Yesterday I attended a webinar courtesy of Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Phocuswright called the Innovation Series. Currently in its second year, the idea behind the series is "to showcase the business travel industry's most impactful innovators." The series allows 9 innovators, split over 3 webinars, to compete for the title of "Best Innovator in Business Travel" with the top 3 winners invited to the GBTA Convention taking place in San Diego, CA.
I have attended similar sessions where companies pitch their ideas (TechToronto & Keiretsu, for example), but always in person and never with the ability to vote on who deserves to move forward. I felt like a Shark from Shark Tank (without doling out $$ for equity, of course). As the title suggests, this was the 2nd webinar and while I regret missing the 1st, I will definitely be attending the 3rd webinar taking place on June 7 at 2pm EST. It was fascinating to learn about what these companies do and here's a brief highlight along with my thoughts:
Pitch #1 - GAEST.COM
First up was Anders Mogensen, CEO & Co-founder of GAEST.COM (pronounced guest), which describes itself as an online community marketplace to list, discover and book meeting spaces for all professional needs. Interestingly, the word gæst is a nod to the company's Danish roots (gæst means guest in Denmark) and the company has since expanded to Norway, Sweden,UK, Belgium, Australia and Mexico.
Anders mentioned the need for the service as flexible working is becoming the new norm. Ironically, however, the more time we spend online, the more valuable offline meetings become. Leaders, as a result, are increasingly encouraging more human interaction. This is further bolstered by the fact that 66% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050. Gaest fills this need by pairing up individuals and companies willing to list their office space with those that require a venue for board meetings, workshops or job interviews. Surprisingly, the company has seen venues being used for a variety of other activities from auditions to yoga classes to even private tattoo sessions.
This is a very neat concept and another example of the increasingly popular sharing economy. We have Uber for drivers willing to provide a ride, Airbnb for homeowners willing to rent out space, even Dozr which links idle construction equipment with contractors. And now we have a way to rent out idle office space for temporary meetings (or other creative uses as the company has found!).
PITCH #2 - GERMFALCON
Next up was Elliot Kreitenberg, President & Co-founder of GermFalcon. The company has an innovative means of sanitizing airline seats through the use of ultraviolet C (UV C) technology. The product is equipped with retractable arms that look like wings (hence the name GermFalcon) that extend out, thereby ensuring full coverage of the seating area. Think of a regular airline service cart and you get the idea.
The UV C technology behind the product is proven to work and has been used in hospitals. Furthermore, the company claims the technology kills all bacteria & viruses including Ebola, MRSA, the flu etc. As soon as Elliot pitched the idea, I immediately thought of a recent article in Bloomberg about self-cleaning airline seats. Elliot must have read my mind because he mentioned this particular bit of news as well, although he dismissed it as not something that would work.
While the Bloomberg article makes no mention of UV C technology, it does echo some of the same concerns about airlines festering with germs and bacteria. Rockwell Collins Inc., a seat manufacturer, already offers airline seats with an antimicrobial coating, but they're optional and not every airline chooses them. And that, Elliot says, is the challenge - a lack of regulation requiring airlines to adopt a sanitization procedure.
Elliot mentioned the cost to airlines to be minimal at $0.09 per seat and incremental cost to passengers to be $2.00. I have further questions here on what this cost is based on:
- Is this cost for a single application a day, or does this include application during each each turnaround? If the former, wouldn't it just be the first passengers of the day that see the maximum benefit?
- Elliot mentioned the unit does not fly on board the aircraft and is instead stationed at the gate. If that's the case, I wonder how many of these units will airlines require? Beyond the individual unit required at each origin and destination airport, wouldn't larger (and especially hub) airports require multiple units to deal with multiple aircrafts? I imagine scheduling would be a challenge.
Regardless, I think this is a very unique and interesting concept and congratulations to GermFalcon for winning the vote yesterday and advancing to the final round at the GBTA convention.
PITCH #3 - WAYLO
Last up we had Waylo and their Stayscience hotel price prediction engine which was the most intriguing pitch to me. Waylo works by predicting hotel prices in the future with a stunning 95% accuracy. The example provided by Angik Sarkar, CEO & founder, was one where a hotel room quoted at $500 could be booked for, say $400, depending on the platform's predicted future price. Waylo estimates upfront savings of 12% with corporate negotiated accounts expected to save 5%.
This reminded me of Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices. The difference, and this is what I found most compelling, is that Waylo lets you book its predicted future price today! That is an incredible testament to the confidence the founder has in the app's prediction algorithm.
In the event the price does not fall to the expected minimum (5% of the cases), Waylo absorbs the loss meaning consumers won't be expected to pay the difference. Returning to the example provided, let's say the original $500 price was predicted to drop to $400 but only dropped to $425. This would classify as a failure, but Waylo would absorb the loss of $25. Let's say the price drops below $400 to $375. In this case the additional savings of $25 are split between Waylo and the company depending on the agreed-to contract.
I have further questions about the company's business model:
- How do they make money? I believe Angik mentioned it's a percentage of bookings. In that case, is the 12% savings in addition to the commission collected by Waylo? If so, that is staggering.
- Instead of charging a commission, I wonder why Waylo doesn't instead make money via arbitrage. As an example, let's say the original price is $500 and Waylo quotes $460 - up front savings of 8%. If Waylo's algorithm predicts the price to drop to $440, the company can pocket the $20, or 4%. I realize either way you arrive at the same end result, but wouldn't companies feel better about not being charged a commission? Isn't there a psychological aspect to all this? Regardless, I was very fascinated by what Waylo offers.
These innovation series are a great way to highlight up-and-comers and it's fascinating to learn about the impact they are having in business travel (or travel in general). I especially love that the audience is given a say in which company deserves to move forward. Looking forward to the 3rd webinar!