At Forerunner, we’re passionate about the empowerment economy, especially opportunities that help marginalized demographics enter the workforce. We love businesses that leverage a technology backbone to streamline previously manual processes, and we’re focused on a future post-COVID world, where people are once again able to explore and travel.
So, when the opportunity emerged to back two distinct businesses reimagining the intersection of all of these trends, we jumped at the chance to help these teams rethink the travel agent space—especially in a way that enables everyday entrepreneurs.
The Return of the Agent
Wait, travel agents? Seriously? Yes, that’s right. Travel agencies present a $100B market opportunity in the U.S., which is continuing to grow. As consumers return to travel, putting together a unique experience with the backdrop of COVID restrictions has become increasingly difficult, leading people to seek help in the process. Some travel agents report compared to 2019 levels, with 50% of inbound coming from new customers.
Our research at Forerunner backs this trend toward wanderlust: Aside from investing/saving, travel is the category where most consumers want to use their discretionary dollars. In a recent survey, we asked respondents: “If you had extra money today, how would you want to spend it?” Some 26% say travel, which was only bested by putting money away at 32%.
The only problem is that, when booking a trip today, consumers are often cobbling together information from a variety of sources; on average, 83% of consumers are checking three or more sites before booking. Travel agents originally emerged to facilitate these transactions. Now, with more options than ever, they also assist with the paradox of choice.
While many people understand that using an agent can help simplify the process of booking and planning travel, few understand that agents also can unlock deals not accessible on any website. Large OTAs have negotiated Best Rate Guarantees, prohibiting hotels' own websites from offering special deals. However, agencies are able to negotiate special rates that give travelers access to free amenities, early and late arrival, and free room upgrades. Expert assistance and unique travel deals have only previously been held back by technology; you’ve needed to be proficient with a fax machine. Until now.
Our first investment, , was founded to take the headache out of operating a travel business. Dayo Esho witnessed these challenges firsthand: His mother, an agent herself, spent nights and weekends trying to stay ahead of client requests. Dayo previously co-founded and led Product at RapLeaf / LiveRamp, where he saw the power of an integrated tech stack and unified data architecture, and he teamed up with his longtime colleague from RapLeaf / LiveRamp, Chris Kline, to start TravelJoy.
The company offers modern workflow and payments software to let travel entrepreneurs spend less time on “the process” and more time making sure people have an amazing trip. Travel is a notoriously expensive category to acquire customers, but TravelJoy’s product-led growth has helped scale demand with a capital-efficient approach. In the past year, TravelJoy has grown Daily Active Agents by 3x, trips created by 5x and GMV by 6x to a $100mm+ volume.
Introducing Fora Travel
While TravelJoy has focused on the infrastructure enabling agents to be more successful, is reinventing the composition of a travel agency, designed around the hobbyist-entrepreneur looking for flexible, engaging work. The company aims to engage women especially, such as the 5.6 million stay-at-home moms in the U.S. who are seeking full- or part-time work arrangements. Millions of women during the pandemic, in large part to be with children that were suddenly at home full-time. These numbers are not set to revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, two full years after men are projected to recover from pandemic job losses.
Co-founder Henley Vazquez, who most recently ran her own boutique travel agency, Passported, and co-founder Evan Frank, formerly Co-founder of onefinestay, joined forces to enable anyone with a passion for travel to launch their own business. Fora sits nicely among the many possibilities for flexible, remote work in 2021, and will provide its emerging entrepreneurs all the components needed to start a travel business. This includes destination content creation, profile websites, community, and client perks historically only offered to industry insiders. In just two months post-launch, Fora has booked over $1 million in travel, with their top advisor representing ⅕ of total volume.
The Entrepreneur Next Door
At Forerunner, we’re firm believers that the next evolution in commerce will be driven by tools empowering . Much of this conversation is dominated by the emergence of “The Creator,” but we find inspiration in the passionate Entrepreneur Next Door.
Echoing our past investments in companies like and , both TravelJoy and Fora empower these Entrepreneurs Next Door to take their passion and turn it into a sustainable business. The end customer benefits through unique experiences, unprecedented deals, and the surprise of an unexpected room upgrade, while the entrepreneurs get to monetize what they love. When the buyer and seller both win, that’s a business we at Forerunner can get behind.