Rafat Ali
Skift

PaidContent Founder Rafat Ali Raises Another $1.1M For Skift, His Site For Travel News And Data

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Skift, the travel industry-focused site that was launched in July 2012 by PaidContent founder Rafat Ali and Jason Clampet (who previously ran content and editorial partnerships at Frommers.com), is announcing today that it has raised $1.1 million in additional seed funding.

The new funding was led by Lerer Ventures, with participation from various funds and angel investors (skip to the end of this post for the full list). It brings the total amount that Skift has raised to $1.5 million.

Skift says that it will have more than half a million unique users this month, and that 25 percent of its traffic comes from mobile. It also says its readers are likely to be “executives and managers from leading brands” in travel and related industries, such as Expedia, Priceline, JetBlue, Starwood and others.

When I asked Ali how this growth compares to PaidContent, a news blog on the media industry that he launched in 2002 (it was acquired by Guardian Media in 2008 and is now owned by GigaOm), he said, “Just the velocity of how quickly you can make a mark, that’s changed a lot now.” Ali attributed much of the speed of Skift’s growth to social media — the company says 10 percent of its overall traffic now comes from Twitter.

Ali added that even though Skift’s topic is the travel industry, he thinks of it as a “business information” startup, rather than a travel startup. He said it’s a company where “media and data go hand-in-hand,” and where Skift’s news content can serve as a “funnel” to its other products.

That said, he acknowledged that the data side of Skift’s business is still early. In January, it released its first report, “13 Trends That Will Define Travel in 2013,” and in February it launched SkiftSocial, which offers social media data for travel brands. Ali said Skift will launch its first subscription data products next month.

“We have a big plan for the data part and we will launch these mini products along the way,” he said.

And like most online media companies (including TechCrunch), Ali plans to launch a Skift conference, though he said he wants to focus on “one flagship conference” that has multi-million dollar potential, rather than a bunch of smaller events.

Most of the Skift articles that I’ve read have been related to tech in some way, but Ali said the company’s coverage is broader than that, covering the full gamut of travel industry news, as well as other transportation trends like ridesharing.

“A lot of the traditional players in the travel industry are focused on specific verticals, while the silos are collapsing in travel, as they have in tech and finance and other industries,” he said. Ali also argued that a site covering business news (though to be clear, Skift wants to serve a consumer audience too) “doesn’t have to be boring”: “Travel is the most creative expression of human exploration. How can it be boring?”

Getting back to the funding, Ali said the company will use the money to double its staff from five to 10 and to move out of its current co-working space and into an office. The new funds in the round include Ironfire Angel, MESA+, Advancit Capital, and GrowLab/LX Ventures. The new angel investors include Jason Calacanis, Michael Cunniff, Duncan Jennings, Sean Keener, Shakil Khan, Martin Nisenholtz, Paul Noglows, and Michael Yavonditte.

Skift declined to say whether any of the previous angel investors have increased their investment with this new funding, but those past backers include Chris Ahearn, Luke Beatty, Gordon Crovitz, Craig Forman, Jim Friedlich, Tom Glocer, Vishal Gondal, Jason Hirschhorn, Peter Horan, Alan Meckler,Mohamed Nanabhay, Sanjay Parthasarathy, Amol Sarva, and Chris Schroeder.