Michael Coletta: "We are making an effort to make the Phocuswright environment more accessible"

Michael Coletta: "We are making an effort to make the Phocuswright environment more accessible"

This year Travel Tech Conference Russia has partnered with leading travel tech industry research authority Phocuswright that has offered a unique opportunity to win a chance to present on stage at Phocuswright Europe Battleground for the participants of travel startups pitch competition. Today Phocuswright has started to turn more attention towards startups with the development of its Innovation Platform. We sat down with Michael Coletta, Manager of Research and Innovation at Phocuswright, to discuss platform development and travel startups opportunities.

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Hello Mike. First, could you tell a bit about your experience in travel tech and why have you decided to join Phocuswright in March this year?

I’ve spent about 15 years primarily in the travel industry, and the few years I spent outside travel were in technology and digital marketing. Within the travel industry, I’ve been an entrepreneur, investor, Meetup group organizer (Travel 2.0), research analyst, e-commerce analyst, and SEO/PPC marketer. I believe that varied experience made working at Phocuswright a truly excellent fit, since I’ve always considered Phocuswright to be the epicenter of travel innovation and technology.

Phocuswright has become known for its research and top-class events. Now, it seems to be turning more attention towards startups in travel tech space. Could you tell what’s the reason for that?

We’ve actually been tracking, advising and promoting the travel startups since 2007. But every year, in every industry, innovation and disruption are becoming more important topics. In travel (one of the world’s largest industries) we have some of the most significant disruptors – Airbnb, Uber and Didi Chuxing – which have become the default examples of how much new trends (e.g. sharing economy) and technologies (e.g. mobile) can shake things up in a short period of time. The travel industry is so broad across huge verticals - from air to hotel to private accommodations to ground transportation to tours & activities and more - that the potential for further disruption in any of them all is truly massive. I believe that’s why we have seen interest in our startup/innovation research and events continue to increase dramatically over the years.

You’re in charge of developing Phocuswright Innovation Platform — a new initiative from Phocuswright that is targeted towards support for travel startups and help in navigating in travel startups world for those who might need that. Please, share what are the key elements of this platform?

Our Innovation Platform is designed to accomplish 3 things: to uncover the best ideas through our research and events, to create an ecosystem for connecting startups, customers, partners and investors, and to provide established companies with a platform to stay abreast and engage with the industry’s most important innovations. The core of the platform is our in-person events because we bring together such a wide range of travel industry executives, which is why we consider them the very best place to present a new innovation to the industry. The key events are Battleground which are our early-stage pitch competitions, Summit for early to mid-stage companies, and Launch for mature companies. We also have our State of Travel Startups report series which I’m now authoring, and opportunities for corporations, universities, alumni and people outside the travel industry to connect within our ecosystem.

Do you have any «success stories» that could show how Phocuswright Innovation Platform helped startups on their way?

Sure — one of the best recent examples is Beyond Pricing which was founded under 2 years ago. They won the 2016 Travel Tech Con pitch competition in San Francisco (a Phocuswright partner event) which granted them a spot at the 2016 Phocuswright Battleground. They were one of three winners to move on to the Summit stage, where they went on to win both the Startup Category award and the People’s Choice award. They are now really doing well, raised $1.5 mln. of funding and just made an acquisition the other day. They’re a really great example of a solid team building a needed product who fully leveraged our platform to get their name out there and ramp up quickly.

Quick stats: Since 2008, 285 innovators have taken Phocuswright stages and collectively they have raised $2.3B. 43 have been acquired. So we’re seeing that the platform works phenomenally well for connecting startups, investors, corporates and mentors. Beyond Pricing is just one example out of so many. We just put up a great video highlighting a few more here, and there are many more on YouTube.

I agree that Beyond Pricing story is really amazing and really hope that Travel Tech Conference Russia will bring up such great success stories too.

Can you share any details on future plans and goals for platform development?

We are making a big effort to make the Phocuswright environment much more accessible to entrepreneurs. The full-price ticket for our main conference in November is $4,199, but for the first time we are offering entrepreneur tickets for $1,750. Also, in the U.S. now our Battleground is a separate event from the main conference and is only $199 to attend. If anyone from your audience can make it, they may use the code «Meetup17» to get $25 off. We think these are great steps in the right direction to make our events much more inclusive, and we’ll be expanding those efforts going forward.

We at Travel Tech Conference Russia also see our partnership as a step towards Phocuswright becoming more open for travel startups from all over world and really appreciate the opportunity to move together in this direction.

From your own perspective what areas in travel tech space do you see having most potential today?

That’s always the million-dollar question, isn’t it? We study the obvious trends — artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, bitcoin, internet of things, chatbots, voice search, even robotics — but what we really want is for entrepreneurs to surprise us with ideas we haven’t seen before and wouldn’t have thought of. That said, these days I think the startups with the highest potential generally operate on the B2B side, and figure out how to apply cutting edge tech to travel industry problems or opportunities. For example, helping suppliers or intermediaries make more sense out of their data, giving them new ways to connect with customers or improve their customer experience, reducing costs etc. The B2C space is just so crowded and requires so much money to break through and build a brand — it’s quite daunting. No matter what, given the complexities of the travel industry, for entrepreneurs it always seems to help a lot to gain working experience in the area where they want to start a company.

If it was a million dollar question, then you’ve got billion dollar answer to it, Mike! :)

Can you share few tips for startups that are going to present their ideas on stage in travel startups pitch competition at Travel Tech Conference Russia? How they could impress judges and win a spot at Phocuswright Europe Battleground?

Try to keep your message simple and clear. You might be working on many different things, but try to capture the most important part and put it into language and a visual presentation that makes it easy to understand the problem you are addressing and why your team and product are truly the right solution. Use case studies and examples wherever you can. Focus on not just the reason that what you’re working on is interesting, but why it could actually become a great, profitable business. Also, do your homework and research your competitors. You wouldn’t believe how many pitches we see where the founders assume they are the only ones working on a problem in a certain way, but we had seen dozens of similar pitches over many years already.

Thank you so much for the answers and insights, Michael! We’re looking forward to have a great event in Moscow and appreciate Phocuswright support for our initiative.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to Travel Tech Conference Russia 17, but I hope it’s a huge success and I’ll be looking forward to the recap!

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