Episode Topic: In this episode of TravelPreneur, our host Megha McSwain interviews Carlo Cisco, the founder, and CEO of SELECT Innovations, a private membership community and concierge service. Here they unravel how SELECT provides its members with exclusive access to events, insider pricing, and discounts at over 1.4 million locations worldwide. Carlo shares insights into the unique benefits SELECT offers and its expansion into a SELECT World Elite Mastercard. The discussion covers the inspecting process for partners, ongoing benefits, improving concierge service, and member satisfaction, highlighting SELECT’s commitment to improving members’ lives through curated experiences.
Lessons You’ll Learn: Get to know how SELECT connects members with exclusive savings and perks across various concierge service categories, from dining to hospitality. Carlo discusses the value proposition for businesses partnering with SELECT, emphasizing higher ticket-size customers and lasting relationships. Discover how SELECT continually updates and adds new benefits for its members, maintaining a 4.9-star rating in app stores. The episode offers a glimpse into the world of exclusive membership programs, showcasing SELECT’s unique approach and commitment to concierge service and customer satisfaction.
About Our Guest: Carlo is a serial entrepreneur known for his early success in helping Miami venues attract customers. He played a pivotal role in turning Groupon Japan into one of the company’s top international markets in just three months. Currently, he serves as the Founder and CEO of SELECT, a private membership community and concierge service that offers exclusive benefits at over 1.5 million partner locations worldwide. SELECT partners with renowned brands across various industries, including restaurants, travel, and retail, providing its 11,000+ members with insider pricing and VIP perks.
Topics Covered: Explore the inner workings of SELECT and how it provides members with exclusive access to benefits worldwide. Learn about the unique perks offered to members, including dining discounts and priority access. Carlo discusses the process of selecting partners and maintaining quality control in the concierge service industry. Discover the ongoing expansion of benefits and how SELECT strives to improve members’ lives. This episode provides valuable insights into the world of the concierge service industry, its membership programs, and the importance of customer satisfaction.
Our Guest: Meet Carlo Cisco, Founder & CEO of SELECT Innovations
Carlo Cisco is a dynamic serial entrepreneur known for his impressive track record in building and growing startups. He began his journey by launching a successful business while still in college, drawing thousands of customers to local Miami venues. Notably, Carlo played a pivotal role in transforming Groupon Japan into one of the company’s most thriving international markets within three months.
Carlo is currently the Founder & CEO of SELECT Innovations, an exclusive club, and service for members. SELECT Innovations offers access to premium events, insider pricing, and VIP perks at thousands of locations worldwide. With over 20,000 members, SELECT Innovations collaborates with renowned brands, including top-rated restaurants, nightlife venues, and global industry leaders.
Because of his skills, Carlo is part of the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) and Forbes Financial Council. Carlo is a well-regarded expert in starting businesses, handling business matters, and marketing. He frequently appears in renowned magazines such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Mashable, and Inc. His dedication to success and innovation is reshaping industries and inspiring young professionals.
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Carlo Cisco: So if you only had the top-tier options during that, then you’re talking about thousands of dollars a night, even with discount. We have actually custom algorithms that will filter effectively for what has the best benefit plus the best star rating. And that’s kind of prioritized for people. We just implemented that on our website. We’re about to bring into our mobile app and it dramatically increased website bookings, interestingly.
Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses. If it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur.
Welcome to TravelPreneur. This is Meghan McSwain. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Carlo Cisco, founder and CEO of SELECT, a private membership community and concierge service that provides access to exclusive events, insider pricing, and discounts to various merchants. Hello, Carlo. Thanks for joining us today.
Carlo Cisco: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Megha McSwain: So can you give me an overview of the SELECT card and its membership community and how does SELECT provide access to these exclusive events and special pricing and all of that?
Carlo Cisco: Yeah, sure. So we built as a digital membership community and concierge service that connects people with exclusive events, savings, and perks at its over 1.4 million locations all across the world. So we went out and partnered with top hotels, restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues, sports teams, really pretty much everything under the sun. A lot of the fun stuff. But we even have like business services and personal assistance and stuff like that too. It’s really just designed to improve as many areas of our members’ lives as possible. Just kind of hitting the ground, creating it. Of course, as it’s grown, we’ve started to see a lot more inbound interest from merchants and partners as well. So it does definitely have some network effects, but a lot of it is us curating those benefits, negotiating them directly, ensuring that they meet the standards of our program best available anywhere not available publicly.
Oftentimes we end up with stuff that’s completely exclusive and then everything has to be ongoing and uncapped as well. We want members to be able to flexibly use the system, use the benefits, and trust that they’re getting the best possible price and experience through SELECT. And what sort of sets the SELECT apart from other membership programs or credit cards that are targeting a similar demographic?
Carlo Cisco: Yeah, that’s a good question. Even today, it’s still the digital membership. However, we are about to offer a credit card option, which we announced earlier this year. So we partnered with Deserve and Mastercard to basically introduce the SELECT World Elite Mastercard, which is going to be a credit card that carries all of the benefits of our membership, plus the benefits that come with Mastercard World Elite and then a cash back. That’s most of the time, 2%, occasionally 1% for a couple of categories. So that’s on the way as well. And kind of a lot of things set it apart from premier membership programs. You know, probably the closest premier membership program you could think of is perhaps Founders Card. They’ve been around since 2008. They’re probably, you could say, one of the pioneers of this kind of model when it comes to quality, right? A lot of people created like savings programs before, but there was never a quality component. There wasn’t really an ongoing component. They weren’t really designed for sort of, like the modern, ambitious, professional shared working schedule with something curated for them. So I do think Founders Card was perhaps one of the first at least successful iterations of that. Our program is quite a bit larger. So we have more hotels, for example, than they do Our average savings on a hotel booking year to date is about like 24.8%. So I think that would actually be towards the top of their possible benefits. And then in addition, all the restaurants that we have, all the nightlife stuff that we have, the events that we do, they don’t really do that. They once upon a time did events. They’ve never touched restaurants. They probably have a few more business benefits than us because they started with foundationally.
We added during the pandemic to help out the business owners in the community. And I would say to their credit, like, that’s probably the next best program. Now, when you get to credit cards, there’s definitely credit cards, where they can give you more than the annual fee back. Amex Platinum, Sapphire Reserve. Those will give you more than the annual fee back. I think Amex often advertises like $1400 or $1500 a year in benefits, something like that. Most of those are pretty specific things like Uber, a travel credit, you know, capped. They have stipulations. You know, it’s kind of like an anecdote, I guess, about how different SELECT is. You know, I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, met with one of our investors. He actually became an investor after being a member, and he computed his savings in a year on SELECT and it was over $20,000. That’s without any cash-back component. That’s about component, right? So like 1400 versus 20 K and then that 20 K doesn’t have a cap. If he was traveling more, that number just goes up and up and up. So that’s a key component that like really the true value is unlimited. Our concierge service is also really good. I know everyone has one, but we tend to have much faster response times, really detailed. It’s basically people that care. I think a lot of companies contract that out. Every concierge on our team is a SELECT employee.
Megha McSwain: I was going to ask kind of how the white glove concierge service works and what can members expect from that because you know, people say it and then you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.
Carlo Cisco: Yeah, that’s a good question. And it’s funny because we like to underpromise over-deliver to an extent. So we kind of position it as being for recommendations, reservations, things related to the program. That said, if you’re traveling somewhere totally random and you want help with itinerary or you want help planning that trip, like we’re going to do that, we’re going to help you out and we’ll have hotel partners there too. That way its global activities and experiences are global they’re in just about every country. I think we’ve got about 10,000 or so. It tends to be pretty robust. You know, we’ll likely introduce higher tiers that just make it like full service eventually, you know, because sometimes help out with like event planning or something like that. But that is a lot of extra logistics for that team for like a 450-a-year membership. So and then I think the other piece that’s a bit of a differentiator is just that everything’s curated and really designed to be like relevant to the demographic. So that’s why so many of these programs kind of stay away from hospitality because it’s a challenging area. Maybe they’ll do priority reservations because they have a reservation system or something like that. That stuff’s easy. Most a lot of like top hotel concierges have that. We have priority reservations at every restaurant. But the tangible benefits there is something that’s pretty unique to us.
Megha McSwain: So you mentioned that you work with obviously lots of vendors worldwide and even more inquiring about being part of the program. But from a travel company’s perspective, how could a luxury tour company or a resort, for example, partner with SELECT, and what is the value proposition to companies? Is it more customers? Higher average ticket size customers? Or is it something else?
Carlo Cisco: It tends to be that higher ticket-size customer for sure, right? Board members. In order to be a part of SELECT, you have to pay that annual fee. We’ve mentioned you apply, you have to be approved. We have turned away thousands of people. It’s an ecosystem. We have to protect the ecosystem. So just like we’ll turn away, merchants will also turn away potential customers. So there’s a real element there, of SELECTivity and then the other thing that they like actually is because we require everything to be ongoing, it’s actually a way to create lasting relationships with customers. And that was one of the key problems that we wanted to solve. When merchants do these like one-off or temporary things, that doesn’t necessarily encourage someone to come back, right? But if it’s a benefit, then it does and they can become like a new high-value customer.
And the other thing that’s cool is like, you know, we’re not charging any of these partners. There’s no one that we’re charging a fee. Sometimes we’re getting some affiliate back, but that’s never the priority and it’s not even often the case. But look, sometimes that happens and that’s great, but only if we can get the best possible benefit, something that’s meaningful for the members. That’s always first and foremost. But there’s one more thing to mention on the hotel side. Now, what we’re starting to see that’s super interesting that’s inbound is actually hotels wanting to access our service for their guests, which I think is really cool. So we did a deal with a few properties. We’ve seen a few reach out about that, you know, where it’s almost like a B2B structure will help power concierge benefits for them. And we make a point of like pushing digital to I’m not sure every hotel understands that, but like, you know, they kind of want everything to go through that in person. Concierge But Gen Z, millennials, if they can live chat someone, if they can get an app interface, even, you know, a week before their trip, week of their trip, whatever, that’s pretty valuable to them. And it just makes everything easy. And we’ve got those activities and experiences, We’ve got those restaurants, really anything that they would want to do. If they want a full itinerary, we’ll do that too. So that’s a new type of partnership we’re doing, and then we’re sort of setting up marketing partnerships on the back end as well, where we’ll offer an incentive to that guest to sign up for a full membership and then kick back something to the.
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Megha McSwain: So you’re kind of mentioning these benefits. Can you elaborate on some of the perks that SELECT members can expect to receive? Specifically, some of the more unique benefits that might appeal to them?
Carlo Cisco: Sure. You’re probably the most unique category is going to be dining, and that’s where you’re going to see like that mixture of savings and experiential benefits. And one quick thing to highlight there, too, is that’s for your whole party. We’ll have a party cap or like a per-membership cap, something like that. We’re actually fans of per-membership caps because that benefits us to a certain extent. You know, people can go, but there are places to go. You can have 20 people and everyone gets the benefit in that category is typically going to be priority access plus like, you know, 15 to 30% off the bill or like a free round of drinks, perhaps free appetizers someplace doing different types of Selections, right? Most other categories, you’re typically going to see the focus on savings, but that also elevates the experience. I would argue if you can book 4 or 5-star hotel for the price of a 2 or 3-star hotel, that elevates your whole experience. And we do have properties that will add like, I don’t know, late checkout or, you know, those type free breakfasts, those types of benefits. We definitely have some of that. But we’ve always seen people gravitate towards the monetary benefits and I think that actually provides the most flexibility and also actually the best experience because the guest gets to dictate their own experience. You’re not telling them what to do.
Megha McSwain: So how does SELECT ensure the quality and exclusivity of the partners that you have, like elite restaurants, hotels? I mean, you can’t be everywhere around the world and you can’t have experience, all of them. So what’s your vetting system? How do you kind of go about that?
Carlo Cisco: Initially, like we actually did do that we would go to these places before bringing them.
Megha McSwain: The really tough work.
Carlo Cisco: That doesn’t scale, right? You need to be able to expand the network. So we rely a lot on reviews, media, and we also have a feedback with our members too, right? So like they’re going to let us know if they think something’s a poor experience or whatever. And we have removed partners for not having a good experience, even if their reviews are great, right? Thankfully, we’re curating things well enough that we don’t often need to do that, but that can occur and we actually do. Since this is a travel show, we do make like one flexible area for hotels because we think there’s different travel use cases basically. So we like to be able to provide a wide array of inventory in that category. Maybe, you know, for example, like I remember going to San Francisco when it was like the Salesforce conference, whatever that’s called Dreamforce. I think we’re totally insane, right? Like, totally, totally insane. So if you only had the top-tier options during that, then you’re talking about thousands of dollars a night. Even with discount, we have actually custom algorithms that will filter effectively for what has the best benefit plus the best star rating. That’s kind of prioritized for people. We just implemented that on our website. We’re about to bring it to our mobile app and it dramatically increased website bookings, interestingly.
Megha McSwain: Cool. So in what ways does the lack continually update or add new benefits for its members? Is that like an ongoing thing or can you share examples of any recent additions?
Carlo Cisco: For sure, yeah. So we probably add at least the last couple of years about 200 or so new benefits per year. And that has to sort of like keep pace with membership growth and 200 benefits can be more locations, right? So these are individual relationships. So every month there’s new things for every single member, right? There’s going to be new national benefits. There will be new hotels, there might be new restaurants in your area. That depends on where you live. That’s the more challenging area of the program. So you have to kind of pick your pick your battles there a bit. But this year we’ve done a really good job of expanding a lot of like the categories and use cases with a bit more of a national focus. So I think last year actually of that 200 number like hospitality was over 80% of it. So we were really adding a lot of those benefits.
This year it’s about 5050 between hospitality and the other business areas, with some recent examples, including like the Yankees, the Mets, Chewy, you know, like Cannes, which is an interesting one. But for people that aren’t familiar, that’s like a THC-infused drink that’s actually legal. But it’s cool. I think there’s kind of an anti-alcohol trend, right? So like we always want to like hedge and make sure that we’re providing as many use cases as possible. Chomp’s Health Aide, those are some other big national brands that are in there. And our team does a really great job of getting high-quality brands, which is cool. We really like that. So those have been some big areas for expansion. I think we added over a dozen sports teams this year, actually easily added over a dozen. Also things like the Miami Open and F1, we started doing things with that. Yeah, so we’re always growing it. You know, the mission is to basically improve our members lives by improving the way businesses and customers can act. So we’re working every day on that mission.
Megha McSwain: Nice. So the website mentions that SELECT offers unpublished rates at over 1.3 million hotels worldwide. Can you share how SELECT is able to secure those exclusive rates and ensure a high level of savings for the members?
Carlo Cisco: For sure. Hotels is an interesting area. Basically what happens online is there’s an OTA and that’s like Priceline, Expedia for those unfamiliar travel agency kind of OTA dominance. So that creates like a pricing parody across the Internet. We’re a private paid-by-application membership, so the rules that apply to all the public sites do not apply to SELECT. And this is true, both of us are able to go out and set up different rates. And then in terms of scale, obviously there’s partnerships with big groups like a Hyatt or an IHG, but we also have a big partnership with with Priceline Booking and some of the other affiliated entities there, and that’s a strong relationship so we have a really good setup from them.
Megha McSwain: Well, can you speak to the overall member satisfaction and feedback received for SELECT? Like, are there any success stories or testimonials that you have at the top of your head that you can share with us?
Carlo Cisco: Yeah, I mean, there’s a great one sitting right on the app store. Don’t want to butcher it, but it’s basically about how we helped improve all these different areas of someone’s life and a shout-out to a lot of specific members on the concierge team, reviews on the App Store, Google Play, or both 4.9 and with hundreds of reviews. So it’s not like loose count or anything like that. And maybe another recent one, and we started collecting them actually because they’re fun to see and cool too. Another recent one that I did share on social was someone actually commenting that Centurion could learn a thing or two from us. Of course, I liked that one.
Megha McSwain: I’m sure. Well, that’s great. So if our listeners want to follow up with you or what you have going on with SELECT or get in touch, where best can they find you?
Carlo Cisco: Yeah. So meet select.com. and AG select.com. The website for the credit card is also up. Now that’s selectcard.co. And then just my name on all social channels. SELECT is almost always SELECTcard on Instagram or the SELECTcard.
Megha McSwain: Cool. Well, great. Thank you so much, Carlo. Wonderful. Getting all of this insight from you. We look forward to speaking with you again in the future and keeping up with SELECT. And we really appreciate your time.
Carlo Cisco: Thank you so much for having me.
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