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Here are some personal notes – just to make sure that you know how my mind works - before getting the full understanding of the last mile of this amazing and huge industry : Travel
Every Back-End Technology (and Philosophy) is +30Y Old
For the sake of argument, we can pretend that all the systems to support flights, tickets reservations and bookings were born (at the conceptual level) on April 6, 1926 when United Airlines was formed. The date when mail, passengers and cargo really started functioning in an organized manner through flights being attached to schedules. Back when reservations where written into huge books by the weird thing called human (manual) labour (real well-dressed people). Back when the volume grew so much, that a Pulley Boy (the human running to fill out the plane floor seat, using pulleys) became an official work title. But it was not until 1946, American Airlines installed the first automated booking system, and eventually to be called a GDS (global distribution systems) – introduced computing – in the shape of machine with temporary storage based on a magnetic drum. Of course, the technology has been developing fast – but legacy and bureaucracy has always been in the DNA of this industry. I think that its because of the risk that was involved back then when flying was not SAFE at all (as well as the size of the systems).
What makes me SO ABSOLUTELY MADLY IN LOVE with the Airline and Travel Industry is that – now the Internet is here – and even the developing countries in Africa are starting to book and buy travel more and more, especially online. I’m so genuinely proud to have Stephan Ekbergh as an investor in EVERBREAD – for a DJ – now heading up his second +250mio$ online travel company – guess where: in Africa – off course :). We spend a lot of time talking – and with his extra age and tons of experience - he directs me with lots of corrections and lots of motivation. It feel like he (who does not have to work) – really wants to fund fresh blood into an industry that is really hard to understand.
In my brain – I am taking it a step further and moving from understanding to changing: with my team in Sofia, who are smarter than any team I have ever seen before, a very strong founder, and with a board like this:
Montie Brewer, former CEO, Air Canada
Michael Jackson, former COO, Skype
Vagn Sørensen, Director, Air Canada. CEO, Austrian Airline
As the latest technology is sneaking in everywhere – I met a danish über Hippie this summer who had been in India for 4 years – he only comment was: Wow – at the train station I saw a guy with a computer in his pocket – and at this party everyone has it…(He talked about the iPhone)… Hardware, infrastructure, code and coders getting smarter and better every hour – with better tools than ever puts us in a situation that gives us nothing more than insane and limitless opportunities to change the Airline and Travel Industry. And it is SO obvious and not surprising that even the Private Equity guys get it (I mean pretty much everyone with a calculator and the guts to fire 1000+ people in order to make money :). Its simple – NOT EASY.
NOT Simple – Not EASY
Hey – I admit it – I’m not the fastest horse on the track (sharpest knife, most accurate mouse, speediest processor) – but I have seen quite a few businesses in my life. And even 1000+ business plans down the road – I have NEVER EVER SEEN A MORE COMPLEX BUSINESS THAN THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY. The math alone (Traveling sales man problem) – what route to use with one stopover (you could fly to any point in the the whole world via that stopover) is crack ass difficult. I was told in school that its was not possible to solve… But that’s nothing compared to navigating all the rules that apply to these flights and fares – just as an example: a person who is married to someone who works at the Vatican - must have special price and maybe even a special seat/available seat. Not to mention that this mind-boggling calculation takes the processing to a task, that requires the calculation of 10 x 10 x 10 … (to the 20th) within the time when you click SEARCH on the website and you get your results. When complexity and history have such deep touch – very few people will stick around to fight this problem and get their head around it. And like in any other business ->
Its All About The People
And in my short time in this industry I have met them all (that not true – but nearly) – mostly super brainy – and always insanely persistent… Here are just some:
A small group of Really Really Smart and Persistent People – with hardcore stamina – on this shit difficult industry. Again, this industry is insanely hard to get around, involves 360 knowledge of everything Technology, Logic, Abbreviation, and development that touches it and accounts for 10% of global GDP. (The last stat is funny when you see business-plans in this industry – everyone has an insane potential in their own mind – like 10% of GDP :). The great thing about all this is – when an industry is this difficult, you have to be insane enough to enter it. (And quite some are – love it).
I actually just remembered lately that I was in the TravelMarket.com board (blogpost in Danish) and I took a stake in FairCompare pretty early… I was even considering leading the first round in Kayak – but was not convinced they could beat Mobissimo :). Who said: Anti portfolio.
EVERBREAD works with an unorthodox German guy – who has decided to use an American name – and who talks in a way that teens would consider rude. He and his COO have all the money you can dream of (unless you just IPO’ed or had Groupon founder shares) – AND they do not cut anyone slack. The guy has treated me so well that I can’t believe it – he even thinks it is OK to explain everything 5 times to me since I am not that familiar with all the ins and outs of the industry. He stays up all night and even monitors his business on a Sunday morning (very early) – because he knows that 50% of all Germans who are thinking about booking their summer holiday package – will drop by a site that is powered by HIM & HIS AMAZING PEOPLE. That is stamina. And I like his geeks socially. 1) Because they dare to work with him; and 2) Because they FIX STUFF – they act – and they do it with German Grundigheit. (What other country can promote a piece of chocolate globally as ”Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut.” (“Square. Practical. Good.”).
EVERBREAD also work with the unbelievable consultants. Two of them are beyond smart. They are hungry and aggressive – and unlike many other very large industries – they don’t wear tie. But they have a solid impact on everyone they talk to - as if they knew who had the Kryptonite in a cartoon. These guys are also extremely nice, which I do not fully understand, because consultants are not usually good to people. (Or maybe its pretty easy – we have something 100% unique – and they see we are also trying to be nice, humble and pretty polite…). We have small bitch-fights and some disagreements now and then – but they are REAL MEN – and it is not a problem to have a beer after a fight. (The beers could become dangerous… shit it feel easy to get drinks, beer and wine nearly every night when you are on the road.)
At EVERBREAD we work with all the professional nomads on the road. AND PEOPLE IN THIS INDUSTRY ARE: ON THE FUCKING ROAD. Many have 140+ travel days – and most have lived in more than 6 countries. These people are a small group of people who really know what it means to be alone and suffer. (of course, taking out the high compensation they get for the misery on road ;).
And we work with all of them. To disrupt an industry that has been focused on getting around technology obstacles and doing pricing rather than shopping. Because despite all the +30Y technology products and philosophy that goes into this business, we still trust the human touch, the Pulley boy, to go and pull out the best fare in the market, because the person on the other line of the phone knows how to fly people for the right price. And that human part was in effect not changeable. I think that given the history and complexity of this industry, we, the bunch of smart people I work with and myself, have been able to defy a market and a philosophy that has been constrained by the technology limits. The product that will allow the automatic selection for the right route based on the right price for the right person… You and Me. Wow – sound like an american infomercial.
Its Even Possible to Sell Non-Revenue Companies
I did warn all in one of my latest blogposts about the danger of building companies, whose raison d’etre is only to disrupt (thats not why EVERBREAD is alive – we will make MONEY MONEY MONEY). But I did not say that its stupid to go into a sector where you can sell a company with no real cashflow for a fortune. Such companies should be careful in how they make friends and enemies, especially given the fact that if you have Asthon Kutcher as an investor, you can get 5-6mio$ investment – for something that will take Expedia and Kayak 3 days to copy (and by the way, something that was showcased by ITA 5 years ago). Plus a company like the AMMASING Tripit.com - just got sold for 120mio – nearly without revenue (i think). No wonder I love this.
I thank the Wright Bros
- every day. Both for giving me the chance to get around with having to use trains only and because they created this AMAZING INDUSTRY. That I’m just about to get under my skin…
Always remember the luck part. I was dumb-founded for 12 months – putting all my trust in Assen Vassilev (my founder) and his amazing vision. It’s all about luck – I needed a Job and Assen needed a guy crazy enough to dare to jump this 100% disruption of air fair search…
PS. The big secret behind Everbreadss SPEED is – Filip (The Wunderkind), Ian (The Stoic), Ann (The Wonderwoman) – and +50 People (PHDs to Office managers) who all take this seriously and get up pretty early and go to bed late. Lets just call it hard work.
PPS. sorry to post without giving you insights to our product and strategy :)