The following is a guest post by David Ambrose of Steadfast Venture Capital. See below for more about him.
If you speak to anyone in the travel and hospitality vertical, especially those from the early dot-com days, there are whispers of a renaissance in the marketplace. Building a travel company is cool again, even with the known hardships: acquiring customers is very expensive, incumbents have firm footholds in legacy categories, high switching costs, etc.
We’ve seen unbelievable advances in how younger companies are growing and attracting capital in the online travel space – Room 77’s Series C funding via the corporate venture arms of Expedia and Concur with seasoned travel executives joining the team (Drew Patterson, ex-Kayak and ex-Jetsetter), Priceline.com’s announcement of their venture business or a dedicated accelerator run out of Indiana. The appetite to create and fund early stage travel companies is even visible on AngelList, with the category attracting over 46,000 followers – one of the largest on the entire network.
If you step back, the interest in online travel makes sense – at least, from a practical perspective. As a consumer, for example, we travel from home to office or office to vacation and then vacation back to home. The cycle persists, but we get smarter about how we do it by using OTAs (online travel agents), metasearch engines, planning apps, social media or deal sites. Basically, the options for you to purchase, consume and experience travel in the last fifteen years is unprecedented. Not only are options nearly limitless for consumers, for solutions builders (the entrepreneurs in the room), your addressable market is stunningly fantastic at triple digit billions (US alone).
Over the last six months, I’ve begun to notice emerging patterns in online travel and one that’s ideal for founders looking to attract capital.
For those of you reading with an entrepreneurial edge, you understand that one of most difficult (at times, soul-crushing) events in your journey of building a business is looking to attract startup capital. The process for doing so can become all encompassing, and more worrisome, detracting from growing the company. As a first-time entrepreneur, I remember spending two months of 2008 on Sand Hill Road pitching investors with just A3 paper full of sketches, projections and nothing more than a core idea. Needless to say, no money came from that trip and I lost time I wished I could have recouped. Looking back, I realized I did not have a good process to identify the right investors by objective criteria (their location, their investment focus or their investment sizes) or subjective standards (previous lives as founders, similar backgrounds to myself or what they tweet about). It’s why anyone looking to build (or building) an online business in the travel or hospitality market should bookmark the below, as I’ll be updating the following regularly.
I did research collecting four categories of investors who focus almost exclusively in this market or at least, have a previous interest in it (either by founding a company, advising or investing in earlier travel businesses). The list is organized by name of investor (angel, fund or accelerator), associated notes (i.e. previous role, what company the individual founded or investments), location and how to get in touch.
View as a webpage: http://bit.ly/XVLDdT
Here is a Twitter list of investors (so long as I found their @name): http://bit.ly/XwW5pg
If you dig a bit deeper into this list, some unique patterns begin to emerge as you look to raise capital.
- Deep Industry Angel Network: For instance, Sam Shank, Brad Gerstner, Gregg Brockway, Hugh Crean and Erik Blachford are notable angels with a track record of operating big, meaningful travel businesses in a prior (or current) life.
- Limited Institutional Funds, But Giants of General Catalyst and Thayer Ventures: While the online travel market is very large, only one dedicated fund focuses exclusively on the vertical (Thayer Ventures) compared to one partner, Joel Cutler, at General Catalyst picking up notable deals.
- More Investing from the Balance Sheet: Corporate development and M&A groups at companies like Travel Channel are funneling investment into younger companies (i.e. Oyster.com) for added value, while Priceline.com and Concur look to operate dedicated investment funds.
- Few, Travel Category Launchpads: Incubators and accelerators look to be few and far between, with one in Colombia (Torrenga Labs) and another in the middle of the United States (RunUpLabs).
My intent with this post is to help you, the entrepreneur, paint a better and bigger picture of what the travel venture space looks like throughout the United States and beyond. Look to identify the types and stages of companies each investor bets on, research their backgrounds and ultimately, see if someone in your network knows one another for a solid introduction or rely on calculated hustle.
David serves as Managing Director of Steadfast Venture Capital, an early stage investment firm based in New York City. Previously, he led Travelzoo’s (NASDAQ:TZOO) global mobile and social business. In 2008, David founded Scoop St., a local commerce company that revolutionized the way we shopped by leveraging the power of group buying online for small businesses and consumers. Check out his blog and twitter for more information.
Featured Image credit: Andres Porras