NewsOlset grabs first funding round, grows via personal assistant appThis article was originally published onBy Sean O'Neil | January 16, 2014 Olset, a start-up that makes an automated virtual travel agent, says today that it has completed its first tranche of external funding, securing $500,000.The lead investor is Montage Ventures. Others pitching in funds include Plug & Play Tech Center, GVA Capital, XG Ventures, 500 Startups, and a string of angel investors.Olset (pronounced “all set”) detects when a traveler may have an upcoming trip and autosuggests three hotels based on either their preferences or their Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz booking history.The startup, which is in San Francisco and has four employees, plans to use the funding to hire another engineer and "increase throughput and production", says a spokesperson. It will continue to raise money as part of its February demo days in California and New York City.The company has expanded its advisory board, too. Giampiero Ambrosi, the former GM of Virtual Tourist and a former GM at TripAdvisor; Ellen Keszler, the one-time president of Travelocity for Business; and Steve Bennet, an angel investor, now fill out the five-person board.Rapid build-outOlset is primarily a focused on hotels, suggesting three options per search based on preferences provided by a user that's matched against a database of opinions culled from natural-language searches across the Internet and TripAdvisor data.The startup says it has compiled a database of 15 million "sentiments" trawled from sources such as hotel's own website reviews and comments on hotel brand pages. In any given review it finds, there may be several "sentiments", such as one evaluation of the concierge and another comment on the swimming pool. Olset categorizes the comments for up to 60 attributes (concierge; swimming pool, etc.).In early February, Olset will graduate from the three-month 500 Startups accelerator program.Promising user acquisition modelNearly all of its users are coming in through partnerships, and the company plans to grow through B2B deals rather than try to build a consumer base directly. The first partnership has been with Any.Do, most downloaded task management app on the Android mobile platform.Last December Olset completed its full integration with the Android version of Any.Do. (Most of Any.Do's users are on Android, though there's also an iOS version.)Olset says it has been receiving significant mobile user traffic thanks to the partnership. There are other virtual-system providers and it is in "active discussions" with a couple of them.Olset's participation at the PhoCusWright travel innovation conference also drew partnership discussions from larger travel brands interested in its white-label offering.UX revampOn January 15 the company revamped the user experience (UX) of its homepage to boost conversions. It also added four traveler types -- luxury, practical business, budget, and sightseer -- for users to self-select to receive more accurate recommendations.Company president Gad Bashvitz says: "We started with the German-style mathematical layer and now we've added an Italian-style emotional layer to reduce friction and increase sign-ups."Share this quote For more, visit the Olset site and see Tnooz's profile of the startup.