When Sidehide started life in late 2018, its co-founders had no idea they were creating a hotel booking experience that would be perfect for the post-pandemic world. From the beginning, they had a novel idea: build an app that would take all of the hassle out of last-minute hotel bookings, both for customers and hotels. It was such a simple idea, in fact, that they wondered why it hadn’t been done before.
After doing some research, they found out why. At every point in the process, security could be compromised. To complicate matters, the hotel industry is extremely fragmented, with different technological standards and regulations in different countries. If they could figure out a way to deal with these issues, they could succeed in building a secure hotel booking app. At the same time, the app had to be extremely user-friendly. If it wasn’t simple and fast, they knew it wouldn’t last long.
“To be able to create the almost touchless ultimate user experience, we needed to find a way where we can guarantee 100% that the user is who she says she is, that she isn’t using a stolen passport and that her payments are legitimate,” said CEO Joakim Hultin, who founded Sidehide with Fredrik Rodievis.
The best way to ensure security throughout the process, the co-founders decided, was to build the app from the ground up with security at its core. That would be the only way to address the security risks that are inherent in hotel booking and check-in processes, both booking directly with hotels and through major hotel aggregator sites. In a typical situation, for example, hotels and websites often experience issues with false IDs and fraudulent payments. At the time of check-in, the process is often insecure and manual as well.
With the goal of building the secure hotel booking app around verified identity, Hultin and his partner started looking around. Hultin found the solution by accident; as he was doing his mobile banking, he noticed that the bank onboarding app did a lot of what he was looking for. The answer turned out to be technology from Onfido, which provides identity verification technology. The duo decided to build the app with identity and document verification from Onfido, along with payment security from Stripe.
This combination of technologies has allowed Sidehide to become what it is today—an app that provides a seamless and secure experience from booking through check-in. To use the mobile-only app, users download the app and register. The registration process includes uploading a selfie and photo of a government-issued ID. Then, in less than one minute, the app runs a check on the ID to ensure that the face matches the ID, and the ID is verified. Users only complete this process once.
Once users are verified, they can find hotel alternatives and book directly in the app. They pay through the app, which verifies the payment. Users then go directly to the hotel, show a boarding pass in the app and pick up the room key.
Under the Covers
During the registration process, Onfido technology verifies identity by comparing the face in the photo to the face on the government-issued ID using facial scanning. The app then compares the facial biometrics to the photo on the ID, checking that the selfie was a live photo. It then compares this information to thousands of local databases throughout the world that contain up-to-date information about stolen IDs, using artificial intelligence to find anomalies. If the system alerts that something may not be right, Onfido also can provide a quick manual verification.
To guard against payment fraud, the app uses Stripe to process all card payments. When a user makes a payment in the Sidehide secure hotel booking app, Stripe validates it and then directly sends 90% of the payment directly to the hotel and the other 10%, Sidehide’s commission, to Sidehide.
In its short life, Sidehide has proved its value, both because of its secure nature and because the contactless and touchless aspect of the app has proved to be the perfect fit for current times. Recently, the app teamed with a major partner, allowing it to grow from representing 550 hotel partners in Europe to nearly 30,000 hotels across Europe and North America.
As the company thinks about what it will take to scale globally, it is actively pursuing additional features. One of the most important is finding a way to deal with additional purchases customers make while staying at a hotel. If, for example, they take items from the minibar, Hultin wants those charges to be dealt with in the same contactless and touchless way.
“When customers leave the hotel, they will get a notification with their outstanding balance,” Hultin said. “Once they approve the balance, the same process occurs—it is charged automatically, and 90% goes to the hotel, while 10% goes to Sidehide.”
To ensure against fraud or major expenses—such as a guest taking an expensive bottle of champagne from the room—Sidehide also is looking into adding third-party insurance to protect against liability.
“No insurance company would even consider insuring us against theft if we didn’t have all of these security processes in place,” Hultin said. “Because our security is so verifiable, we are more likely to be able to get that insurance.”