In a world where going contactless is the new way of life, Sebiya aims to be the top tech company helping hospitality companies go contactless. The brainchild of Samella Watson, Sebiya is an all-in-one Guest Experience System designed to empower Vacation Rental Companies with the technology needed to provide full-service travel experiences for their guests digitally.
In a recent interview with Hy-Lo News Founder Janey Tate, we discussed with this Miami-based founder why she launched this business, how this technology can help small businesses, and her new “Less is More” initiative with the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association.
Janey Tate: What inspired you to start your company Sebiya? How did you come up with the name and does it have a special meaning?
Samella Watson: Sebiya started while I was working at a hotel in South Beach. I was unhappy and often saw missed opportunities when it came to the guest experiences. Unfortunately, things fell through the cracks due to human error, money was being left on the table from agents not upselling and the industry was using old school processes to manage the day-to-day operations. I rebranded from My-Cierge back at the end of 2020 and relaunched as Sebiya, which means “Gift of God” in South Africa when spelled this way Sibiya. I just added the E instead of the I.
Janey: That’s a cool meaning for a cool name… So how did your upbringing growing up affect how you do business and why you went into business?
Samella: Actually, if you would have told me growing up that I was going to be an entrepreneur, I would have not believed you. I did not grow up learning or knowing entrepreneurship. It wasn’t until I moved to Miami and found myself unhappy with trying to climb the corporate ladder when I was gifted with the idea. I would say the fact that I was always a very independent kid and always found a way to do things has definitely helped me as an entrepreneur these days as it applies to being resourceful and taking the road less traveled.
Janey: That’s very true. You definitely need those skills as an entrepreneur…. You mentioned moving. Are you from South Florida? If so, where? If not, where are you from and can you share what brought you here?
Samella: I was born and raised in Chicago. Of course, the weather brought me here back in 2012– although I didn’t have a job or family here– the craving for a new life came over me and I went with it. I just recently celebrated my 9 year anniversary of moving to Miami on Sept 15th.
Janey: That’s what’s up. Congrats!… I want to know more about your drive to run this tech company. What would you say sets you apart from your competitors?
Samella: My team and I have a combined 25+ years of hospitality experience, in areas such as operations, team development & guests experience which allowed us to create from the point of view of both the travelers and hotel staff. So when we began creating Sebiya we built from a place of experience and knowledge and wanted to ensure we made it seamless and easy for both users. There are other things that set us apart, but I can’t be just giving away our secret sauce that easily (lol).
Janey: I feel you girl, you don’t have to give away your business secrets to the world (lol).… So tell me more about what has your journey been like starting up a tech company in Miami?
Samella: One thing I had in my favor when I first began was, I did NOT know the stats were not in my favor as a Black Female Founder in Tech, so I did not build from a place of feeling jaded or defeated. I walked in this journey with confidence and knowledge of my own skill, which was originally a bonus. But as I began to grow and learn more about the tech world, I quickly understood the game and started playing to win. As a self-taught and self-funded entrepreneur and now that Miami is an emerging tech hub, I believe it has definitely increased my chances of success coupled with the fact that we are also a major tourist industry here.
Janey: Facts. The changing tech landscape in Miami will help more businesses…. What has been one of your major challenges as an entrepreneur that you overcame? Has being a Black woman business owner affected this?
Samella: A common and major challenge as a Black Female Tech founder is the community always wants to help but often only offers mentorship but not capital to invest in our ventures. I had to personally bootstrap almost $100k to get to my current stage as I didn’t have the luxury of asking for funding prior to proof of my skill to make it happen. We are over mentored and underfunded as a Black tech community, but we are slowly seeing changes on the fundraising side. And I hope to be a face of that change as we are currently raising our pre-seed round now.
Janey: Congrats on your pre-seed round, but you definitely dropped hard facts about the Black Tech community here in Miami. I agree with you. I hope that begins to change as well. Speaking of change, I see you’re really about that life and proving it with your new initiative. Tell me more about the “Less is More” initiative with the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association (GMBHA). Why did you want to be a part of this and what are you hoping to gain from this experience?
Samella: I had the opportunity to present this initiative to GMBHA as we both understood our community of hoteliers is facing a staffing shortage but the travelers are still coming into Miami hence the “less is more” name. So my initial goal was to help them ensure their guest experiences were not suffering along the way while ensuring they digitize their operations. Again I was creating Sebiya prior to the pandemic but our software has proven to be much more of a must-have solution in the midst of the pandemic especially as it relates to the new norms of offering contactless services and experience to both their team and guests.
Janey: What advice would you have for anyone wanting to get into the startup tech industry and explain what that landscape is like to maneuver in Miami?
Samella: I would tell anyone who wants to get into tech or even entrepreneurship that it’s not easy, otherwise everyone would do it, but you can absolutely win when you are building from a place of need. Ensure there is a need for your idea and validate it as cheap and quickly as possible. There are so many different communities here that help early-stage startups and the most important thing you can do is simply start. I would also ensure that your founding team is extremely resourceful and understands “NO” can truly mean not right now so keep working towards your dreams even if it seems no one is cheering.
Janey: That was dope. Thanks, Samella for sharing your story with us. Please share how people can connect with your company?
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Refresh Miami has teamed up with Hy-Lo News to bring you the untold stories of Black People helping to shape the tech scene in Miami. Hy-Lo News is South Florida’s only news blog dedicated to Black and Brown Millennials. Through this partnership Refresh, Miami will bring you in-depth profiles of tech professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders who are taking their rightful place in Miami-Dade County’s tech boom. If you know of anyone in the space we should profile please email Janey Tate, Hy-Lo News Editor-in-Chief, at [email protected]
- Sebiya aims to lead way in digitizing travel experiences and launches ‘Less is More’ initiative for Miami Beach hotels - October 1, 2021
- Marketing pro Michael Hall on building brands, advocating for inclusion in #MiamiTech - August 26, 2021
- Meet a Miami startup building a multicultural, multilingual podcast network - March 21, 2021