Spreading some travel startup love beyond the Silicon ValleyNewsBy Viewpoints | February 28, 2014Share This article was originally published on "Travel is just not what we like to do," said a venture capitalist who also runs an accelerator here in Atlanta.He then compared the industry to healthcare and mentioned the challenges of regulation, technology and just being so darn big and broad that it can often be hard to get your arms around it.NB: This is a viewpoint from Bill Maloney, founder of FeeZing.The cyclical nature of travel and slim margins weren’t particularly appealing to the VC either. All of us in the industry know this already. But hearing it from an outsider, who is constantly looking at startups and new companies, was enlightening.It was also just one lesson as a founder of a travel startup. As a veteran of the industry but as a first-time founder, there were a few other lessons I encountered that might help startups across our sector and those mentors and investors looking to find the next great travel company.Beyond Y Combinator and RunUp LabsStartups need support for a variety of reasons. At FeeZing we engaged VCs and local incubators, not for their capital, but for their structure and mentorship.My partner and I had both been part of new business units and young companies, but this was our first 'from scratch' experience. We built our product and supported ourselves with a little seed money and by bootstrapping.Despite a lot of labor, our database wasn’t cash intensive, so we never really needed money. What we needed was less tangible and probably what the travel industry and its startups are missing. We need more access to travel incubators or at least the incubator model and mentorship.The best incubators help the entrepreneurs shape ideas, hone pitches and pivot as necessary. While the travel industry has RunUp Labs and there have been travel success stories out of Techstars, maybe we need to transport those models to something more entrepreneurs could do remotely?Why? Because, if you have 10-15 years of travel industry experience, you also probably have mortgages and families that don’t allow you to drop everything and move across country to an incubator for three months.Disconnect between Silicon Valley culture and travel industry experienceSo many success stories come out of Silicon Valley because the ideas, the talent, the money, the networks and the startup culture are all there. There aren’t a lot of travel industry veterans there though (relatively speaking).The cost of living and the lack of multiple legacy travel companies, means you won’t find as many travel vets as you would in Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta.Through this process I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) without travel backgrounds who are learning about our industry as they try to build travel companies. If there were more of us out there, perhaps there would be more Airbnbs and Hipmunks.Conversely as we built our product, networking with investors and figuring out what to do next, we lacked access to the VCs, incubators and mentors that are so prevalent in the Bay Area.I had plenty of travel people giving us feedback, advice and referrals but few, who had been in our shoes before bootstrapping a business, or navigating the early stages of a company.Atlanta has a growing startup culture, but it still doesn’t permeate throughout the area like it does in Northern California. Some of our growing pains might have been a little different had we been immersed in the Silicon Valley environment.They can’t all be billion dollar ideasOur company is data driven with tools to help travel sellers and travel consumers. We never saw ourselves as disruptors. And, while we sell B2B data, we aren’t transaction heavy with the promise of tens of millions in early sales.When a lot of VCs heard our pitch, we were just too small a concept. They are looking for home runs, not to get on base. Given the typical VC portfolio and startup success rate, that makes sense.But, do these travel companies with these new venture units have the same goals? Should they?Based on trade news, most of the travel company venture units are just backing companies that were already VC darlings.Perhaps smaller travel-focused companies should be the focus of travel company venture efforts. Then the travel companies can focus on providing the right balance or mentorship, capital and business contacts.The next generation of travel companiesThere have been plenty of travel startup success stories. There needs to be more. But we cannot leave it just in the hands of VCs who are indifferent towards our industry, or young entrepreneurs who do not know the intricacies of travel.Some of the early steps are working. We just need more of them and we need to do a better job of connecting the people, ideas, experience, money and methodology.NB: This is a viewpoint from Bill Maloney, founder of FeeZing.NB2: Mentoring and suitcase images via Shutterstock.