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How Entrepreneurs Can Succeed in the Travel Industry

Published
May 18, 2022
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Founder and CEO of Onriva Vajid Jafri has a history of building new companies that harness the power of new technologies for the greater good of the industry. In this TechTalk episode, Jafri has a conversation with EisnerAmper's West Coast Technology and Life Sciences Practice Leader Amar Bhatkhande about how he’s succeeded in the travel industry and offers advice for other entrepreneurs.


Transcript

Amar Bhatkhandé:Hello, and welcome to Tech Talk. I'm your host today, Amar Bhatkhandé, Technology and Life Sciences West Coast leader at EisnerAmper. And with me today is my very special guest and successful entrepreneur, Vajid Jafri or just Jafri as he's fondly known by his friends. Conversations can help you navigate your entrepreneur journey. Today, you'll get to hear firsthand from Jafri about his journey after launching Onriva in 2016 and relaunching the next-gen marketplace platform in 2021. What you hear today may give you a different perspective and influence your next business decision. Jafri, it's great to have you today on this podcast.

Vajid Jafri:Thank you.

AB:
With more than 25 years of experience in the travel industry, you have launched Onriva, the AI-driven go-to marketplace for business travelers. Tell our listeners about yourself and what makes Onriva different than other travel agencies.
VJ:When I was studying at Stanford doing my master's in the early '70s, I was open to the world of computers, which were just starting to come into existence. And as an engineering student, I was challenged to learn how to build early iterations of these machines. And I quickly realized that the impact they could have on so many facets of our lives. That it was truly an aha moment for me. That I knew that once I graduated, I wanted to do something that harnessed the power of this new technology that the computers were going to provide. So the travel industry stood out to me as a sector that would benefit tremendously from this technology, especially because that industry has tremendous amount of information, which it was difficult to do mining of that information the old way, the manual way. And at that time, American Express was the largest company in travel and they still had less than 1% of the markets share.

So I was determined to show that technology could fundamentally change how the industry was run and change the whole model. And I think time has proven that I was right because every time there is a new technology that gets developed, the travel industry benefits from it because we are an industry built on information. And that's how I have succeeded in this industry. I've built eight companies, and every time every one of my company harnesses the power of new technologies for the greater good of the industry. And that's true to this day with what we are doing with Onriva.
Amar Bhatkhandé:
New technologies for the greater good. I can't argue with that. So in your prior interview, you had said the world has changed. And as a company, we believe that our expectations of travel should too. Where does your passion come from to deliver a reimagined travel experience? And what moment did you decide to launch your startup, Onriva?

As you know, that travel is one of the most complicated supply chains in the world. And this has been compounded by the COVID health crisis, which at one point, as you are aware, 90% of the nations had some sort of health restrictions in places related to travel. And it has been against this backdrop that we felt that our platform has come into its own as it is backed by a series of unique patents because nobody in the industry had done this, that we had to innovate and flex through this unknown period of history to create something that when we emerge from this crisis, that there'll be a new world for travel. So originally we launched our next-generation travel marketplace platform Onriva in September of 2021, just a few months ago, to reimagine travel and to create a new model, especially as we move into a post-pandemic world.

So our passion is to bring a reimagined travel booking system and experience to the marketplace that gives business travelers an abundance of options instead of what they find in the legacy systems and technologies that are available today and that have dominated this space for many years. And in our view, have been slow to adapt and recognize that travel and business travel in particular is fundamentally changing. Onriva is a transformative business travel platform that marries the most comprehensive inventory of air, hotel, and car rental services with an intuitive and simple user experience. So bringing order to the chaos of a fragmented travel industry, Onriva is one of a kind sophisticated recommendation engine that simplifies the experience of using personal preferences, company policy, and supplier negotiations to get the user from point A to point B faster, smarter, and cheaper, and happier. So as a lot of the people in the world know that the industry has been running on the same 50-year-old outdated model.

The current channels being used are very complex and cumbersome, which has resulted in a lot of friction between the suppliers and the buyers. And that the big trend in the industry where the suppliers want to deliver their full content, but the users aren't able to get it. So the knowing the pain points within the industry, we saw an opportunity to use the latest AI technology. And this is a transformative technology that has changed many industries and for us to create something completely new and transformative. The world has changed and our expectations of travel should do. Our marketplace aggregates everything into one easy-to-use platform that saves time and creates transparency between suppliers and travelers. And this is what has been lacking in the industry for the last 50 years.
AB:50 years. I would've never imagined that we are still running on a 50-year-old model. So with business travel coming largely to a halt during COVID, how did you manage to ride out the wave? And what did you attribute that your success of your business to?
VJ:So if there's any silver lining to the COVID pandemic's devastating impact on the travel industry, it's that it's given people the space to rethink how business travel should work. So while the siloed rigid legacy technology of the past has gotten the job done, how we live, work, and travel has changed and socialed our expectations of the technology and platforms we use in this post-COVID world. Onriva is our position to be a key player and influencer in the industry at large and business travel as it revives in 2022 and beyond. Our marketplace that we have created is a more transparent and connected way to plan and book travel that benefits consumers, suppliers, and companies. So we have more than 3,500 small and medium size companies on board today that represents more than three billion dollars in travel purchasing volume. Our platform, through several strategic supplier partnerships, bring significant new benefits to customers and companies alike, things that the customers have been demanding for and wanting.

So we also attribute our success to the fact that Onriva is a business travel platform and built by business travel people. Our executive team which is comprised of leaders from across the travel industry. Leaders who understand the current pain points that each step of the search, shop, buy, journey because travel, you have to make sure that you have access to everything that's out there, even including the web. So we saw a long overdue opportunity to create a more modernized booking ecosystem that is agile, transparent, and can flex to global events as they happen. We also recognize that technological advances have also provided us with an opportunity to create a one true platform for business travel and truly disrupt a 50-year-old status quo of the business travel experience.

Perfect. So I'm going to shift the gears a little bit over here and ask you about your experiences with business advisors. Now, EisnerAmper is in accounting in a business advisory firm. Tell me how important have business advisors been to your startup along the way?

So I have built eight companies over my career and they're all in travel and they have knock on wood, all been successful. I haven't lost a company, but in every business that I have built, I have relied on business advisors in various areas of expertise to help me scale my business efficiently and effectively. So when these business advisors are integrated properly in key areas, they can help you bridge your business across each stage of your business growth. So to me, they were invaluable. Without them, it would've been very difficult for me to achieve the successes that I achieved.
AB:I think I absolutely agree with you, but at the same time, you got to use the advisors wisely to your benefit. But last but not the least, let's talk about the advice that you would give to other entrepreneurs. Is there a particular conversation you have had that continues to influence you today and you would like to share with entrepreneurs?
VJ:Absolutely. These are the lessons of life. So first, for me, it comes down to three things. To build a successful business, one, you have to have passion. And passion drives your perseverance to carry you through difficult times. The second is integrity and the third is caring. Without each of these things, it's hard to be successful for the long haul. When it comes to passion, if you don't absolutely love and care for the thing you are doing, you won't last. Hobbies and interests can come and go and might feel like passion, but the real passion should be at the core of what you're doing, the thing that really pushes you to keep going even when the going gets tough. That's what has to happen for a successful business and the entrepreneur has to have that kind of passion. The second is no matter what business you are in, integrity is essential.

Long-term sustainable business growth is built on integrity. No one will do business with you or do business with you for very long if they can't trust you or trust that you will do or deliver what you say. And the third is the teams, which is about caring and teams that make great and successful businesses. In Silicon Valley, they'll tell you there are five key things for success. Number one is your team, the management, number two is management, number three is management, number four is the size of the market, and number five is a product. So without a great team, you are the only one person and one person can't do it all. I firmly believe in treating your team, no matter how big or small, like family and caring for each other and every one of them. This doesn't mean you have to cuddle them, but empathy and compassion go a long way in attracting and retaining talent that will help your business grow and succeed.

Lastly, one conversation that also comes to mind was when I was working on putting together a deal with TWA. So TWA, as you may remember, was at one time the largest airline. And of course, being a young entrepreneur in the industry, I was thrilled about this opportunity and jumping at the bit to ink the deal and make it official. So while we were still in negotiation, I had a travel industry veteran leader well known leader of the industry who was a pioneer in low-cost carrier, a gentleman named Sir Freddie Laker, and he was my mentor. And he wanted me to steer clear of the deal. He said, "Don't do a deal with TWA." And I was surprised why not? He said that despite Howard Hughes, who used to own TWA, although he was ... had died, his influence was still huge in that business. And Freddie predicted that it would be their downfall because the culture and the business methods of Howard Hughes were still running that airline.

So obviously, being novice and new young entrepreneur, I went with a deal anyway, and it turned out that Freddie was right as always. The deal was a mess and I ended up losing big time on it. So the model of the story for me was that Freddie was very knowledgeable, experienced, and knew what he was talking about, and he was right. Those conversations still resonate with me today. And while I no longer have him to rely on for advice, I still always try to ground myself in, what would Freddie say? And then listen closely.
AB:What will Freddie say? That's going to resonate with me for long, long time. Passion, integrity, and caring. I'm going to remember those three words for a long time as well. Jafri, thank you for taking time to have a conversation with me today and thanks to all our listeners for tuning into Tech Talk. Subscribe to EisnerAmper Podcast or visit eisneramper.com for more tech news you can use.

Transcribed by Rev.com

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Amar Bhatkhandé

Amar Bhatkhandé is an Audit Partner and a leader in the Life Sciences and Technology Services Group for the firm's West Coast practice, with over 25 years of experience in public accounting and 2 years in private.


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