Skift, a new startup launching today from former paidContent founder Rafat Ali, is that unique beast in the startup world: a novel product in the travel space. While hardly a day goes by when a new consumer-focused travel startup crops up, Skift has set its sights on an entirely different aspect of the market, by looking to provide rich, usable data and insights to travel industry professionals and businesses.
The site presents a collection of travel industry news stories in one central location, along with commentary from Skift’s editorial staff where deemed useful. There’s a list of trending topics, as well as an Investments & Startups section and a selection of aggregated Twitter updates from relevant travel companies and individuals. Skift also has sections that break down news by topic, including transport, destinations, hotels, cruises and more.
While Ali explained in an interview that he’d initially set out to create something travel related aimed at consumers, he noticed after a while that where the market was really underserved was in B2B news and analysis. “As I was learning about the [travel] industry through the industry news sources, I realized that the sources of news, information, data and services for the industry were very old school,” he said. “The business-to-business media part of it was old-school magazines and electronic database companies that were fumbling and bumbling into the web.”
Since Ali already had experience founding and building paidContent, a focused media site aimed at a specific industry (paid media content business models, like subscriptions and paywalls), he decided to turn his attention to creating a similar kind of solution for the lucrative travel space. Teaming up with co-founder Jason Clampet, a veteran of Frommer’s, Citysearch and Rough Guides, Ali set about building Skift, along the way collection around $500,000 in seed funding from angel investors including Chris Ahearn, Jason Hirschorn and Amol Sarva, among others.
While initially Skift’s target audience is businesses and travel industry professionals, eventually the site hopes to address the business traveler, too, with content aimed specifically at that kind of high-volume, upper echelon class of consumer. Ali compares the approach to the trajectory followed by politics industry insider site Politico, and the idea is that the two markets should dovetail nicely and present two different kinds of potential revenue opportunities. There’s advertising opportunities, which should really work well when Skift attracts a business traveler readership, since the type of person traveling frequently for business is also an ideal advertising target not only for airlines and hotels, but also for lifestyle brands like American Express, etc. But the bigger opportunity is in data, where Skift intends to build up a sizeable, useful storehouse.
“Data is where we feel our big opportunity is,” Ali explained. “Media is a good way to build a brand, data is a good way to build revenue. The travel industry puts out tons and tons of different kinds of data, most of it publicly available if you know where to look, but they’re sitting in these semi-government repositories literally in Excel sheets.”
In addition to simply aggregating the available data and making it more usable and accessible to your average travel company employee, Skift also intends to eventually build a service layer on top of the data they provide, according to Ali. If the startup can build a reputation in the industry for offering smart, comprehensive coverage of the travel space, while also building out its data set, it has a chance to make real waves in the industry, especially since Ali says that the startup will be looking to cater especially to emerging markets like Asia that are set to make much more significant impacts on travel spending.