quite the transition for José, coming from a fintech background and now entering the hospitality space, but he soon discovered that there was quite a lot to do with technology in this environment.
“My natural affinity for the consumer and customer experience made this even more appealing to me,” he says. “The most exciting part of this experience has been playing a role in the development of new hotels: from the hardware and software side as well as building our own software.”
José says most hotels opt for the traditional model of bringing in a third-party vendor. He sat in the thick of things and knew exactly what the company needed, where he would guide the process and help them build themselves, which gave them a lot of room to experiment. “Building it yourself might save costs, but it also means that you are the masters of your own destiny, which means seeing it through.”
Finding gold in a sea of shiny new technologies
José has tweaked his approach in the pursuit of new technologies. In his early years, he would pursue what was considered current and trendy, but technology is constantly changing, making it tough to keep up. These days, he prefers to cherry pick, and chase what is worthwhile and the spaces that are vital to know.
“For example, understanding how cloud infrastructure works is vital: the technology around it and the impact it has on decisions,” he explains. “Trying to understand every single platform that comes up is virtually impossible. With that said, we cannot ignore what is currently the most talked about technology at the moment, namely AI – with the introduction of ChatGPT and the like.
“Like many other techies, I’ve also experimented with ChatGPT, but more on a creative level,” he says. “I think that’s the scariest part for me: I understand how it’s able to be creative, but it’s how it does that – it feels real and betrays the human mind to a certain extent. It’s unsettling, yet exciting at the same time.
“Once that euphoria settles, you start looking at how it can benefit you. Do I use it to “cheat” or do I use it to help me get through a task in a smarter way?” he asks.
In time, José would like to see how the hotel group can use AI tools to influence its decision-making, and create deeper experiences for its guests and clients.
However, no technology can ever replace the kind of inspiration he receives from the human mind. José enjoys listening to TED talks because it allows him to tap into his creative side. “I don’t really enjoy reading books, but I enjoy listening to progressive talks,” he says. “I find them easier to digest than books, and listening to people talk about their problems helps me find the solution.”