Out of Office
Out of Office is a travel recommendation platform creating personalized suggestions on where to go and what to do based on a traveler's preferences and network.
The Chicago-based startup raised $3.5 million in 2022 from private investors both within and outside travel.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
Out of Office is the new travel essential. We are a travel recommendation platform that provides personalized recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, what to do and more, in every city. The Out of Office platform aggregates the top destinations, hotels, restaurants and more, customized to your preferences, based on who you follow and gives you personalized, reviewed, travel suggestions from those you trust and admire (your personal friends and favorite influencers). The platform also allows you to browse and save your friend’s travel wishlists and past trip experiences to inspire future travel of your own.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
Tech aspects - We have built a recommendation engine that doubles as a personalization engine. When it comes to trip planning, we give you personalized recommendations for your trip based on your interactions in OOO including, who you follow, where you live, and where you’re going. This allows us to get to know our users and provide helpful suggestions of where to go next.
Business aspects - In 2022, Out of Office grew its total user base 11,000% and raised a $3.5 round from investors like The Points Guy CEO Brian Kelly, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis, former Orbitz chief product officer Chris Brown, former Bumble COO Sarah Jones Simmer and more, to continue to democratize travel by giving people easy access to trusted recommendations and simplifying the planning process.
We are a user generated content platform and all of our 200,000 recommendations are generated by our community. We have partnered with other brands in the past (Penguin Random House, Wander Vacation Homes, Alto Rideshare) to share differentiated content with each of their audiences.
The brand currently is partnered with restaurant-reservation service, OpenTable, that allows its users to book reservations at any of the 60,000-plus restaurants that are on OpenTable, directly within the Out of Office app.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company
- Strengths: Our ux/ui, the product, our brand, our marketing strategy, our community.
- Weaknesses: Travel is competitive but it's also a massive industry. So there’s a lot of opportunity in being successful, but it won’t be easy.
- Opportunities: There is a white space in the market for what we want to build. The younger generation does not use Tripadvisor or Yelp to get recommendations.
- Threats: Incumbents. There are some larger players in this space that have the resources to take a stab at this problem we are solving.
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
OOO is making great travel more accessible by rewriting what great travel looks like and who can access it, i.e. cutting out the luxury travel agent by employing celebrities and influencers to share their experiences and recommendations to all users directly on the app.
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Our innovations are also allowing brands and companies within the travel industry to remain resilient despite how travel is shifting with evolving work & home life. The company is enabling hospitality brands and cities and their tourism boards to continue to be accessible and discoverable to the millennial consumer base, through a new-age platform dedicated solely to sharing great travel recommendations. OOO does the hard work of providing a user-friendly travel platform that caters to the millennial consumer and their ever-changing priorities and invites new and historical travel-oriented and hospitality institutions to be a part of this new wave.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
At OOO, we believe that our platform is only as good as the network you create. We know that our users want recommendations from people that matter to them–friends, family and lifestyle influencers that feel like a genuine part of your life. We partner with lifestyle influencers who share their travel recommendations out to their multitude of followers.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on our core customer. We are highly focused on creating a dynamic travel brand for millennial and Gen Z women. Millennials will make up the majority of travel spend in 2022 and are traveling now more than pre pandemic. We understand this target market's needs for recommendations from people that matter to them.
How and when will you make money?
In the future OOO will be an end-to-end platform that includes booking via multiple channels. The bookings will generate revenue via affiliate commissions as well as other unique product offerings.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?
CEO & co-founder – Janine Seale started her career in financial planning and merchandising at Gap Inc., building product verticals for Gap and Old Navy, and then moved on to join the leadership team at Trunk Club as one of the first 20 employees. After helping steer Trunk Club toward its acquisition by Nordstrom in 2014, Jan then joined Havenly’s executive team to help drive innovation and strategy at the rapidly growing business.
COO & Co-Founder – Coabi Kastan started her career in television production at Warner Brothers and made sure to win an Emmy before leaving the world of TV for a career in consumer. Coabi spent the past 14 years at rapidly growing consumer companies, including a decade at venture backed startups, before co-founding Out of Office. Like Janine, Coabi was one of the first 20 employees at Trunk Club where she served as the vice president of sales, post-acquisition. Coabi then moved on to join Cameo in 2018 as their VP of talent relations, overseeing influencer relations and customer services teams.
How have you addressed diversity and inclusion within your business?
As a black and female co-founded business we are highly focused on ensuring that our business is inclusive both internally within the team as well as externally with the users we attract, the influencers we work with, and the businesses that we highlight.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
The most challenging parts of founding this business have been in the details. On any given day there are 1000 competing priorities with very few resources so you have to be sure that you are focused on the right thing at the right time. Secondly, you will always hear a lot of doubts or reasons why the business won’t succeed and your ability to weather that storm on a daily basis is critical to success.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of the lucky ones?
OOO is providing solutions to a variety of travel issues. On the consumer side, it is making great travel more accessible by rewriting what great travel looks like and who can access it, i.e. cutting out the luxury travel agent by employing celebrities and influencers to share their experiences and recommendations to all users directly on the app. On the business side, OOO is providing a solution for creators to give accessible information to their followers in an easier format and hospitality brands more visibility and discovery, by creating a travel-centric social space for them to exist in.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?
A year from now OOO will be a true end to end travel platform, that begins with inspiration and curated content from people that matter to you, allows you to browse, plan and collaborate and book all with the assistance of highly personalized technology.
What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)
At the end of the day we want to dynamically change the way people travel. While we would love to get acquired or go public the most important thing is for us to positively impact the lives of our users.
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