Dear travel industry, we desperately need more mentors for budding entrepreneurs. Thanks!

Building a travel startup is hard (yes, really!). Building a travel business is easier, but Tnooz TLabs is about startups with ambition to scale, not about creating companies that can provide an income for a team of people, but have no wider grand ambition.

Challenges are created because the scale is global, the leaders are siloed and the supply is fragmented.

However passions run high, people love to travel, so there are sufficient qualified people out there saying “I could fix that – just give me some funding and six months” – so there is a constant influx of new travel startups (replacing those who have given up and gone back to being employees).

Most of the time these startups battle against the problem rather than their competitors. The problem is large enough – first to solve it wins.

Many of these startups are created by new entrants to the travel industry. The industry, as it stands today, fails these new eager and often rose-tinted spectacle-wearing entrepreneurs.

They need help and they are not getting it.

I am not talking about deals (that is a serious decision that has to be taken on its own merits). Instead I am talking about how people with experience can pass on their knowledge to these new entrepreneurs.

I learned my trade by being a contract project manager for various hotel chains, airlines and leading European tour operators.

I used to be given a budget, an internal team and normally a complex project (at sketchy business requirement stage) and I would have to deliver it. I either delivered or I was out. I ended up getting quite good at it. It was survival of the fittest.

Travel entrepreneurs in their twenties don’t have that base experience. Instead, they have MBAs, they have legal or perhaps design or advertising backgrounds.

These are the entrepreneurs we should be supporting. They are the future, these are the people with the vision and commitment to make a difference.

Letting them try, fail for six months, and then wither away is not how to create new travel industry leaders.

Historically of course this problem didn’t exist. The leaders of today started out as junior staff at larger companies. These companies had leadership schemes and those with the talent had guidance through their early careers.

Tomorrows leaders don’t have that luxury as they are fragmented over multiple startups in many different geographies.

How I try to solve the problem today

Personally I have learnt a lot from people I interact with. Many are younger than me, some are older, but my process is a little too ad-hoc.

I tend to email people I respect hoping that some nugget of great insight will come my way. Often it does and all the effort is rewarded. Often I get nothing and I am considered a nuisance. Pity.

Likewise people email me for help and advice. I tend to be far too dismissive of these emails (they clog up my inbox and I have no real idea what to do). Instead I tend to think about the problem for two minutes and rattle off an email with my quick answer.

The solution

We need more mentors. Yes!

But this may not scale, sadly, and scale is important. There are hundreds of companies and entrepreneurs who need help and mentorship.

But when asked who would you like as an industry mentor, everyone is going to mention the same 10 names. Er, no, that isn’t a viable solution.

“What one thing”

As mentioned, when I am currently asked for advice, I tend to answer with a quick thought: “in your shoes I would do ABC”. Writing a one or two liner is a much nicer way to handle the email than not replying. It doesn’t take very long either.

I used to think that this doesn’t have any value to the recipient. HOWEVER imagine that you had 10 people’s “what one thing would you do” answer.  Wow. Powerful. Especially if these were people you respected but could never really fully engage with directly.

Imagine a web service where you could go through the companies you care about and document the “what one thing would you do in their shoes” – and they can see that.

Likewise you can see, on your company, “what one thing” other people thought you should be doing. A bit like AngelList but for ideas and suggestions, not for funding.

Make this a private, invitation only, platform.

I would personally love this – I wouldn’t have to send email to people hoping for a useful insight in return. I could see what people think I should be doing. I would have a means to update other companies about our latest news (that they would not otherwise get via reading our newsletters etc)

The travel industry in 20 years time will be a much better place if we can keep these new travel startup entrepreneurs in the game.

Maybe my idea would help.

NB: Mentor image via Shutterstock.

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Alex Bainbridge

About the Writer :: Alex Bainbridge

Alex is a contributor to tnooz and writes about travel technology, travel startups, in destination guides and the tours & activities sector.

His most recent business TourCMS (sold October 2015) was the original leader in tours & activities distribution, connecting up hundreds of local tour suppliers with leading online travel agents. The industry architecture he put in place during that period is now the regular approach adopted globally by the entire local tour industry.

He is now CEO of a new in destination project coming soon.

Alex has a computing degree, is passionate about usability, speaks French and still writes and reviews code. Follow him on twitter @alexbainbridge



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  1. Tyler_SanDiego

    As someone working on a pre-launch travel startup, I’m weighing the benefit of engaging a mentor with the risk of spreading our ideas/work before we have enough of a head start and have launched. Would it be rude/inappropriate to ask a potential mentor to sign a NDA? Otherwise, I’m inclined to wait until a later stage (post-launch?) when we’ve starting getting the word out anyways.

    • Marianna

      Hello Tyler, in my world it is absolutely normal. Go for the NDA. 🙂

    • Alex

      Essentially this depends on the nature of your relationship with said Mentor. Normally, a mentor/advisor would be someone who you would deeply trust to seek advice and help with the intimate details of your business, ones that you normally can’t address alone or with just your co-founder. So if you don’t trust someone enough with those then you can go for an NDA to give you peace of mind. Or perhaps not bother building a mentor/mentee relationship at all?

      Truthfully though you don’t actually need an NDA. Normally your mentor is someone you’ve selected because you know them well or they are well known in the industry circles. They would not risk their reputation or relationship with you to steal your idea. They are probably in this to pay it forward, they already have their own businesses established, and they are much too busy to steal ideas in the first place.

      Lastly, you have the advantage of being the author of the idea. While someone may steal your idea based on one or two brief conversations with you, it is highly unlikely that they will understand the underlying reasons for your choices, your decisions, and ultimately they won’t last – people that opt to steal ideas are rarely imaginative enough to develop those ideas further on their own.

      In the end, what makes you think that your idea is SO unique but so easily replicated that you must keep it secret? It is almost never the case these days, especially in travel. If you haven’t found anything even remotely similar then I think you’re not looking hard enough.

  2. Sandybig


    I wouldn’t mind being involved in helping people with ideas and looking for somebody to bounce them off.

    I have been in travel for 16 years on the tech side and worked in the big down to smaller nimble companies and doing so globally.

    I am group CIO of 4 travel companies so time is short but i would be OK with starting this.

    Regards, Sandybig

    • Hadel GRAIRIA

      Hi Sandy,

      Are you still open to explore startup ideas and help a team succeed with their travel startup project. We have strong international team of Data scientists and NLP specialists. We are backed by a major IT research center in France. We have the ambition to disrupt online travel planning and already have built a first MVP.

      I ‘d like to know more about your expertise.

      Best regards,

      Hadel G

    • olumuyiwa obasanmi

      Hello sir

      I would be happy to have you as my mentor sir, I have IATA Certificate in Nigeria, and a registered travel agency based in Lagos, Nigeria.

      I will be delighted to read from you, thanks again.



  3. Trish Gastineau

    I’ve been thinking almost the same thing! I’ve been in the travel business for 20+ years and see a huge need to mentor new, younger agents.

    In the past, I might have gone to teach at a travel school, but since those are few and far between now, I’m looking for other options. Helping others succeed, helps me too!

    Trish 🙂

  4. John Pope

    A friend and mentor forwarded me this invaluable post, by Francis Pedraza from, about creating and building a business from scratch.

    It’s not travel industry specific, but the lessons learned can be applied to any venture, in any sector.

    It provides some of the best wisdom I’ve ever personally read on the subject, so I thought I’d “Pay It Forward” and share it with y’all.

    This is not one to be missed (no matter what you may think of my previous viewpoints).

    It’s worth the advice of the 20 best mentors you’ll likely ever find. Trust me.

    P.S. The overtone theme is, don’t always believe the hype of the “Lean Start-Up” mentality – which every one and their brother seems to be subscribing to these days. It also downplays the importance of technology as a primary ingredient to success.

    P.S.S. The best mentors think about you without you having to ask directly for their advice or guidance.

    Enjoy. 😀

  5. Peter Syme

    As a strong advocate of face to face mentoring backed up by tech and also in the spirit of paying it forward. I am happy to host a long weekend or 1 week event at a luxury spanish finca over looking the sea on the costa blanca. Max of 14 so would need at least 3 mentors from the industry.

    Could have a Tnooz vote off for the start ups to attend!

  6. John Pope

    “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

    Different story altogether if you’re a match… 😉

  7. David Thomson

    @kevin, it appears that you may have an opportunity on your hands. tnooz is positioned perfectly to offer a quora-style q&a component that would serve as a micro-mentoring platform.

  8. ilyas Zameer

    i lead travel technology company. i am more than happy to give back to the trade – please email :

  9. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    @ALL – **…a wee EDITOR’S NOTE here…**

    I have been following this thread all week, ever since I edited and then posted the article for Alex on Monday, knowing full well it would trigger a debate (his pieces generally do).

    The article is terrific, does exactly what Tnooz is here to do – highlight an issue, make some suggestions and then inspire readers to add to the debate.

    I don’t care either way whether Alex is right or wrong about this issue, or indeed whether the myriad of ideas getting thrown about here are successful or not.

    What I do care about is when the debate gets too pointed, personal, disrespectful.

    The reason why Tnooz continually gets 150+ new comments every week (it’ll be a lot more this week) is because we have a community of readers who are passionate about what they do, are stirred by what we produce, enjoy debating with their peers, and feel they can do so without being snarked at, ridiculed or worse.

    If other readers start deciding they do not want to contribute to any debate (not just this one), for fear of the above, then we have failed in our strategy to allow constructive, open and FRIENDLY discussons.

    I will try my hardest to prevent that situation happening.

    I think you’ve all got the message.

    Lots of love,

    Kev 🙂

  10. Andy Ryan

    Fascinating thread. I believe one of the main issues travel faces – unlike any other industry I can think of – is the split between the ‘old guard’ and the enthusiastic newcomers. The former have key expertise and contacts but tend to find it difficult to emerge out of a legacy mindset shaped by the Rolodex, the GDS screen and phyiscal vouchers, while the latter bring critical internet-native thinking and entrepreneurial drive but repeatedly fail to appreciate the complexities of the industry and the inertia which makes innovation so problematic.

    That’s yet another reason for greater interaction and experience-sharing between all members. I hope this article serves not just as a valuable commentary but also as a catalyst to finding the right solution to this challenge.

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne


      Please don’t think this is defense of the Green Screen!

      The reason the Green Screen does such a good job is because the technology at the back of the GDS is and has been for a while obsolete. A good agent knows how to make it dance and do tricks. The question should be – does he/she have to do that? A follow on question is – is there a better way?

      This is the core problem that affects so much of what we are facing as a barrier to innovation. There is no perfect answer.

      If I may I will modify your objective. The enthusiastic newcomers are always welcome but with a degree of pragmatism that is required. This is where the failure happens so frequently.

      Just because its blindingly obvious that there is an issue doesn”t mean that A) someone else hasn’t thought of it before and B) doesn’t mean that you have the exclusivity on the answer.

      But allow me a little indulgence here. This is not necessarily an innovation issue. Re-architecting the core of the transaction systems is not an individual problem but an industry wide one. This means that we need the stakeholders to participate – and yes this includes those old dudes who still own the infrastructure of our industry.

      The intersection of innovation and the infrastructure of the industry has to take place. But neither party can do this on their own. It requires cooperation.

      I hope that this thread gives that lesson in part if not in totality.



      • Alex Bainbridge

        Alex Bainbridge

        Your comment Timothy reminds us about ecosystem plays

        Now many travel startups are playing in the EXISTING ecosystem. They just need certain kinds of mentorship. Its a reasonable ambition to work out how to fish better, or even how to cook the fish to the customers new, changing, demands. This level of mentorship is available in most larger cities. Ok, some of these are “businessmen” rather than grand scale entrepreneurs, but still, being a businessman requires a significant level of personal attitude and risk, so nothing to be sniffed at.

        There are others who are setting out to build fishing lakes. This level of mentorship required to advise those entrepreneurs is a whole higher level. This is where the sub 50 likely industry wide mentors number comes from.

        e.g. AirBnb is a new ecosystem (and they don’t care what others in the existing industry think). But a B2C site that is reliant on existing suppliers, best to be working with the B2B players in the same sector otherwise they are going to fail (or at least fail to reach scale)

      • Alex


        You are exactly right. Based on my observations/research so far, I think the reason why the two sides are having such a hard time “meeting in the middle” is the difference in background. New bushy-tailed entrants are mostly focusing on technology and how it can solve the problems that they perceive to be with travel industry (slow, too much data, not social enough). On the other hand, the veteran “old dudes” are often from a non-technical background. They have encountered completely different issues in travel – supplier relationships, inventory availability, local regulations, etc.

        I think the point you’re trying to drive across is that it’s up to the new generation to at least make an effort to understand the existing industry. From personal experience, it’s actually not that hard! Follow TNooz headlines for 6 months and you start getting the gist (hint: technology seems to be one of the lesser problems here). I am now following over 20 different publications/blogs/etc. to better understand what’s going. As an engineer, it’s very easy to quickly dismiss stuff as “old”, “obsolete” and “outdated”.

        On the flip side, while I believe that you and your team have your reasons for keeping VaultPAD shut for outside world (excuse the bad pun), I hope we will hear more of your and other VCs’/mentors’/partners’ musings on the intersection of travel/startups/tech (perhaps something similar to Paul Graham’s periodic essays?). This might not be “5 mins from 30 dudes” but every bit helps enthusiasts like me!

        The other Alex B.

  11. Alex Bainbridge

    Hey everyone. I love that everyone wants to engage on this topic. I am OK that people have come up with executions already (although I would have come at it from another approach and guaranteed adoption and then worked the tech approach around what I had to do to ensure that duel sided adoption…. rather than building tech and hoping for the best – as that rarely works. Hence I think these early suggestions are doomed (but not through lack of best intentions from those who have done this))

    A couple of additional points

    The word mentor – actually this is wrong. I regret this now. What I like are deep conversations with people about problems and solutions. This can be a peer just as much as it can be a “mentor”. Due to the geographic fragmentation these conversations with useful contacts are too rare. A 5 minute conversation with someone more experienced in a problem is gold dust. Dinner is even better as you know you both have to eat – and you know if you want to go deep on a problem, you have their attention for 30-45 minutes without them suddenly breaking off!

    @John Pope – Creating a global scale startup takes years. Sometimes the tech itself will take 2-3 years development before you wish to go public on something (actually this is exactly when you need industry mentors as they can cut the time required for the project by coming up with viable solutions, without you having to go out asking 20 companies for answers, which may show your hand too early). If a newly formed accelerator that focuses on these HARDER challenges hasn’t got a PUBLIC list well that is fine by me. Its unrealistic for them to do so. Accelerators who work on projects where you can build a minimum viable product in 3 months, do some consumer press, and hope for the best….. well those kinds of companies yes may have a long list of brands – but doesn’t mean they are solving the bigger industry or consumer problems. Personally I would love to have Timothy as a mentor, if he would have me. One of the best in the field (which is why he doesn’t have to tell everyone his CV on every possible occasion)

    Alex (original author)

    Side note – lots of Alex’s commenting 🙂

    • John Pope


      It’s nice to hear form you, again.

      And it’s great that you’re OK with other people’s initiatives, even though you don’t see much merit from their enthusiasm, that you, yourself, were responsible for inspiring. I personally think that they’ve shown real can-do spirits.

      As Benjamin Franklin said: “Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.”

      I think both Tradian and Shashank are two of the few who have demonstrated more than spirit or wit, but actual meaning and industrious ambition, and they should be applauded for their efforts, as well as supported by all who are genuine in their commitment for making the travel industry better for all who work and live in it, as well as the travelers who will benefit from their collective progress. Simply creating a LinkedIn group or quick hack using their own company’s resources, as a good and easy first step, should be supported and all credit given to them.

      If you have an alternative method that you believe will benefit those who need it more than their current micro-projects, then you should step up and take a different course of action, and attempt to lead the initiative. But, I still hold reservations on the veracity of your prospective “invite-only” model – that, to me, misses the point of the spirit of openness and giving to those who may not have access to the “political insiders” and may cut out those most in need of said advice, from the people who likely deserve it most. We should be evaluated on how we, as an industry, treat those most in need – not most in the know.

      But, knock yourself out, if you believe your way as the superior way forward.

      I also reckon that the development of a company’s technology stack is a never-ending, on-going, in perpetual state of development; never mind it only being a 2-3 year process. The speed at which technology moves and develops, in general, should make that obvious to anybody remotely connected to digital technology. That would appear to be Tech Start-Up 101 type curriculum, to me.

      During our journey, I have spoken to probably 40-50 companies about both their offerings, and their view on any question that happened to be relevant at the time for us. Not once, have I ever been concerned about giving my ideas away, or showing my hand too early. I’ve even had conversations with your self, in the past, and yet nobody really has any clue about what we’re doing.

      Even if we sat every vendor I’ve ever spoken with, including the ones behind an NDA, would they collectively be able to pinpoint exactly what we’re doing – of that, you can be certain of.

      It’s also very kind of you to come to Timothy’s defense. I, too, have had the delightful experience of his company, and am very well aware of his long and storied history in the industry – probably more than you give me credit for.

      With respect for your view, I STRONGLY believe that the technology part of the equation is rather secondary to the ultimate success of a travel start-up, albeit a necessary component to NOT GET WRONG. Building an audience and gaining loyal traction is far and away more difficult a process in the grand scheme of things. Failure to deny that fact is a delicious recipe for a “naïveté and commercial disaster pie.”

      I realise that this is predominantly a travel technology media site, but I believe far too much credence, emphasis and relative value is put on the technology component as being critical or vital to the success of any start-up, be it in travel or any other industry. Unless, of course, you’re an enterprise software or hardware company.

      “Social Revolution” is key; offering something of value that can’t be measured by the quality of the coding, or integration of the right API’s is fundamental to any potential large brand’s success. Again, I’m mostly referring to customer-facing brands, rather than B to B models, which I know you’re a big fan of.

      A solution that makes general, or the wider travel industry, people’s lives better is what I’m talking about.

      Finally, denying the worth of some of the accelerators I’ve mentioned above is futile and pretty narrow minded. Please tell me that that isn’t really your implied position?

      And as far as your “which is why he doesn’t have to tell everyone his CV on every possible occasion” comment, I’d absolutely agree, except in the instance when one says “Our success rate is higher but on a much smaller scale” in comparison to the most successful accelerators in the world to date.

      That’s a pretty bold claim to make, wouldn’t you say? And for the sake of some in the audience who may not have the same experience with, or view of, Timothy as you or I do, I don’t think it’s such a difficult request to make considering the massive scale of the decision and potential degree of the implications on mostly young people’s lives, do you?

      Especially, as I pointed out already, it’s clearly the industry standard to disclose such information. I personally don’t understand the need for all this non-transparency. Sorry, Alex.

      Over to you, or whoever else wants to keep the dream alive.

      Peace. 😀

      • John Pope


        “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer

      • Alex Bainbridge

        Hi John
        I am aware of the nuances of a closed vs an open entrepreneur support network.

        We (my business) spend significant money on an annual basis on travel entrepreneur ecosystem support. We have an active forums (with just under 2000 travel entrepreneurs in). We have twice run an annual event (free) at WTM with 150+ attendees, 10 speakers. All of this is open to anyone (including competitors!).

        Hence from first hand experience of actually supporting travel entrepreneurs as they get started I know that open works, but I also know that closed has its merits too. e.g. there is a lot of behind the scenes discussion (and offers of help) from brilliant potential mentors following this post – from people who don’t want to comment on this thread. There is an effort that will happen to harness that, but probably initially in private initially, at least until we have sufficient mentors to understand what tech would be needed to support their level of interest (i.e. NOT a tech first solution, its a “find mentors” first approach)

        Its not really a debate I have any stake in – I have no ownership of this idea now it is published – and I wish well anyone who wants to help address this. BUT to say nothing is happening is wrong.

        Re whether I understand the concept of launch early and iterate often – described by you as “Tech Start-Up 101 type curriculum”

        There are two other approaches (off the top of my head). Maybe these are 201 or 301 courses though

        Launch early – iterate often – yes – we all get this….

        Launch late and iterate often – spend a lot of time building a backend and a lightweight front end. You launch, competitors clone, you roll out feature set B (based on backend you have already built that the competitors were unable to see), competitor can’t reclone you as fast…. and you out gun them in the critical 6-12 month period…. Ideal when you have a new idea and you know you are going to be cloned. Launch late and iterate faster than clones is a viable strategy and used in Silicon Valley quite a bit.

        Launch feature set A when you know you are doing B – this is ideal when you know you need to sign up the right people but not quite disclose why yet – so get them engaged – give them utility – then do the next thing next. Lucky there is so much talk of pivoting that you can often make people think its a pivot when actually it was part of the undisclosed strategy all along.

        Anyways, getting off point, but the key point is that launch early and iterate often is actually not always the right strategy AT ALL. Sometimes it is plainly the worst strategy. The kind of challenge that mentors who have seen it all before can actually help with.

        So yes I do understand this even though you questioned if I did. What I don’t understand though is why your comments needed to be so ad hominem

        • John Pope

          Alex B,

          I applaud your initiative to first write this post – as I’ve said previously in this thread; second, your past and ongoing contributions to the industry are unquestionably honorable and worthy of tremendous praise – I never once questioned those contributions; I also never said anything about “to say nothing is happening is wrong” or meant to imply it either – how would anybody know what was going on behind the scenes?

          Now that you have disclosed these private commitments and future developments, I applaud that, too.

          I did, however, disagree with what, to me, came across as poo pooing other people’s genuine efforts to contribute to the cause, in the creative way that they suggested. That seemed a wee bit contrary to the spirit of attempting to make progress.

          And yes, I also have a difference of opinion on the nature of an open vs. closed community – but have already said my peace on that.

          Finally, never once did I refer to anything like “Launch early, iterate often” in my various diatribes – I’m afraid you’re projecting that one on me. Whatever strategy one adopts to build their business, is surely down to the individual conditions of the parties’ circumstance – some like vanilla, other like strawberry; it’s not for me, or anybody else, to judge what process should be subscribed to, as long as they’re comfortable with the decision.

          Bottom line, I believe on a macro-level our intentions are very much aligned – we both want what’s best for the future of travel. We simply have differing opinions on what the best route to get there is, that’s all. That’s just democracy, for ya.

          Nobody has a monopoly on good/great ideas – not me, not you, not anybody. And for that reason alone, we should all take the opportunity to contribute, no matter what level of experience, or who we know or don’t know, what we have or haven’t done in the past. We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.

          That’s all I’d wish for in the hopes of seeing a righteous outcome.

          This is starting to feel like a recent Tnooz NDC vs. Open Travel debate to me.

          As Einstein said:

          “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”

          And John F Kennedy echoed that same sentiment:

          “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by obvious realities. We need men and woman who can dream of things that never were.”

          And better yet from an anonymous source:

          “The world needs more men and women who do not have a price at which they can be bought; who do not borrow from integrity to pay expediency; whose handshake is an ironclad contract; who are not afraid of risk; who are honest in small matters as they are in large ones; whose ambitions are big enough to include others; who know how to win with grace and lose with dignity; who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, and ruthlessness are the three keys to success; who still have friends they made twenty years ago; who are not afraid to go against the grain of popular opinion and do not believe in ‘consensus’; who are occasionally wrong and willing to admit it. In short, the world needs leaders.”

          New leadership blood and ideas (mentees) are just as valuable as those lessons and experience from the old guard leadership (mentors).

          Together, I believe, is the best way forward, though.

          Ohhhh Lord, Kumbaya!!!!! 😀

  12. Craig Fichtelberg

    Realized a typo on my name link. Corrected.

  13. Craig Fichtelberg

    Let’s try to get back on track here. The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The concept proposed here makes sense but by all means does not need to be exclusive. I co-founded and have now been driving our sister company, AmTrav for Business Travelers. These are very different models that require different skillsets and levels of support.

    I am happy to assist where I can in anything that develops here. I

  14. Ann Cederhall

    Hi Alex,

    I would love to mentor as well, know both the airline and distribution system side of the business, I have done some mentoring and I love every minute of it.

    Best Ann

  15. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    OK having monitored this dialogue – I have tried biting my fingers (to prevent them from writing). But alas to no avail…

    Firstly a bit of context – I receive about 3-4 pitches on average a week from the next best thing. Many of the mentor types in this discussion probably get the same number and usually from the same suspects. I am running an accelerator programme. It takes a lot of dedicated time and effort. I could bore you with the details – suffice to say its a very hard programme to get into. My team at VaultPAD does not believe in the class model. AKA find 100 crazies put them in a room and hope that 2-3 of them work out. That model works for some but its wasteful. Our model is simpler. Lets find suitable candidates – usually looking for smart people who can learn what it takes to be successful. Then we help them. That process can take years. its expensive in time and resources.

    When some call – and call they do, I try gently (less so these days as the quality of the pitches seems to be getting poorer regrettably) to coax out of the individual making the pitch the essence of their story and why its valuable. It never ceases to amaze me how little the individuals have thought about their problem and that their Eureka moment blinds them to everything else. The number of times the pitch starts with “my girlfriend and I were planning a trip …….and then we discovered…… so our idea it to single handedly solve all the travel industry’s problems and voila world peace. (With apologies to Sandra Bullock and fill out the missing pieces with just about any idea).

    I keep track of these conversations and since I am supposed to be on holiday – I took the time to trawl through them. I was struck by the obvious errors of the wannabe startup ways…

    1. Is this a real business. A full 80% plus have no idea of what the value is for their “idea”They are unable to tell me if the idea is unique, valuable and worse if it is a viable business idea. However I am encouraged that occasionally someone comes along with a clear idea and has done their home work.

    2. Let me come right out and say something. I am not a nanny/nursemaid nor do I work for free. I do hope that no one else feels that way unless of course you feel comfortable enough and rich enough to provide your skills at no compensation or expectation.

    3. Giving away stock as a trade when your idea is ill formed is not a good idea. Worse giving away lots of it because said company values my contribution means that I now have to spend more time worrying about your ability as a leader. Wait are you one? (excuse the cross use of pronouns here).

    4. There are no short cuts to hard work and understanding of the challenges to be faced and having a clear picture of what is needed to achieve success and HOW one thinks I can help to achieve that. If I had a dime for everyone who thought I had magic pixy dust and a secret back door to the treasures of the Travel business – I would be a VERY rich person.

    5. Are they (the team) worthy, is the idea worthy?

    6. I will take extra time to listen to someone who has done the basics.
    A) they can identify their business problem they are solving
    B) they can see that there is a hole in the market
    C) they can give me a business rationale for the concept
    D) they have figured out how to engage the customer
    E) they have considered the competitive reaction to their product
    F) they have considered and are able to tell me what help they need.
    G) Have they considered everything you possibly COULD consider
    H) They have at least tried to create a business plan.

    JUST at least having considered this issue gets my attention and even if the idea is not suitable – I am happy to help that person through their decision making process. THEN if we can figure out the way in which I can help – that is good.

    I agree with Alex B’s basic idea that we need mentors for the business. I agree that there are actually very few competent players. I agree that there is something we can all do to help.

    BUT – I want something in return. I want a way to weed out the wierdos and the wackos and the basic “no one has ever seen someone like me and I know the answer to everything” people. Yes before we start mentoring the masses – let’s be sure that we are mentoring the right people.

    Let me address some of the more interesting of the comments in this list.

    To the person complaining about the high cost of industry events. You clearly don’t have the appetite for entrepreneurship. Go eat Ramen Noodles for a month and when you have saved enough money to be able to attend one of these events I shall be more impressed.

    To the many thousands of possible mentors out there. Mentorship is a fine art form. There are many pretenders but few are the genuine article. Let me add another element. Not all mentors are right for any startup. Finding the RIGHT mentor that works for a particular startup is really hard. Its like a marriage. Yes there are a lot of fish in the sea but consider the divorce/breakup rate! (And the reasons).

    All this aside – I stay committed to this business because (I think you could say I am serially insane) I happen to love it. I have a passion that stems from it being a business that deserves better. yes we need new blood. Yes I will continue to invest time and effort in the startup community.

    BUT let me ask you as a budding startup wannabe….

    What can you tell me that would make me believe in you and invest time effort and money? Remember that if your idea was so good – someone else has probably thought of it and frankly if I am so smart as to believe in you – I could probably do it better myself.

    Get past that hurdle and I am ALL ears.


    • John Pope

      Wow, Timothy.

      That’s quite an intense and, needless to say, comprehensive pitch for your services.

      That’s certainly not an insignificant list of criteria and hoops to jump through, in order to then have the opportunity to pay you some cold hard cash, as well as a little equity, on the side, in order to acquire your sage advice and guidance. You must have attracted the “best of the best” candidates in the past, due to your comprehensive regimen and thorough vetting process.

      Ergo, you must have a considerable history of success in helping build significant travel industry players and household names. Could you provide us with just a few examples that point to your services’ positive results? Your website doesn’t point to any examples of your portfolio companies.

      Also, do you in fact have exclusive access to travel industry data APIs that the rest of us don’t? A.K.A. not publicly available APIs?

      • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

        You completely missed my point. I am not pitching my services at all. Frankly people will decide if I can help them – and they seek me out. Also – its not about strict cash, but it has to be economically viable and valuable to all stakeholders concerned. The teams in VaultPAD that we are working with are not public. We are not going to make that information universally available. We respect the confidentiality of the teams and their intellectual property and business models. Its not totally wide open.

        My efforts to support the industry as a whole are there irrespective of my various commercial positions. I regard this as my responsibility to provide and give back to the industry that has been very good to me. In my personal opinion – there is a responsibility for EVERYONE who wants to get into the business.

        Ultimately Its fine for you as an individual to have an idea but it you want support as a startup and you want to have mentorship – what do YOU have to offer? No one should expect to get a free lunch.

        That has been missed in the collective comments above.

        Let me answer your other question. Does VaultPAD have access to APIs that are secret? No we have the same as anyone else. But its not all perfect and you have to be involved in getting those APIs to work. That requires involvement in standards groups. For example contributing to the standards groups as an active participant.

        As I said before, there are no short cuts, no magic wands. If you are looking for a fastrack way to success, then make sure you have done your homework to the best of your ability.

        Best of luck and god bless all who sail in her.



        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          Let me add a postscript.

          I am not trying to throw everything out and say its all bad. All I am asking is that we enter this with a major degree of realism. To watch some startups enter the space with clearly less than fully baked concepts and then watch them fail is heart breaking. I hate waste. I hate to see talented people fail for the most basic of reasons.

          As I have been known to say – the best advice I can give you is the earliest. Run – do not walk away from this idea for ….. reasons. Having convinced yourself of your rectitude is no guarantee of success. Indeed it has been a frequent major cause for failure.

          Nor am I always right (although I try really hard through logic to avoid that possibility).

          Best o’luck


          • Philip Haines

            Tim has added a clarity to this thread that has been missing since Alex’s first posting.

            Firstly there seems to be a confusion between mentoring and consulting. Secondly there seem to be few contributors who have run successful travel technology companies – Tim is one of those.

            That being said start-ups may need a mentor with experience in other fields to travel technology – but the underlying fact is that you need to have sufficient industry background and experience to demonstrate the need for your perceived product.

            Anyone that visits industry exhibitions will be well aware of the speed at which travel technology companies come and go – largely through not understanding the global nature of the industry, and its complex distribution channels – made more complex by the internet, not less as was widely predicted.

        • John Pope

          You’re probably right, Timothy, I’m starting to miss your point more and more, recently.

          It’s likely due to my lack of reading and comprehension skills, and, more generally, a result of a misspent youth.

          It’s interesting that you have a policy to not disclose your accelerator clients, as it’s generally pretty standard industry practice to disclose the participants of most accelerators – similar to some of your industry colleagues at:

          RunUp Labs –

          Sproutbox –

          And, more generally at traditional incubators/accelerators who service the broader digital space, such as:

          Y Combinator –

          Tech Stars –

          I would have thought that both your portfolio companies, as well as VaultPad would be singing from the rooftops, not only about their participation but also regarding their individual success stories. As many from the examples I’ve shared, typically do – that traditionally just adds to the credibility of both brands – the accelerator and start-ups, respectively. And, likely encourages more start-ups to apply to the accelerators, when they can transparently and relatively effortlessly see the results, and have a better reference point to make their decision on who to commit to from.

          Perhaps, you know something they don’t.

          You often have a very valuable perspective on the travel industry, and how you’ve personally contributed to the development of it over the years, on various fronts – boards, working groups, conferences, numerous companies and other organizations tied to travel, that you’ve been involved with.

          It’s a shame you can’t share more stories and examples about all the start-ups you’ve been instrumental in helping develop – like your recent involvement with PinTrips, I believe.

          And, I hear what you’re saying about getting a “free lunch” – but also thought that the satisfaction of helping someone early in their career, and contributing a small amount of pertinent knowledge when asked for would be more than good enough value gained – sort of, payment in kind deed, so to speak.

          Considering Alex’s original idea, and the main content of his post, to have many experts – 100’s of them – contribute 5 minutes or so of wisdom to a collective database, where young travel entrepreneurs can go to as a first resort or a central, authoritative, reference point, to see if some of their questions might be answered quickly, and without the costly expense of hiring a consultant or expert. Or even worse, by making a huge mistake because they can’t afford the services of experts, and without knowing some of the obvious pitfalls that many of the more learned mentor-type members may have dealt with a million times in the past.

          “If ye always give, ye will always receive.”

          I, for one, am very impressed by some of the generosity on display here in this article and subsequent thread – many people, that I’ve never heard of, have stepped up and offered their time and energy to Alex’s brilliant idea. It demonstrates a really wonderful spirit that is alive and well in the industry. I hope that some of the initiatives that have been suggested here have legs, and end up being a powerful force for innovation, in the future.

          I believe that one of the reasons Silicon Valley has such a high success rate, is because they admire failure there – those who enter the arena and fail are held in much higher regard than those who sit on the sidelines. There’s a nurturing, supportive ethos in SV, unlike anywhere else in the world, I believe.

          Ironically, there are relatively very few travel tech companies, or travel focused start-ups – that I’m aware of – in Silicon Valley. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

          Perhaps, all of us in travel have something to learn from the Highway 101 tribes, from San Jose to San Francisco. They seem to have a more generous and supportive attitude towards the plight of a young entrepreneur, than many that I’ve come across – until now – in the largest industry in the world.

          This thread gives me hope that we might just see the level of support throughout travel, to help bring the industry forward – as it unquestionably has room for.

          Over and out. 😉

          • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

            John, I cannot speak for others.

            As I noted earlier my team respects the work of our mentees. What others choose to do is up to them. Frankly the model of “see what sticks” doesn’t hold a lot of appeal. Just because … doesn’t mean one should. That said these programmes of which you outlined and others have value. The decisions on which one you should go with is up to you.

            Our success rate is higher but on a much smaller scale. Our model does not scale well – and that is just fine with me personally and the team I have with me.



          • John Pope


            Again, because of the high bar you set and demand from your mentee companies, along with the stringent vetting process you go through, it’s odd that you both – VaultPad and all your start-ups – wouldn’t want to emphasize the participation of all parties who do, in fact, realize the lofty conditions and requirements that VaultPad sets.

            To me, and my less-learned perspective, this just doesn’t come across as being “logical”, considering your normal standards of sagacity. From my less critical marketing and PR perspective, this just seems an opportunity lost to further encourage the best of the best from potentially jumping on board your ship.

            Oh well, guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

            Also, it’s a shame you can’t point to examples of your higher success rate compared to other prominent accelerators, in order for others to transparently learn how you’re able to achieve such amazing results.

            Considering some of the accelerator examples I pointed to previously have been instrumental in helping to build some of the biggest tech brands on the planet today, it would be great to understand how VaultPad is able to outperform them.

            But, I have to respect your strategy and preference to hold your cards close to your chest, and only hope one day you will be able to shine a light on how VaultPad does what it does to produce such high success rates.

            That would surely help the rest of us better understand the magic, and potentially spread the wealth you’ve already enjoyed.

  16. Riaan van Schoor


    Great article, happy to volunteer, having just realised I’m at 23 years experience, sigh..



  17. Alex Kremer

    Alex’s post is, as usual, spot on. Unfortunately, it has already attracted a fair amount of snake oil salesmen.

    Just a warning: If you’re a startup, and someone offers you “consulting” when you ask them for help or mentorship… Run far, far away. That is not mentorship.

    There are many industry insiders already providing great mentorship. They do it because they want to see the people they’re mentoring succeed. How to get more mentors? It’s a relationship thing. As I noted in, you need to get out there and network. Make people care about you and your idea, and the mentors will come.

    For those industry long-timers reading this that are afraid of the time-suck of mentorship: You should try it before you dismiss it. Sometimes answering a quick email can be life-altering for a startup. You can make an impact with very little effort.

    • John Pope

      I really like the cut of your jib, Alex.

      Well said, and a message that needed to be included in this thread.

      • Paige Brown

        Alex, was just thinking something similar.

        I think some people are missing the point as well. There is a big difference between an advisor, formal or informal, and a mentor.

        In my experience an advisor formally is usually someone who has done fairly well with their business or has a gap in time an can formally join a board or advisory board. These are fantastic people to have but definitely take some work to find, lots of networking and its important if you put someone on your board that you know them well and their advice first hand.

        A mentor is someone that you have a real connection with that can give you personal and business advice but probably is very busy because they are someone you look up to in the industry, hence have a big job. In my past experience finding mentors takes a lot of work. Some tips:

        1) Go where potential mentors are going to be. I go to conferences like Phocuswright or WTM to catch them at lunch, hallways, or even elevators (don’t be a stalker! but memorizing the face doc prior to the conference helps)

        2) Know exactly what you want them to help you with. Whenever you meet make sure that you have very specific topics to talk about that you know they can offer advice on from their experience. Be careful not to waste their time or you risk potential future meetings being canceled or delayed.

        3) Don’t expect them to be around all the time and available for anything you need. These are very busy people, thats why you want their advice, because they are good at what they do.

        4) Show improvement and that you take their advice. The worst thing I see is when someone keeps asking me for the same advice over and over again and never listens. Its usually about this point that I start delaying future meetings.

        5) Give a little. I can’t tell you the numerous projects and consulting type gigs that i’ve done for my mentors to help them out too. It’s a two way street and I find a lot of time that they like to get a different perspective on their projects from someone either new to the industry or young and part of a demographic that appeals to their product. May take a little extra work but you’re building a relationship so it will be worth it.

        The one thing I will say about the travel industry from my last 4 years of experience working in startups is how open the community is. Everyone is happy to share contacts, give advice, etc. However it might be kind of hard to get into the network at first. My advice, get out there and find the people you want to talk to at a conference or event when they might have a few more minutes to talk instead of waiting for them to respond. Also use your alumni and university networks and don’t be afraid to send an email out of the blue. Its worked for me many times.

  18. Fiona

    Speaking only for myself, I have to say that one-off mentoring programs set up by people I don’t know aren’t interesting, as either a mentor or someone seeking a mentor, especially those set up by individuals or organizations looking to make money.

    Any program that would have any credibility (and not smell completely opportunistic) would probably need to be a invite-in model with a review system and the ability to see mentor backgrounds (the LinkedIn platform is interesting in that regard). If I’m going to list myself as a mentor, I don’t want to be completely overwhelmed by requests for assistance by people whom I can’t (or don’t want to) help. And if I’m looking for a mentor, I don’t want to be overwhelmed by offers of assistance that I have to pay for.

    Formalizing something as personal and serendipitous as finding a mentor seems like a futile exercise. I like Alex’s original idea of “what one thing would you do” as a Q&A exchange, but that’s what Quora is for, no?

  19. Tradian

    Alex, many thanks for the post, as many have already pointed out you really hit the nail on the head with this one.

    An online community as you propose would be a fantastic place to have available for newbies like us. I think the model 5 minutes with 30 mentors vs. 150 minutes with a single mentor is useful not only because the mentors don’t have to invest loads of time, but people can have several different POV when having a dilemma.

    Not without being slightly selfish (we would very much welcome mentoring to our niche scuba-diving related startup) – do you think a LinkedIn group could work as a starting point?

    I took the liberty to create one

    Its a closed group, there would be easy to add moderators, most mentors and hopefully also start-ups already have a profile so this would save the hassle of having to log in to yet another place.

    If it grows massively there may be need to move a dedicated platform, but as for as a starting point LI could be the trick?


  20. Petur J Petursson

    I’m available, find me on LinkedIn.

  21. John Magill

    The issue that many start-ups have is that they aren’t looking for a mentor but rather they are looking for an advisor / consultant. I have been involved in advising many start-ups over the last 30 years and most don’t like the mentor approach, which should be to challenge and assist the entrepreneur to seek the answer themselves. Its akin to good teachers who challenge students to seek out the best answer themselves, not to give them the question followed up with the answer. Many travel start-ups start with a solution and then look for the problem to solve. Very few start from the market. I would encourage most entrepreneurial wannabe’s to look at the work of Eric Ries – The Lean Startup.

  22. Bruce Rosard

    Hi Alex,

    You hit a nerve (a good one) with this post. As a mentor with TechStars for the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring a variety of travel industry start-ups, as well as some non-travel firms. I also got to meet a lot of travel start-ups through PhoCusWright’s Young Leaders Summit and Travel Innovation Summit, and I have to say I get as much benefit out of the mentoring as the time and effort I put in. We can all always learn more, especially from young, talented, passionate up and comers. There is absolutely a need in the travel industry for more mentorship. As an industry, we need to do what we can to continue to encourage young talent to spend their time and resources in this industry we all love. I’m working on some ideas in this area, and look forward to sharing them soon.


    • Shashank Nigam

      Hi Bruce, Alex and others – Since my first reply on this discussion, I have been constantly monitoring the rest of the responses, and thinking of how to make this work. So, here’s how I’m planning to get started.

      Let’s just call it “What would you do?” for the while being. I’ll help create an invite-only email list of Mentors and Mentees, and once a day, any questions from mentees will be sent to Mentors, who may choose to reply to none, one or more.

      For example, a question from a mentee can be – “A large Middle East airline is interested in piloting our app, but will not pay us to do it, since they’ll be the first. But I’ll have to fly to their HQ from NYC on my own expenses, at least 4-5 times to get this done. Knowing that airline in the region are not decisive, and it may be a long sales cycle, What would you do?”

      A mentor can speak from past experience, or recommend someone else the mentee can speak with for advice.

      The key here is that every question should end with, “What would you do?”, and mentors can reply even in binary terms, like “Don’t go”.

      That makes it exactly as Alex had originally painted – 10 responses from mentors who took 5 mins to reply would help the entrepreneur make the decision.

      If you’re an interested mentor, please email with your name, a gist of past experience, LinkedIn URL and how often you’re willing to be contacted. If you’re a travel entrepreneur looking for mentorship, please email and I’ll keep you in the loop when this thing is ready to be launched later this month. If you’d like to collaborate on this effort – msg me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@simpliflying) directly, and we can discuss further.

      My aim is to assemble a group of at least 100 travel industry mentors by the end of the month, and give this thing a go. We’ll keep it as simple as possible to begin with, and invite only. The model can evolve as we go along, just like any other startup.

      Let’s do this!

      • John Pope

        I applaud your enthusiasm and contribution, Shashank.

        You’re a living, breathing example of paying it forward.


  23. Alfan Hendro

    Thanks, Alex.
    And where can we join this Tnooz TLabs? I have some simple ideas that will be disruptive for online hotel reservation.


  24. Sharon Emerson

    I have an online travel agent training school to prepare anyone who wants to come in the industry to become a profitable professional. It is taught by myself, a 20 years full time travel agent. There is nothing like this anywhere at any price. It gives the foundation for the entire industry. Please check it out and send anyone wanting to be in this amazing profession. You can also buy the manual “Become a Home Travel Agent” at

    • barbara

      I think you overkilled the irrelevant sales pitch at ‘amazing profession’.

  25. Elmer B. Alinsog

    Great suggestion Alex. How do we go about structuring it?

  26. Philip Haines

    Travel is a global business and startups need to think globally from day one – not easy when you’re focussing on launching a product in a very fast moving industry. However it’s the start-ups that have been the game changers that have enabled the industry to adapt to changing distribution channels. Learning from the mistakes of history can help avoid future problems, and having a mentor who can stand back and help with the bigger picture, as well as individual challenges can be invaluable. It works well in other industries, why not in travel – and its related activities.

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Philip
      I bet you learnt a lot from building your event management software business. Do you fancy sharing some of your experiences at some point? Things you consider obvious may not be so obvious to others. I am sure Tnooz would love a guest post on it!

      • Philip Haines

        Happily Alex – and before that, a destination marketing system, and a tour operator reservation system, both Canadian based and sold around the world.

  27. Yayehiyrad

    I always enjoy your ideas and comments! It is really very helpful for the new comers to the industry. Your ’ smallfishbigocean’ also doing her best to improve the industry as well. Personally, I would like to say thank you as I have found several input for my small business…

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Thank you!

      Small Fish Big Ocean actually is one way I currently use to handle incoming email demand. (Although I didn’t mention it in the original article).

      When someone emails me a question I always say I will answer in public if they ask in public (on Small Fish) – then

      a) Others will read the reply – and add their own replies – and we build a community
      b) if anyone asks the same again, I can point at previous discussions

      But this is only really good for generic questions related to tours & activities – like “how do I get insurance for my new tour operator” – rather than – how do I create a scalable startup business model (that tends to be much more specific and really needs mentorship from the 20-100 people in the industry qualified to help with that answer)

      • John Pope


        Great read, as per. You have an obvious knack for writing posts that resonate with a wide audience and encourage engagement. Well done, sir.

        Do you really only think there are 20-100 industry people qualified to provide mentorship and advice to start-ups? I reckon there are north of at least 1,000, perhaps more than 10,000 around the world, when you consider all of the large organizations in the industry, along with their senior management and external key strategic and creative contributors.

        I appreciate that this is a tech focused travel industry blog, but I think the technology part of the equation is the relatively straightforward bit – the best technology is pretty much available at a very low cost to those who know where to find it (which might be a good starting point / first topic for the community you’ve envisioned and suggested).

        The really difficult part about building and scaling an business – no matter what vertical or industry – is attracting an audience. Not to mention the topic of my initial comment, on what you seem to excel at, creating engagement on a grand scale.

        Scaling a travel business is a much bigger problem than creating buzz within our narrowly focused, and fairly tight knit, industry. It’s about reaching the broader consumer market; and those skills and know-how are mostly creative, right-brained people who excel at those disciplines. The left-brained, technical and management types rarely possess those attributes.

        Yet, that’s ultimately where the magic really happens, and is often the reason for success or failure. Although, it’s also certainly true that many business plans or apps don’t cut the mustard, many more times the idea and app is great, but struggles to gain much traction in order to carry on. Seth Godin wrote a good post yesterday on that very topic:

        Anyway, my point is is that there are surely much more 100 qualified people out there to contribute to what is surely a very good idea.

        Now the problem becomes, how do you gain traction and maximize engagement with that creative and industry community, in order for the best ideas to scale, too?

        Your post is a good first step.

        • Alex Bainbridge

          Hi John
          Plenty (thousands) of great mentors out there for “how to run a business” – or even “how to trade online”. But its industry mentorship I am most interested in, not mentorship on say “how to structure an employee share scheme”. This reduces the field.

          For example I have spent years focused on how to do global scale software as a service to local tour operators. Say someone was to do the same for hotels….. I would learn as much from a mentorship role as they would from me. I would be exposed to new thinking, they would be exposed to known battle hardened processes (or ways we have tried and failed). Its a two way process where both sides benefit.

          Yeah, numbers were slightly plucked out of the air! I accept that!

          • John Pope


            I agree with most of your points, and certainly wasn’t suggesting general business related queries become the focus of discussions – e.g. “how to run…, “how to trade online” or “how to structure shares” etc., they are all, however, very relevant questions to most young entrepreneurs.

            But people who have had experience scaling a business, reaching many customers or engaged users, is without question, the most difficult process in the journey of any entrepreneur, be it in travel or any other industry. This process and problem is described brilliantly in Geoffrey Moore’s iconic book, “Crossing The Chasm.” People who have been successful in realizing this outcome are few and far between in travel.

            That’s why I’m suggesting spreading the wings of this hypothetical-yet-soon-to-be-created platform to include creatives (great storytellers) from any industry who have tremendous experience and insight in to how to frame a story and form a SUCCINCT compelling message, that reaches and resonates with the target audience. That skill is REALLY hard, and requires extremely creative minds – and these people aren’t generally considered vital, or critical to success, like their more obvious technical and management specialist cousins.

            We personally have some of these “types” of people on board with us, and they have been, and I’m sure will be, invaluable to our development, and none of them had any previous travel industry chops, so would likely be excluded from your original vision. They understand the mind of the consumer, better than most people will ever hope to understand them.

            I know for a fact, that there are a number of people in the audience here, who have successfully built great technology, that satisfies an obvious need or solves a very real problem, have excellent industry chops and are connected to all the “right” people in the industry, yet their businesses have failed to take off because they either haven’t been able to reach enough people; or, if they were fortunate to achieve a reasonable amount of reach, were still unsuccessful communicating the message that resonated with their target audience and gain significant traction necessary to flourish.

            Because of this inability to reach their audience or convey a compelling message, they ultimately fall by the wayside, even though their business should, in theory, be very successful.

            Again, the most difficult part of the journey is reaching critical mass – NOT BUILDING THE RIGHT PRODUCT, OR REACHING THE RIGHT INDUSTRY AUDIENCE (unless the business is B to B, only). But, many (most) businesses being creating in this sector are B to C models – and well they should be, because they have the highest impact. (I know you probably disagree with this sentiment, and have written on the topic previously, but the facts are the facts – most start-ups are B to C)

            You, Alex, must have also gone through this exact scenario with your business. I remember you describing these issues you were having, and thinking, “Why isn’t every tour operator out there using Tour CMS or Rezgo?” as there isn’t a single tours and activities company on the planet that doesn’t, or couldn’t use their services and technology for the relative little cost, yet massive value you guys were providing.

            This all comes down to telling “the right story” to “the right people” at “the right time.”

            And that, ladies and gentlemen, ain’t easy. 😀

          • Tradian

            @ John Pope – I must say that I find it interesting that no one commented on this one. Being a start-up, and having ticked the technology box, the segmentation box, to certain extend the “connection” box I must say that our real struggle is getting the story right, to nail the message. Perhaps its easier if you do “the same as others just better” you can see what have been done and tweak it. But if you are brand new in a part of the industry that hardly knows what a customer satisfaction survey is, and if they do they use pen and paper, well, then you need to start education people. And for that, you need to get your ducks in a row, in a very straight row.

            We have gone over our message a hundred times, I think is better than when we started off, but have we got it right? Hell no. So yes, mentors who can help a start-up with just that are for sure in high demand, as even if everything is right, isn’t the story told properly, its all an uphill battle.

  28. Peter Syme

    Spent 3 intensive days with approx 20 other adventure business owners last year in Switzerland on a cross mentoring program. Businesses ranged from small start ups to serious businesses. Was very useful and motivating . Online and phone mentoring has its place but nothing like face to face for quality interaction and development.

  29. Psycho

    I know guys who do some kind of this stuff for startups in general, not only for travel. Their site is called – if you have some ideas on how it can be used for travel industry, I may share them with them.

    We tried to create community for Russian online travel professionals and this idea worked well – right now we have more than 1000 members of Travel Startups Facebook group –
    We want to expand this idea and to build an international community, so feel free to join – I think that community can give some support for newcomers and to help everyone who is involved.

    Of course, it would be interesting to see some kind of “mentors marketplace” (“Airbnb for mentors”, huh?) and such kind of project could be really useful. I see Tnooz or as a good base for such kind of thing.

    • Alex Bainbridge

      AirBnb for mentors! Oh dear…… ! I am less interested in having a “long form” mentorship marketplace but instead focus on the smaller, simpler, “what one thing” approach.

      Of course, as part of this simplified approach, there is an element of discovery and no doubt “long form” mentorships WILL be created as a result – but if you set out to do that initially via the UI its unlikely to be the outcome.

      Just like dating websites are not full of wedding images!

      • Psycho

        I like your point, Alex.
        Then why not do some kind of “ask a question” node here, on Tnooz or on some other website? And experts can share their answers publicly gaining even more “reputation points”.

        • Alex Bainbridge

          I would say that when people ask me questions and I want to answer in public I write a Tnooz post!

          Ha, actually I think this has to be a private “invitation only” / “invitation by referral” solution – in order to get people being open. Also probably needs some kind of “friending”.

          Certainly something more than a password protected spreadsheet.

          • John Pope

            Why would you think a closed environment would be best?

            That may eliminate access to those who are in most need, but have little access to the “in” crowd.

            Could you elaborate more on your reasoning, please?

      • Dee

        I have been really impressed by some of the people and answers I’ve stumbled upon in Quora.

  30. Randy Petersen

    applause with the same comments as others. i started earlier because i thought there was both a missing link in funding travel startups in the niche for road warriors/frequent flyers and as well to pool mentors for the same. What i’ve found is that informal mentoring seems to work best as it doesn’t require a continuity plan that often identifies mentoring into coaching. As noted, 5 minutes with 30 mentors vs. 150 minutes with a single mentor …. let’s all give that five minutes.

    great read. it has my support.

  31. Matt Zito

    Great insight, thanks for sharing.

    I think your idea is interesting and I’d be open to learning how I could integrate a mentoring service into

    At we are currently advising, mentoring and coaching 7 travel startups.

    We have a community component where we help inspire others through the Travel Startup Founders Series where we interview a travel startup entrepreneur or seasoned CEO to share their story. We then broadcast the interview as a podcast.

    We also help entrepreneurs make connections with investors and other travel companies.

    Matt Zito

  32. Paige

    Thanks for the mention Valyn 🙂

    I get a lot of mentorship and advice from tech entrepreneurs that i’ve met through TechStars and conferences but less from people in the travel industry. I have worked many years to find a few amazing mentors in our industry who help me with most connections and advice regarding travel. But agreed, I would love to see more of the leaders in the travel industry stepping up to do more official (and unofficial) mentoring.

  33. William Tang

    Great article that really resonated with us at FindMyItin. We’re still in the very early stages but I’ve been looking for mentors since day one with no luck yet.

    You make very good points and wish it were easier to find travel experts who would be willing mentors.

    In Toronto, there aren’t that many in the field of travel so it’s been hard to find mentors. We’ve been working hard to network and get connected to people who might know people but you know how it is…not always effective especially when you don’t know the right people to begin with.

    We will keep pushing forward!

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi William
      Yes – I am particularly interested in travel industry mentorship for grand scale startups.

      Its easy enough to find, in your locality, mentors for running your business or finding funding or whatever it may be.

      What is harder is to find is mentors who really understand what you are doing. For example itinerary creation. I can tell you (rather boringly) how different types of in destination tour operators want to receive itinerary enquiries. OR you can work out how to create a tool that is just for consumers (but if you don’t have suppliers in it, where is the business model)…… OR you can create a tool that enables travel agents to work better with their sub-set of customers and enable the travel agent to augment their own private CRM.

      This is not necessarily local knowledge (unless you happen to live near someone who is expert on this). The global super set of experienced founders though WILL all be able to provide an insight on this…… Its this kind of mentorship we should be addressing, not the “how to create a business” style (which is invaluable, but not something that needs a global solution)

    • Drew Meyers

      “In Toronto, there aren’t that many in the field of travel so it’s been hard to find mentors.”

      This exact scenario is why we’re trying to organize travel tech entrepreneurs by geography. This is the very beginning of the list – (if signed in, the results are sorted nearest to your location first).

      I’m love to get more people on this list, so as to help travel founders find potential mentors nearby them. In perfect world, mentors are people you can see in person at least occasionally. This list would also enable travel founders, most of whom all travel regularly, to find people in the industry to meet with while they travel.

  34. Shashank Nigam

    Great idea Alex. Running my own travel startup, SimpliFlying, for the last 3+ years, I’ve been lucky to have a set of 4-5 key mentors whom I’ve been going to, just to ask this question, “What would you do?”. In fact, just got off the phone with one of them, asking the same question about a press interview that’d have meant lots of publicity, but work would have suffered due to 28 hrs of flying to get there! (turned it down in the end).

    Over the last couple of years, I’ve been myself mentoring a few travel startups, and never shy away when requests come in. Though, it’s not scalable. And the concept you’re putting forth can lead to good results if well executed. Perhaps a simple Craigslist-type of website to begin with would work. As long as it gets the job done.

    In fact, I’d take you up (or anyone who’s reading this) to work on this together, get some rapid prototyping done and have it launched in a few weeks. Drop me a line, or tweet me @simpliflying.

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hello Shashank

      Thank you for your comment. I certainly hope someone can help do this as a project….. really need an engineer who gets the vision and who wants to give back to the grass roots.

  35. Valyn Perini

    This is exactly why OpenTravel founded Travel Traction, our series of educational events for startups and new entrants. As a past participant yourself, Alex, you know it’s a great place for entrepreneurs to find mentors because we bring in travel industry types who are interested in talking to entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs who really want to understand how the travel industry works.

    My own experience, as a mentor to a half dozen startups, is that entrepreneurs aren’t always great at asking for what they want. There are some entrepreneurs out there, like Paige Brown from Dashbell, who can clearly articulate their company’s place in the travel universe and what they want from a mentor, and are eager for knowledge and unafraid to ask questions.

    Then there are others who are afraid of showing what they don’t know or think they know everything or just aren’t sure what they need. Those are more time consuming to work with, and though they can be just as gratifying, it takes more time and effort on my part to work with them, and I’ve got a day job.

    Here’s my one piece of advice to entrepreneurs – know what you want from a mentor. Use your mentor’s time wisely and you’ll always be rewarded, with time, information and introductions – just what an entrepreneur needs!

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Thank you for your comment Valyn

      I am a great fan of Travel Traction and enjoyed speaking at Travel Traction Berlin earlier this year. Wonderful.

    • Alex

      Somehow professionally organized events like these are so expensive that a tiny newcomer like us can’t really afford…

      There are, however, plenty of meetups available that bring like-minded travel-focused individuals together – shout out to Travel Massive and Travel 2.0 NYC meetup. Would love to see some of you, commenters, there! 🙂

      • Alex Bainbridge

        Travel Traction was highly affordable. It was under 50 USD if I remember. OK the flight to and accom in Berlin may have added up to more – but the previous Travel Traction was in USA and I am sure will return to USA at some point (its not my event, I don’t speak for it)

  36. James Harrison

    Sounds like an excellent plan, always happy to help.

    Diego is an expert communicator and as a result people are always happy to help him.

    I find the biggest struggle with young entrepreneurs is that they are scared others will steal their ideas and so are closed, don’t talk about their idea, don’t ask for feedback and as a result get nowhere. You have to talk about your ideas and learn to process the feedback from family, friends and then outsiders.

    Having said that, I like the idea of being able to post particular questions and have experts give you simple advice. Let me know if you need any help 🙂

    • Elmer B. Alinsog

      James, you are exactly right. For the most part, these budding online travel entrepreneurs or wanna be entrepreneurs would contact the vendors or suppliers, asks for products and services detailed materials, but reluctant to provide detailed requirements fearing that someone will steal their ideas.

      They way I see it, the global marketplace is $12 Trillions+ a year to even worry about competition. Unlike many industry that can be monopolised, in the online travel industry, no one can. So, worrying someone to steal your ideas is a bit misguided. Collaboration & Co-opetition should be the key.

      Most vendors find it annoying for entrepreneurs to asks detailed information about products and services, but they are reluctant to provide detailed requirements. I’ve experienced many communication breakdowns on this stage alone.

      • Drew Meyers

        Spot on. Successful businesses are not about ideas. Well executed strategy is the only way to win.

        • John Pope

          What is a strategy, if not an individual or collection of ideas?

          Every business, good or bad, starts with an idea; ergo, all businesses are built on the foundation of an idea.

          You can’t have one without the other.

          Love, marriage or a business. 😉

          Failure to recognize that, is certainly a bad idea.

  37. Jean-Claude MORAND

    Teaching in this area I would be glad to meet ambitious and competent teams to help them to grow their startup with a specific interest to the French speaking markets (France, Switzerland) but not only.

  38. Robert Sharp

    I am co-owner of a travel startup. Being five-years in, and relatively successful, I would still greatly appreciate, and obviously benefit from, such a program. I do feel that as my business grows I could also be a great asset to entrepreneurs that are/were in my shoes… motivated, passionate and eager to learn and grow. Please keep me in the loop regarding any opportunities to be a mentee.

  39. Diego Saez-Gil

    Great point Alex. I think the continuous flow of innovation that we see in Silicon Valley is a result of the cross-pollination and mentoring culture that they have built. It’s interesting how Steve Jobs mentored Larry Page and Zuckerberg as CEOs, even though their companies competed fiercely in many areas.
    At the travel industry we need to embrace the idea that for one company to win is not the case that other company has to loose, and as you said that innovation and new leaders are good for all.
    I have to say that so far I’ve received a lot of generous advice most of the times I asked. But we can always use more! 🙂

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Diego
      You are exactly the kind of person I can learn from but would never otherwise engage with.

      Its particularly tough OUTSIDE of the US and OUTSIDE of hotels / flights – because there are few successful entrepreneurs outside of those sectors who are reinvesting….. and successful hotel / flight people tend to always create a new hotel / flight startup.

      • Elmer B. Alinsog

        Hi Alex/All,

        I’m an online travel business and technology consultant for more than 10 years now and have assisted many startups. I can participate on some group mentorship, but not one on one mentorship due to workloads and entrepreneurial endeavours.

        But I do offer a one hour free consulting conference and series of email Q & A. One of the biggest challenge of the new entrants are understanding the complex layers to identify who the suppliers are and contact these suppliers for partnership (this is where many breaks down – learning the industry speaks, what to say and what’s not to say), not to mention how the technology should be plumbed or mashups. The lack of knowledge to Identifying those layers can affect their commission or markup margin or even choosing the right vendors or fulfilment and ticketing partners can make or break a startup.

        I’ve had founders of startups coming back with the same questions and challenges stuck at research for months even years because they cannot afford to hire a consultant.

  40. Pranav Ahuja

    Sounds like a good idea. I myself work for one of those budding travel startups and am looking forward to seeing the travel industry prosper.

  41. Steve

    Currently advising four travel startups, three tech another more traditional. Have advised about 30 in last three years, most of which now have funding or at the least still exist (phew). Happy to take on more, but only if they’re really interesting (not just another OTA with a twist)… Always happy to answer questions too!

    Sometimes it is just a conversation to get my opinion on something, sometimes it’s a sounding board they need for their ideas, other times its connections they want to leverage and sometimes its deeper advice on technology, strategy and user experience.

    I enjoy it, like to get involved, share experiences and knowledge, meet interesting and smart people. It’s rewarding, although can be time consuming, which likely explains why there’s a shortage in travel (travel industry folk tend to be busy enough anyway, I know I was when I worked full-time in travel).

    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Steve
      Yeah – I think the way I proposed (above) it would reduce the burden on those who are asked to be mentors.

      For example, when taking advice on how the industry works, really I want 5 minutes from 30 people, not 150 minutes from 1 person. It doesn’t replace the current model, but it would be an approach that NEW entrants, without a network of contacts, could use to access a wider mentor set.

    • Al

      I must commend you Steve for doing great work. It’s really difficult for start-ups to find a mentor in the industry. I am a founder of a travel start-up and have found it difficult to find a mentor from travel industry even the once I found after reaching out never got back to me and been working alone. Would really appreciate any help I can get. My skype: JR Smith…thanks everyone

      • Psycho

        Drop a note to
        I won’t call myself a mentor – I’m also still a startuper but have got some experience and guess, can help in some questions.

      • Marianna Koos

        Hi Al,

        I would be happy to help if your need is in my area of expertise. I am at your disposal.

        Thanks Marianna Koos / MK Travel Consulting INC. (

        • Al

          Thanks Marianna will get in touch with you soon

  42. Barbara

    I was recently asked to be a mentor by a young entrepreneur building a travel startup. I worry about what this means for the future of travel tech 😉

    • Alex Bainbridge

      I think you would make a great mentor Barbara

      • Barbara

        Too busy launching my own company, and it’s right up your street. Desperately seeking tech mentoring btw 😉

    • Jim Reddekopp

      I just finished serving at the Immediate Past Chair & CEO of the National Tour Association. I recently started up sharing my knowledge on how to start your own online travel design company. It’s an eight week online course that shares 25 years of my professional tour operator life on creating, managing, marketing and managing risk. The final segment is a mentoring program with other past president, and CEO’s of the National Tour Association. I would like to offer this course to the first 100 of your readers. Please let me know if I can help.


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