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Innovating Travel from the Ground Floor

In my podcast, I explore the many different facets of the world of high tech from development to marketing, to sales, to entrepreneurship, all to collect key insights on startups for listeners to gain value from this knowledge-sharing. So, what did I discover this week?

“Noam, our founder, was on his honeymoon in Manila, it took 1 hour to get to the other side [of the city], wanted to book a bus and realized the bus was fully booked,” David recounts when explaining the Bookaway.com’s origins. The whole system to Noam seemed flawed, the inability to book reliable ground transportation for a simple excursion to a northern part of the Philippines. The bus terminal was the final straw, of course, not to mention that other than physical presence, there was no other way to book ground transportation.

Ingenious Evolution

The world of travel is known for technological adaptations and a range of innovative products, services, and processes. Even amongst investors, “travel tech” is a growing interest with a global market cap of over $8 billion and continues to increase. Yet, surprisingly enough, what David shows is that it does not always require immense innovation to bring a tech revolution to the masses, but sometimes helps a process evolve and take shape.

“Bookaway.com starts where Kayak.com stops, up until today people used to go to go to the terminal to buy tickets, we think it’s dated, why not just make a few clicks and make a booking,” says David, “you can see the product, read reviews, you can get the full experience.” The team focused on a specific niche of travel that in many ways had been neglected by technological innovation and digitized the process. As David explains, the Bookaway method helped the ground transportation industry to evolve and be able to offer a better overall service for their customers.

Brace for Impact

Bookaway.com had incredible success in its early days, winning over partners, vendors, and investors. Yet, no one would have ever expected to have the company be shaken to its core when the coronavirus pandemic hit. For David, it was shocking since they “were growing 3X every year, everything was going good, and then everything hit the fan, sales plummeted to zero.”

David explains that weathering the periods of intense coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions was not easy for the company. They were fortunate enough to have finished a funding round not too long before the pandemic set in, but still, this did not mean smooth sailing. The team was required to lay off some of the staff, under the assumption that they needed to do what was in the best interest of Bookaway, to be able to survive the pandemic.

He also credits his investors and advisors largely who were able to steer him and his co-founders in the right direction. For example, not assuming the pandemic would end in just a few months, meaning the team was better able to financially plan for the worst-case scenario, for the long haul, and remain a player. In the end, they were his partners of him, which David explains is critical in any relationship of this type, as they provided needed tips for how to strategically position the company in a way where it could come out stronger from the pandemic.

Rising to the Challenge

“It’s a challenge, it takes time to create the best customer travel experience”. David explains that part of coming out of the stronger pandemic involved a strategy of partnerships, acquisitions, and creating a Bookaway travel group with multiple travel-related offerings. While this has helped the company grow and develop immensely, Bookaway.com, even with its success of connecting with 7,000 companies around the world, Bookaway still has a way to go even as it aims to centralize ground transport services under one roof and limit the fragmentation that is present in the industry.

David is confident that since the team has been able to grow from a company into a multi-modal travel technology group and survive the pandemic, they will have the ability to adapt to coming trends and make it through any storm they may yet face. “We made it out stronger, we’re growing, and we’re scaling.”

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