This app wants to be the easiest, fastest way to book travel
Your own personal travel assistant in your pocket all the time—that's what Paul English thinks is possible with the newest iteration of his travel app, Lola.
But it's not for everyone. English, a cofounder and former CTO of travel booking giant Kayak, believes there's an important audience for just such an experience: Business travelers.
"These are the people who travel the most and are actually serviced the least," said Carol Costello, Lola's chief marketing officer. "We want to give them one place to go to get special treatment so from the get-go you’re not just searching through everything."
On Wednesday, Lola released its newest iteration, adding algorithm-led personalization in an attempt to make booking flights and hotels easier for individuals without necessarily having another human directly involved. But if you do need to deal with a person, Lola makes that happen in real time.
The company’s big bet is the modern business travelers needs are not being met by any other services like Expedia, Kayak, HotelTonight, or Airbnb. Global business travel spending is expected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020, according to the Global Business Travel Association.
English launched Lola in 2016 as a chat-based app for connecting people with travel agents. Now, he's relying more on machines
Unlike Kayak or Expedia, Lola isn’t just optimized for price. The app takes into account users’ set preferences and analyzes past bookings. For example, Lola users can select preferences such as window seats on flights or hotels with gyms. The app also makes suggestions based on comparing and clustering travelers similar to Facebook's lookalike audiences in advertising.
Business travelers also want to rack up reward points, which other third-party booking services do not allow. Lola does. If something goes wrong, these travelers may not have the time or interest to pick up the phone, which is why Lola also offers human-led assistance.
For now, Lola is all about personalization. Other travel sites rely on paid promotions for revenue, but Lola won’t be tapping into that business. Instead, all results are ordered based on personalized algorithms. The company plans to make money by charging assistant services. It's not that they need to immediately bring in revenue. Lola closed a Series B round of funding in January for $25 million, making their total funding to date $45 million.
While English worked at Kayak and could in fact have tried to build such a product out of their offices, he said he saw more potential in starting anew.
"Innovation doesn’t happen at large companies," English said.
English would know. He sold his e-commerce company Boston Light Software to software giant Intuit, where he then went onto create and led the Intuit Innovation Lab before helping launch Kayak.
To build Lola, English hired a few of his team members at Kayak and also enlisted other tech leaders like Bryan Healey, one of the leaders behind Amazon Alexa.
Lola is mobile-first and mobile-only, and the company has no immediate plans to launch a desktop site. As English, a longtime resident of Massachusetts knows, business travelers are frequently on the go.