The company is a subscription-based online travel platform that uses artificial intelligence to match users with the best travel options.
The company, which plans to launch in the coming weeks, is currently in beta and has five suppliers.
What is your 30-second pitch to investors?
aiTravelers is an online subscription marketplace that automates the travel booking process for our customers through artificial intelligence.
We allow our subscribers to continuously develop a profile and based on their preferences, habits, and budget, we connect them with suppliers according to their distribution goals; providing dynamic pricing and the most optimal fit for your money...travel without the search.
The past 20 years has shown three major inflections in the travel industry, each time creating new innovation and growth.
However, one thing that has become clear is that the rebound from unfortunate events is unpredictable. Moving forward, our platform will provide suppliers with on-demand travelers to meet unmet capacity and plan for the bounce back rather than inaccurately try to predict this.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.
We have decided to take a new approach to how we will do business within the industry. We are approaching the market as a subscription service which will enable us to understand our customers thoroughly.
Today, the typical trip planning process takes customers 6 weeks, searching 120 - 160 sites, and leaving their carts abandoned 92% of the time on average.
Our insight to the subscribers will give a constant feedback loop to the suppliers in order for them to support the market versus predicting the market.
Traditionally, the suppliers are paying ancillary fees and commissions through GDS and traditional OTA’s; aiTravelers is approaching our agreements with suppliers to be as low overhead as possible.
We are looking to create software license agreements to support the development and continued innovation of the marketplace as we grow in volume - we will continuously grow our data and through our hybrid distribution model, we will share the traveler with the suppliers, creating a truly personalized experience.
Artificial intelligence and data will drive the most cutting edge innovation. The profiles we create will be continuously evolving and developing as user behavior and information is captured.
We will also continually learn the distribution goals and how they change for the suppliers in order to predict and enhance matching capabilities.
Our underlying IP, though proprietary, will use tools such as real-time predictive analytics, pattern recognition, and reinforcement learning among others.
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.
- New technology; not connected to historic systems
- Subscription based model allows for deeper customer insights (lowering cart abandonment, number of sites searched, and reduce time to booking)
- Automated booking lowers the barrier to travel and will increase travel globally
- Direct connections to suppliers will allow for lower costs for aiTravelers and the suppliers and those savings will be passed to the customer by offering preferred and unique rates from suppliers.
- Travelers on-demand will allow for stability and accuracy when making important scheduling and availability decisions
- Being a smaller organization allows for cheaper and more dynamic means of user growth - SaaS agreement will create more predictability around cost for suppliers
- Limited resources creates bandwidth for building a robust product quickly
- Unknown brand
- Travel industry is consolidating because of recent pandemic
- Current low volume in the market will increase the amount of time for testing and iterating
- Bureaucratic work is causing progression to slow (certifications, systems, insurance, etc.)
- First to market with travel orchestration tool
- COVID has created willingness for new mechanisms for growth and customers
- Post-COVID, leisure travel will likely rebound first due to pent up demand
- Major competitors have been forced to cut marketing spend which allow for lower barrier to entry into growth
- Disruption comes from outside of incumbents
- The pandemic has created strong bench strength of experienced travel professionals to onboard to the company
- Second wave of COVID could create a longer drought in travel and extend our development process
- Suppliers will be consolidating which creates for less variety within the product
- Large conglomerates could merge and create partnerships to slow our market penetration
- Competitors will follow suit as we show growth and success
- Slow adoption of this type of subscription-based booking process
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?
We are solving problems for two different customers.
First and foremost, we are solving the innate issue most travelers stress about, which is knowing the right time to book to get the best deal.
With aiTravelers' continuous search technology (proprietary technique) we will ensure that from the moment the customer puts in their request, to the time the trip is booked, we will have optimized this experience to make a data-driven decision on this purchase.
The second problem we are solving for is the ability to match unmet supply with guaranteed demand. As we grow in volume and become a large growth channel for suppliers, we will be able to give deep insight into what demand is in the market, trends, and provide a tool to drive better strategic decisions.
So you've got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?
As a subscription service, we see the ability to take advantage of network effects. In this spirit, for our beta release and pre-release sign-ups, we are going to be offering a referral program.
Moving past the beta stage, we have a few techniques we will initially explore to grow the customer base.
First, we are going to be working with several social media influencers during our launch and moving forward to target travelers. We will also take advantage of regional partnerships in order to facilitate their growth and ours.
The last mechanism we will explore in the beginning is to do partner marketing with travel brands such as luggage brands and more to offer mutually beneficial enhancements to our customers.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
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As a frequent traveler, I have had the opportunity to speak with customers for over a year about their thoughts on travel distribution.
We have compiled many common themes about how they got there and what were the hurdles, how they would like things to be done, and if in an ideal world, how their travel look.
Once we built up feedback from hundreds of travelers and potential customers, we brought that feedback to the suppliers and began speaking with them to understand why these requests haven’t been met up until this point.
We also wanted to understand what is important to suppliers and what would entice them to make changes to better suit the needs of their customers - determining how we can reconnect these two entities after many years and layers of separation.
We determined it is the right time to create a hybrid distribution model and allow the connection with the ease of booking to be in the hands of everyone looking to travel.
How and when will you make money?
We are planning to make money from a few different vehicles. Monthly subscription fees will create an MRR stream, our SaaS licensing for suppliers will create an ARR stream, and we have agreements in place with 3rd party partners as revenue sharing models.
As we develop, we will consider advertising but we want to minimize congestion on the site so this will be decided upon in the future.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?
Derek McCoy, the co-founder & CEO, has an extensive background in sales. He has formerly sold to industry leaders such as American Airlines and Sabre, and has experience as an integral part of a hyper-growth startup team.
Valon Xhafa, the co-founder and CTO, is an ex-Googler, established AI researcher and successful entrepreneur.
Our advisors include Charlie Morris who is an executive at ADARA, a leading travel data company, and Bill O’Donnell, a former founding member of Kayak and Lola.com.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?
As with all startups, focusing on the right projects vs. trying to boil the ocean has been difficult to learn.
Conceptualizing our product and our vision has been a great experience because we tend to be able to truly see a future where there are no barriers to traveling and people around the world will get to experience things they never believed were possible.
In order to reach that point, we need to begin to prove our thesis which only happens one bite at a time.
We have to have a tactical and strategic plan and separating those two has been uniquely difficult.
The second hurdle we have had to overcome is separating the noise in the travel industry due to COVID with our own steadfast belief.
We have been faced with many naysayers along the way, some with credibility and some without, and it has been crucial that we look at the data from historical events, discuss our progress, and our roadmap in order to stay the course and succeed.
Overall, the main thing we are constantly working on is our communication and cohesiveness.
As co-founders, it is natural that both people are wearing several hats and running in many directions. This can always cause chaos, so we have been working to create ‘controlled chaos’ by ensuring that we are constantly holding each other accountable and both taking strides to be better partners.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact - so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
Luck is defined as, “Success or failure apparently brought on by chance rather than one’s actions”. I would never be so bold as to say there is no such thing as luck.
However, we have taken the necessary steps to build a core team that is methodical, prioritized, and action oriented.
We have seen an opportunity and we believe now is the time for disruption in the travel industry. In addition to the opportunity and our plan, we are approaching this opportunity from a user perspective versus many incumbents.
We want to create a community; drive value to the end user and eliminate the barriers to travel for all people. By setting out to accomplish this mission and having core values that motivate our decision making, we aim to remain lean and approach all choices from a user first perspective opposed to a industry first perspective, similar to how airbnb approaches their community.
Furthermore, our understanding of the customer will allow us to be bold in our approach because we will have knowledge and constant feedback delivering value and volume; whereas the industry has historically approached this from a volume perspective only.
A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?
We are constantly watching the developments around COVID-19.
Our first concern is safety and comfort of our users. For the time being, we are focusing on building our robust platform with a wide variety of options for subscribers.
We currently have five beta suppliers in the pipeline to onboard and I would like to have five additional suppliers onboarded by this time next year.
That will put us at 10 airlines and access to more than 200,000 hotels globally. We will look to expand our engineering resources to support this growth.
What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)
The travel industry is known for consolidation and acquisition of companies and we will never be close-minded to that option.
However, we are inspired by companies such as Airbnb who have built a community and lifestyle for travel and adventure by remaining a privately owned business for many years and only recently filing for an IPO. We will keep an open mind about the various options for growth as the product and market develops.
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