If you are dreading to catch flights over the holiday season, you are not alone. Forget about marveling at the wonder that is flying; going through an airport is still very much a hassle, and this is where Atlanta-based startup Travelsist can help.
There are several sides to what the company does, including an AI-enabled chatbot called VERA. But “at the simplest level,” its team told me, “the Travelsist platform connects travelers who need help getting through the airport with a Travelsistant who provides concierge and personal assistant services that help get them from their ride to plane-side safely and on time.”
Founded by former flight attendant Veronica Woodruff, the startup was a Startup Battlefield company at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this year. At the time, I highlighted how it was part of a growing group of startups that make life easier for disabled individuals; but there are many more people that Travelsist can help, including working moms like Woodruff.
“I arrived at the airport one day for a cross-country flight, and realized I’d left my daughter’s stroller at home,” she recalled.
From parents to seniors to first-time fliers, there are many who could use a hand, and there is more than wheelchair or stroller services that can make airports more accessible; which is why Travelsist also provides passengers “help with wayfinding, or other physical or navigational support in what is oftentimes a very stressful and chaotic portion of their trip.”
Behind the scenes
While Travelsist’s end users are the passengers, the startup’s customers are airports and airlines (except for a few exceptions where passengers can request assistance and pay for it themselves).
Going B2B2C make sense: These have a legal obligation to assist people with disabilities, for instance, but it often proves expensive and tricky, which is why they are willing to outsource it to a third party like Travelsist.
Travelsist doesn’t simply find people who can provide assistance; it also leverages technology to make the whole process more efficient. For instance, the platform reduces waiting time for assistance by locating where it is required, Woodruff told me.
While the company received international interest, the U.S. was its initial focus, starting with Atlanta — and not just Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Travelsist is now able to assist passengers flying in and out of the two biggest airports in its hometown. Since Disrupt, it closed a partnership with DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), which Woodruff described to me as “a popular regional Atlanta-area airport that services lots of private flights and VIP travelers.”
It is a natural evolution for Travelsist to expand its audience, and it already has. Since its inception four years ago and subsequent launch in 2020, the company wrote in a document which head of product Dino Decespedes shared with me, “Travelsist’s value proposition has evolved from babygear rental for moms who travel, to an enterprise software solution solving human capital headaches for the world’s busiest airports and airliners.”
Talking to Woodruff in person, the human element mentioned above comes across much more clearly, and it becomes clear how she is passionate not only about helping travelers, but also providing Travelsistants with fulfilling and potentially life-changing work opportunities.
“What I love most about being able to offer people the opportunity to work at a company that’s at the airport is that they have an opportunity to meet someone that’s beyond their front door. There’s so many people that come from so many different walks of life, that you never know how a 10-minute conversation can influence or change your life; that person can be someone that can offer you an even better job than Travelsist,” Woodruff said.
In the meantime, Travelsist is intentional about making sure that these 1099 workers “know that they’re valued and that they’re appreciated,” and enjoy good working conditions. “We pride ourselves in being a tech company first, but the number one thing is that we’re bringing in a new culture to this industry, where people can have more control over their time, earn good wages and be trained with [new] skills.”
Travelsist’s employee app is there to support these workers by filling them in with specific details around a traveler’s request and location, but also providing them with training and reminders. For example, making sure a passenger is properly buckled up before you lift them, and asking nicely for permission — a welcome change, considering that flying with a disability too often ends up being dehumanizing.
If the company ever runs out of Travelsistants, it can count on My PANDA, a fellow Atlanta-based startup (PANDA stands for Personal Assistants Next Door). It’s run by a really good friend of hers, Woodruff said. “We have an agreement where I can dip into her staff: If I need them, they come and work for us. Atlanta is a beautiful place to build because of those relationships.”
Besides its core team and its Travelsistants, Travelsist also has some 25 contractors and “a lot of people who advise us and meet with us.” The company was part of the first women-focused cohort of the Techstars Founder Catalyst Program based in Atlanta and conducted in partnership with J.P. Morgan; it also received support and awards from several other organizations. This is part of being from Atlanta, Woodruff beamed. “Atlanta is a very hands-on city when you’re building something that people believe in; people want us to succeed.”
Beyond Atlanta, the company was flying relatively under the radar until recently, when it obtained some provisional patents that made the team more confident about its odds against competitors.
AI is part of its strategy: At TechCrunch Disrupt, it launched VERA, a chatbot that can answer traveler questions “around flight times, airport shops and restaurants, security line wait times, parking instructions, airport and TSA rules, hours of operation, and much much more,” the team wrote to me.
For airports and airlines, the chatbot is another opportunity to improve traveler satisfaction, which they can track alongside other metrics in the customized data dashboard that Travelsist provides.
This value proposition seems to be resonating. “We are on track to close 12-15 new airports in the first half of 2024, which would allow us to service more travelers end-to-end — in their departure airport AND their arrival airport,” Woodruff messaged me.
Travelsist already has some raised some $850,000 funding to execute its plans, including investment from The Fearless Fund and a grant from the Black ParentPreneur Foundation. But it is understandably seeking more, and currently is raising a $5 million Series A round it hopes to close by the end of the year. This would be timely, as travel woes will be on many minds at this time of the year.
Courtesy by: TechCrunch