Lola is a bit of a tease.
The next-generation travel booking app debuted in the US Apple App Store today, after a half-year of buzz from the Boston-based behind it, which was founded by former top employees of online travel success story Kayak and which has received $19.7 million in funding.
While anyone can download it, the app remains in invitation-only mode for now. The company has kept the app invite-only because it has only 15 travel consultants, based at its Boston headquarters, to handle booking requests from users.
In phase two (most likely in the summer), the startup plans to open a call center (most likely in Europe), which could scale up to about 100 consultants. As more capacity is added, the app will come out of startup mode
Lola (a mashup of "longitude" and "latitude") is a mobile app that aims to connect consumers -- via an instant-messaging style interface -- with a team of agents who use next-generation technology to provide care before, during, and after a trip.
The company behind believes it can give "superpowers" to travel agents -- which it calls consultants because some don't have traditional agency experience -- by providing them with software tools that are more sophisticated, thanks to a touch of artificial intelligence.
These tools aim to help agents find inventory and put together itineraries more efficiently. A "personalization engine" has been built to enable agents to offer relevant recommendations based on customers' past actions and stated preferences.
What's it like designing a travel booking app for the on-demand, mobile-first era? Does having raised $19.7 million give Lola more runway than the typical travel startup (others are attempting a similar proposition)?
To find out, we caught up with CEO Paul English and CMO Rob Birge while they were visiting New York City this week. Here's the interview. Apologies for the rough-and-ready editing. Paul English is speaking at the start of the 25-minute interview, via SoundCloud.