Tagible is one of five startups about to graduate from Travelport Labs Accelerator program.
The company has a background in real estate but saw huge potential for its concept in travel and therefore sought a travel-specific accelerator program.
Tagible aggregates rich content (images including 360, video etc) for hotels, destinations, tours and activities from across the internet and enables companies to easily integrate it into their websites and therefore drive engagement and conversion.
Co-founder Judah Musick acknowledges that while the team did not know who Travelport was at first, just over two months on, it is working with some big travel brands as a direct result of the accelerator.
"We knew very little when we applied. It was a shot in the dark. It’s a big travel company and we were sceptical to be honest. We had a business that was fairly successful but we were sold by the people and their promises to us."
Musick describes the experience so far as "intense" but says the startup has gained invaluable contacts and is working with about 20 mentors across different internal business units as well as segments in travel.
"We’re learning how they operate, how they value themselves, how they make money and working across divisions from OTA to hospitality, destination marketing and the API. It’s about meeting up with those teams to see if we can add value and how can they do their job better. The accelerator has done a very good job in terms of infiltrating the different business units in a positive way."
Another benefit has been honest feedback from travel customers for the startups to take away and implement with some making immediate changes to improve their businesses as a result.
David Lovett-Hume, co-founder of Asemblr, another startup in the accelerator, admits the constructive criticism has been "uncomfortable to take at times but necessary to succeed."
The online startup for all things corporate meetings from venues to food and entertainment, had a slightly different beginning to other businesses in the accelerator, and feels lucky to have landed a place.
Lovett-Hume also has high praise for the access to mentors admitting that the sort of analytical approach was much needed as a startup.
"As with most entrepreneurs you can fly by the seat of your pants and get excited about things and get other people excited so to have access to people, like Richard Grote, who have done it before, was invaluable."
Asemblr is an interesting candidate because it did not really fit Travelport’s criteria. The company looks for teams with the right skill set to develop an existing product and get market validation. It also wants some market traction and a complete vision to carry it forward.
"We hoped it would lead to some kind of commitment from them to build or start building out the platform. They made it apparent we needed to take on a technical co-founder. Since then, we’ve made great strides and will launch in early June."
What the startup did have was an important fourth requirement - companies that fit well with Travelport’s strategy.
Asemblr’s natural fit with Travelport’s ‘Beyond Air’ strategy will have played a part in its acceptance.
"It’s a very clever strategy. They understand they need to diversify and being involved in an early stage with companies that could disrupt them shows they recognise it’s far better be a business partner than hide away from it."
Neal Belovay, co-founder of PicThrive, echoes much of the same sentiment of Tagible and Asemblr in terms of the support and access to a pool of knowledge and experience.
He acknowledges how hard the travel market is to understand and break into so also sought an accelerator that knew the travel market.
PicThrive is a platform for tours and activities providers to sell images of the experiences to consumers after the experience has taken place. It’s a market that is traditionally low-tech and seasonal.
Belovay describes the experience as “one of the best decisions of our lives.”
"We’ve created our product based on information learned in the accelerator and through mentors and really taken it to a new level. It’s a much better product and operation."
Invaluable from his point of view has been the help in understanding customer needs better.
"If that critical aspect of your business is not met then no one is going to use it. It has really put us in the right direction of solving the right problem."
Come mid-June the current class will participate in a demo day and hopefully be at a stage to go to the next level in terms of potential investment, customers and connections.
Both the startups and accelerator itself, launched just 12 months ago, have come a long way.
What started as an internal incubator has shaped itself into a startup accelerator open to travel startups globally. Originally conceived as an in-house innovation program, Travelport Labs subsequently decided to open the program more widely to gauge interest. The results have been impressive with the first class attracting more than 70 applicants – for only one open spot.
Elements such as the number of startups participating, how many classes to run annually and even how long to run each class for have all been developed since the initial launch.
The program now accepts up to five startups for each 16 week class. It is heavily mentor driven and focuses on driving the teams to validate their business idea through intensive market testing.
Nathan Bobbin, senior director, product innovation for Travelport, explains:
"There have been significant changes as a direct result of the first class. The biggest was critical mass in terms of the number of startups. There’s a lot of benefit to having many founders working together in the same physical space and it’s far more interesting for mentors and investors to show up and talk to multiple teams. We did ourselves a disservice in starting too small."
There are already clear benefits on both sides with Travelport being immersed in the lean startup culture and the startups getting access to simple things such as office space as well as much more fundamental needs such as access to mentors, technologies such as IBM Watson, investors and resellers.
"Our program is unique. It is the only startup accelerator dedicated to travel startups and fully funded and operated inside a travel company. The most challenging aspect of starting a new product business is solving the right problem. Most startups fail because they solve a problem that not enough people care about. Our program is designed to validate that critical component of the founder’s business as quickly and cheaply as possible."
The travel specific nature of Travelport Labs also comes out overwhelmingly as the element that clinched it for all three startups.
NB: This article was written for Travelport by Tnooz deputy editor Linda Fox. It appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative.
NB2: This is the first of a four-part series aimed at following startups through the Travelport accelerator and uncovering the experiences of all parties. Look out for part two in June which will look at the nuts and bolts of the accelerator as well as insight from the mentors.