Kenavo is a new metasearch website from France that is taking on the Skyscanners and Kayaks of the world by answering the question of "how do I get from A to B" a little differently.
Unlike major metasearch sites, Kenavo adds a multimodal layer. It plans to help travelers compare the speed and cost of journeys door-to-door, instead of just airport-to-airport, though at launch it only has limited data partnerships.
Kenovo claims to calculate, in less than one second, all of the possible flights between two places (with no need to name specific airports). It displays the best options in terms of optimal flight time, time to the airport, ticket cost, flight times, and dates.
For any given itinerary, it attempts to let travelers know whether it is better to leave on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday evening, or perhaps to leave from a different airport nearby.
The co-founders, Guillaume Paillet and Jean-Christophe Janicot, are experienced in the travel startup game.
They previously co-founded Alibabuy, a travel search engine in France, acquired in 2008 by Easyvoyage, Touslesprix.com, (one of the main shopping search engine in France), and EanFind (a shopping search engine across Europe).
Kenavo has website versions for 15 countries: the US, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, France, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Taiwan, China, New Zealand, and Japan.
A Q&A with Guillaume Paillet:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
Like many people, we’ve often spent hours trying out all the different possible airport and date combinations to find the best compromise between the cheapest flight and the shortest door-to-door journey time.
We think we've built a better solution to this problem than what else is already available on the market.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Kenavo has two co-founders: Guillaume Paillet (CEO) and Jean-Christophe Janicot (CTO). Both of us have been in the Internet industry since 1998.
We are currently self-funded.
Estimation of market size?
Travel metasearch is a huge market, as approximately one out of two European travellers now uses vertical search engines to find his flight, hotel or car rental.
I would say that Kenavo is positioning itself between “traditional” flight search engines like Kayak, Google flight search, Hipmunk, etc., and multi-modal travel sites like GoEuro, Rome2rio, RouteRank, etc.
Traditional flight search engines are not considering all of the possible flights between two places (that are not only airports) and they request their users to already know where (departure/arrival airport) and when (days of the week) they can get the shortest flight at the lower cost.
Multi-modal travel websites are very good for planning a door-to-door itinerary with several transportation modes, such as train, bus, and plane.
But most of them require exact travel dates in order to display routing info and schedules. The others are often not very accurate when it comes to flight data (no monthly schedules, no seasonal flights, etc.)
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We use an external API to display real-time airfares for a specific date and to refer users to OTA and airlines. Thus, we make money from referral clicks.
What problem does the business solve?
Many trip planning and purchase questions:
Which airport is the best to leave or arrive from, in order to get the cheapest airfare and shortest travel time?
Should I leave on Saturday morning or on Friday night?
The way that Kenavo works is ultra-simple: all users have to do is enter the start and end points of their journey: these could be cities, villages, islands, countries, mountains, or wherever you want to go; and then choose the month of departure.
Sometimes, it’s better to travel a bit further to get to an airport where the competition between different airlines, and/or the presence of budget airlines lowers the price of flights to certain destinations.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
Kenavo was initially focused on the best flight options for a specific date. We were solving one of the problems because users didn’t have to enter an airport as a departure or arrival place.
But, they still had to test several combination of travel dates in order to be sure they got the good compromise between journey duration and flight ticket cost.
We decided to radically improve Kenavo technology and allow users to enter only their departure month. Thus, they were able to get the best flight options with schedules and departure days for any airports on any given month.
To do so, we developed an algorithm which calculates all the theoretically possible flights between two destinations (with or without layovers) and which displays their timetables for the ten upcoming months.
Thanks to this algorithm, flights that are not displayed by the GDS--sometimes for technical and sometimes for commercial reasons--are accessible on Kenavo.com (which, in such cases, will then show users the flights numbers with links to the airlines’ sites so that they can reserve them).
We think this may equate to roughly 15% of existing flights, which are sometimes cheaper or more direct.
So, Kenavo is now one of the only travel search engine that does not solely rely on a GDS to provide reliable flight information for the next 10 months.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Probably because it’s very simple (no need to provide the airport city name as a departure or arrival point), probably because it is time-saving (no need to try airports and travel dates combination), and probably because it’s exhaustive (all flights, including the ones that are not displayed by GDS, are listed).
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition?
To be honest, we are still working on it.
We know that we want to build a brand, we know that we don't want to rely on search engine optimization.
We believe Kenavo can be social if we learn how to promote it that way. We are working on a mobile application to go in this direction and we are quite confident in Kenavo’s capacities to demonstrate a social use and appeal to users of social media.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Our first challenge was to make a great product that matches users needs when they have to search for an airplane ticket. Our next challenge is having as many people as possible testing Kenavo.com.
We are currently working on adding train transportation, with the same approach that we have for flights: super-fast, accurate and intelligent (best options only).
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
Nothing is wrong, it's just that like any industry that is working on the same model: the existing model works just fine so why change it?
Since we sold our last company in 2008, no innovation has come from the established players. Only newcomers have made significant innovations in the travel industry.
We believe Kenavo is part of a new generation of travel search engines that simplify and improve the user experience for finding the best flight options.
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
My personal feeling is that we are probably close to any company that has a disruptive approach of its market and who is user-centric.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
We are focus on expanding our company and we are not considering this option for the moment but we are interested in establishing a strategic partnership with a community driven website.
Describe your startup in three words?
Disruptive, innovative, user-centric.
In many parts of the world, rail, bus and (increasingly) car-sharing are competitive travel alternatives to airplanes. So it is important to have a metasearch site that compares across multiple options.
Kenavo has clearly hit on a trend here, but it's not alone. Gopili is attempting something similar, and already has a stronger connection with local rail in France.
Germany's GoEuro is much better capitalized at trying to provide a search option that overlaps in style.
Even the European Commission and Europe's largest GDS, Amadeus, are interested in tackling aspects of the same problem.
So are other startups. Italy has Wanderio. Swiss-based RouteRank has long been a pioneer.
Kenavo does have a speed advantage by returning timetables outside of a global distribution system. It's the calls to a GDS's feeds that can slow down metasearch.
But it may need to add data for inter-city bus routes, from a data provider like Wanderu, and rail, from a data provider like Loco2 or CapitaineTrain, to bring comprehensiveness.
UPDATE:Rome2Rio is still a category leader in traffic by wide margin, according to analytics by SimilarWeb and Alexa.
"Speed wins", especially as mobile becomes the preferred platform of consumers.
But there are still open questions. Does Kenavo has product market fit? Is the startup really answering the question consumers want? Is it really presenting those answers in a way customers prefer?
We wish Kenavo's founders the best, and are eager to see what they do next.