Ah! Online travel! The most penetrated e-commerce segment, yet still so full of opportunities. So innovative and yet so broken.
I think of some of the massive game changers in recent years and how much road has already been covered. From the early days of Expedia and its wizard packaging skills to Google’s landmark acquisition of ITA to (of course) the rise of Airbnb. The list is endless. Flights are where most of the visible progress has been made; I mean, you can actually book a flight online, especially with direct airline connectivity going mainstream. You can even predict when to buy using fantastic services like Hopper (my previous firm Accomplice is a key investor).
The wonderfully messy world of hospitality
Hotels are a different story. Connectivity is not solved, far from it. On the face of it, the industry juggernauts have massive connectivity; Amadeus and Travelport both claim 650,000 properties on their platform. But in practice, it’s an unusable mess. Talk to anyone who has tried to leverage the existing GDS’s and see the world of pain they live in.
There are good reasons for it. Access to even the basic core data (availability, rates and inventory) is made extremely complicated by the vast myriad of property management systems that exist out there (over 800) with none having dominant market share (the market leader, it might surprise you to learn, is actually Oracle).
It’s not a problem you can solve by connecting to these systems directly; in fact it’s not an integration problem that any sane engineer would undertake. And frankly it’s not the core mission of most hotel PMS to focus on that — they’re just trying to be great at, you know, managing the property. Hence the emergence of channel managers and a whole host of players trying to solve part of that puzzle, improving the situation but not fundamentally solving the problem.
An API to rule them all.
Enter Ben Stephenson. A young talented engineer working on Amadeus integration projects and scratching his head. He had a simple but powerful insight : what if instead of desperately trying to integrate into the GDS or the PMS we went straight for the database and build a “simple” connectivity layer deep into the stack the all players can benefit from.
A la Stripe, build a simple and reliable connectivity layer that sat right on top of the actual database.
Sometimes the seemingly simplest insights are the most transformational.
So what does Impala do: Impala makes accessing hotel data insanely easy.
Who cares? Well, everyone. WiFi and streaming services providers, guest experience software vendors, keyless access folks, the PMS themselves, the booking engines who are currently plagued by manual processes. And most of all: hotels. With a universal API, they can connect to whoever they want. Ultimately it’s the guests who care the most, for it will enable the delivery of highly personalised experiences that will enhance their experience. But if all goes well, they will never ever need to hear the name Impala, except when we go public :-)
The Stride viewpoint.
We love it because:
- It’s got unlimited upside. it’s a fundamentally different take on solving a business critical issue in a mega market. It’s complicated and it’s counter-intuitive, yet the business value is obvious and immediate.
- It’s hard to compete with. When Impala achieves at scale connectivity, it can offer connectivity cheaply to the entire industry (like a painless tollbooth) and at that point why would you want to mess with it. It’s not trying to compete with its client but merely offer a key element of the plumbing at low marginal cost.
- We have a founder who can reshape his industry — Ben’s got that steel in him — whilst being a fantastic human being and a joy to work with. At Stride we hate replacing founders with a passion, and the best way to avoid that is to back people who we feel can go all the way.
- We’re investing with friends. If life as a VC has taught me one thing, it is that you are better off investing with like-minded investors. The guy who brought us the opportunity of the indefatigable Jean de La Rochebrochard, one of the few VC’s in Europe showing real thought leadership in improving the venture capital product, as well as the best salesguy any startup will ever have; we are grateful. Also delighted to work with Tom Stafford at DST again!
- On a personal note, excited to see Pia’s first investment at Stride.VC be this one. If she can even half replicate her performance at Accel we are in good hands!