Travel planning is a nightmare. So many moving parts cause decision paralysis and fear you’re getting gouged. That’s why 7-year Facebooker Ari Steinberg just raised $1.6 million for his new startup Vamo. It’s building what Ari calls “the holy grail for travel…a site where you can book a full vacation” or business trip. Priceline, Expedia, and TripAdvisor may have something to worry about.
Now, Steinberg’s quick to say his forthcoming product Vamo isn’t a direct competitor to those travel booking and review sites. He was very cagey about the details of how Vamo will improve the travel planning experience. But what he envisions could encompass them all.
Steinberg came out of Stanford and worked as an engineer at Facebook in the early days before becoming a manager. He and two other employees founded the Facebook Seattle office together, which grew from the three of them to 150 staffers before Steinberg left the company last October. He’s a worldly guy with a penchant for wanderlust, and over his visits to Brazil, India, Japan, China, and Italy he realized how arduous travel booking was.
Steinberg tells me, “It’s a full weekend-long operation just to pull all the pieces together to plan a trip. How long? Where am i going? How long am I staying there? How do I get from place to place? The whole process is really difficult.” Isolated, each piece is easy to plan. But since all the parts are tied together, making the best decision on all of them simultaneously is a huge challenge for our brains. Which dates do you prefer? When is the hotel you want available? When are the flights the cheapest?
“There’s something called a ‘constraint satisfaction problem’. It’s a really geeky way of assembling all these different variables and trying to optimize them” says Steinberg. The solution requires serious engineering work on big data, machine learnings, algorithms, scalability, and distributed systems.
That’s why Steinberg came out of stealth now and raised the $1.6 million. He needs to recruit a bigger team of top-notch programmers. The funding comes from a coalition of early-stage firms and angels across entrepreneurship and travel.
Investors include Adam D’Angelo (Quora), Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvim (Dropbox), Adrian Aoun, Akhil Wable, Ben Ling, Bono (U2), Box Group, Charlie Songhurst, Crunchfund, David Tisch, Dave Morin (Path), Fritz Lanman, Hadi and Ali Partovi, Hank Vigil, Jed Stremel, Keith Rabois, Kevin Colleran, Marc Bodnick (Quora), Max Levchin (PayPal), Sam Shank, Scott Banister, Spencer Rascoff, and SV Angel. The money will help Steinberg grow the team from its current four-person headcount, and tackle the engineering challenges involved in optimizing travel.
“With Vamo we’re helping people have richer travel experiences. They have a limited amount of time off and want to make the most of it. We want to give you all the joys you can get from travel.”
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