Over six years ago, Tom Howard and long-time friend Fenn Bailey dreamed of an intuitive travel search experience. This came to life in 2009 in the form of Adioso, originally showing the cheapest airfares by date, but has more recently taken shape as a way for people to use more personalised categories to get where they want to go.
"Traditional travel search requires you to know your dates and destinations with precision, before you start searching," Howard said. "But what if you're willing to travel anytime in September, and go anywhere in South East Asia? To find out what your options are using current products requires lots of repetitive searches, can take hours and, because prices and availability changes every day, it becomes impossible to keep track of all the options and get the best price."
"It's about being able to search over all date and destination possibilities, and factor in other things — like weather, activities and events — in a single search or a small number of searches, so you can instantly find your options.
"What we learnt building the first one, we developed an understanding of what the requirements and limitations were for it to do what we wanted; being a lot more broad and flexible in the way you can search," he said. "We're still solving the problem we've always been trying to solve."
The pair aim to raise between AU$1 million and AU$3 million, but to access that sort of money they will have to navigate the balance between enthusiastic and engaged angel investors and the more rational and detached venture capital firms — all without compromising their ambitious vision.
"We've been talking to investors for a while and just been gradually building momentum, in terms of the number of discussions," Howard said. "We've just been raising smaller amounts to keep ourselves going, and build to the point in next few months to raise an amount in the [AU]$1 million to [AU]$3 million range."
"We're looking from wherever we can get good terms, and not limiting ourselves to any particular."
Like the easy-to-use, hard-to-deliver travel service they have envisaged, the pair have ventured far and wide from the company's Melbourne base, on a rewarding journey through the start-up lifecycle. In 2009 they were one of Australia's first inductees into the illustrious Y-Combinator accelerator program; then, in 2010, attracting Gmail founder Paul Bucheit as part of a large AU$350,000 fundraise, sourced from angel investors; and last year, accessing the government's R&D tax concession, to stretch the last of the investment funds.
The idea, like Howard, has evolved significantly since the Adioso travel search engine was inducted in the illustrious Y-Combinator accelerator program. This adventure has culminated in the latest version, which, according to Howard, provides a more intuitive travel search experience — one that isn't limited by just "date" and "destination". The founders have reached the stage where they believe the product is ready to be unveiled to the public and investors. To finally turn a proven idea into a successful business.
The founders have passed through every part of the start-up supply chain, and the idea has gone through several evolutions. They know where the opportunity lies, and how to execute to achieve this.
They went back to the drawing board to develop this second version, which means, for the most part, they will be starting from square one.
Travel search is very limited, and customers would definitely embrace a more intuitive and personal service.
If the service is not simple to use and the experience is not immediately engaging and rewarding, it will alienate customers. Also, because the founders have been through the different parts of the supply chain, this could be their last roll of the dice.
Tom has lived the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, a journey that has taken him from Melbourne and around the world, and it's probably not just a coincidence that he's worked on a way to make travel easier. I've learned a lot from our e-sparring via Twitter, email and Skype. It demonstrated that he understands what is required to succeed, and based on their experiences to date, I think he and Fenn have the mettle required to make this work — on a big scale.