When you’re launching a travel business, there are many “what ifs” and “what nows” — especially if you’re a rookie. It’s almost too easy to get caught up in the excitement. Whether you’re trying to build out too many related products before perfecting your core business, struggling to gauge the strength of a potential partnership, or micromanaging your staff, it might be a good idea to take a step back and gain a little perspective from the pros.
After all, those pros started out where you are now, and many are willing and eager to help others get on their feet. So don’t be afraid to reach out within the tight-knit entrepreneurial community to seek advice because almost nothing is more valuable than help from someone who has been in the trenches.
Simply be open to new ideas and come prepared with questions when you reach out to entrepreneurs like the ones at these four later-stage startups in the travel segment that are doing things right:
Rocketmiles is a fast-growing hotel booking site. The site was originally designed to accommodate business travelers but has expanded to include vacationers, too. The mutually beneficial relationships created through strong partners have been key to Rocketmiles’ success.
“We aligned ourselves with really strong partners from day one and created a true win-win setup for both sides,” said Daniel Fohrman, director of partnerships for Rocketmiles. “We work to generate revenue and other intangible benefits for ourselves and our partners. We’ve considered all sorts of break-offs of our core product, but we’ve remained streamlined on our hotel product and our core mission of helping our customers get on vacation faster.”
AnyRoad helps travelers book tours wherever they go. The company appeals to travelers because it offers them an authentic view of new places by connecting them with local tour guides who know the area well.
Co-founder and COO Daniel Yaffe attributes AnyRoad’s success to its commitment to learning. The founders met with more than 3,000 tour guides in a variety of countries to help steer their business in the right direction. They realized that there was a market because many tour guides work off the grid, so they set out to make their services more visible. AnyRoad has benefited greatly from open communication and the willingness to learn from those who have been in its shoes.
“Talk to people,” said Yaffe. “They will become your users, your investors, and your advisers. Listen to their advice, acknowledging that people have done it before but that no one has done it the way you’re doing it. Gain knowledge in the tools required to build a business.”
In addition to its traditional translation services, this rapidly growing company gives business travelers access to human-powered translation services on their phones.
According to CEO and co-founder Ryan Frankel, VerbalizeIt has stayed on track for extended growth by partnering with great brands like TripAdvisor, Udemy, and Samsung. Its business model is based on providing better universal communication via its technology platform, which connects users to a global community of human translators.
The company was born out of an unfortunate travel experience for Frankel. While in China, he got sick, but when he went to the pharmacy for medication, he was unable to communicate with the pharmacist and was forced to leave empty-handed.
“That experience was a light-bulb moment for me, and I came back from China determined to make sure language would never again be a barrier to communication,” said Frankel.
The platform can also be used for international business relations. “Businesses are internationalizing today at an incredible rate, yet improvements in language proficiency have not kept pace,” said Frankel. “We started out helping consumers and have since shifted to also include businesses in need of real-time speech and asynchronous text, audio, and video solutions. The timing could not be better.”
This web-based subscription service sends educational packages about different regions of the world to children. The subscriptions provide children with a variety of resources to learn about different geographic locations, cultures, and environments.
Co-founder Amy Norman’s hunger to get Little Passports up and running kept her moving forward, and it has paid off. After the company boosted its Facebook marketing budget in 2013, revenue surpassed $3 million — a staggering 125 percent increase since 2011. With that growth surge, Little Passports was able to expand its product line from subscriptions geared toward children ages 5-12 to include children ages 3-5.
So what does all of this mean for you? Well, if you’re launching a travel startup, take your cues from those who are doing the same thing — and doing it well. Partner with companies that can guide your business in the right direction, and make sure you bring something to the table when you do. Keep your employees happy, and, most importantly, be open and willing to learn.
About the Author
Paul Swartz is a strategic partnerships manager at American Airlines. His team is focused on helping businesses through American Airlines’ Business Extra program, a complimentary business travel rewards and incentive program designed to help small and mid-sized companies reduce their travel costs.