Want to visit London, Paris, and Berlin, then blow off steam in Amsterdam? Expect a logistical nightmare trying to find the optimal route with the cheapest fights, trains, and hotels. Unless you use Vamo, a new multi-stop travel booking service from long-time Facebook engineer Ari Steinberg that launches in private beta today. Its hardcore algorithms crunch near-infinite trip permutations to solve the classic “traveling salesman problem” in a real-life context, finding you the most convenient route for the least money.
Vamo wants to help people escape boring, cookie-cutter package tours, and instead customize their own dream vacation. A year and a half of development since it raised $1.6 million, Vamo is offering TechCrunch readers a spot in its private beta to test out its first market: multi-stop trips through Europe.
Vamo is free to use, with the startup making money purely from hotel referral fees. Steinberg admits that growth will be Vamo’s biggest challenge. “We hope the tool is useful enough that people use it, like it, come back to it, tell other people”, he says. It has some runway thanks to funding from A-list angels and funds like Adam D’Angelo (Quora), Aditya Agarwal (Dropbox), Bono (U2), David Tisch and Box Group, CrunchFund [Disclosure: CrunchFund is TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington’s fund], Dave Morin (Path), Hadi and Ali Partovi, Keith Rabois, Kevin Colleran, Max Levchin (PayPal), SV Angel and more
But luckily there are plenty of opportunities if it doesn’t. With valuable trip optimization technology and a team of crack ex-Microsoft engineers, I bet Vamo would make an attractive acquisition for travel giants like Hipmunk, Kayak, or Expedia.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Steinberg tells me Vamo aims for Google Search-like simplicity, but also provides some inspiration for your trip planning. You can start by punching in the number of travelers, destination cities, how long you want to stay in each, a preferred order if you have one, and the hotel quality you’d like. Alternatively, you can start with one of Vamo’s suggested itineraries like Essential Italy with stops in Rome, Florence, and Venice, or a two-week Highlights of Europe jaunt, and make alterations from there.
Vamo takes about 20 seconds or so to do all the route crunching. That can take a lot of time compared to something like Hipmunk, but multi-stop trips mean Vamo is crunching far, far more options. This is where the skills of Steinberg, the former head of Facebook’s Seattle engineer office, come in handy.
Results are ranked with a home-made agony index similar to Hipmunk’s, optimizing for convenience like direct flights and airports near city centers instead of just price. You can customize every part of the trip, extending or shortening stays, rearranging routes, or picking hotels and flights you prefer. Watching the demo of Vamo recalculate everything when I said I wanted to go to Amsterdam first instead of last was pretty impressive.
On the final booking page, you’ll see all the different travel options with the ability to click through and book straight through an airline or train company. Hotel listings, sourced through Expedia, all show a bunch of extra info like distance from the city center and the TripAdvisor rating. Rather than a worry-inducing “Book All” button, Vamo gives you the confidence of hitting each reservation separately so you know exactly what you’re buying. Steinberg says “There’s never one right answer, and that’s an important principle.”
There’s no fee for booking through Vamo, and Steinberg it should get you just about the same prices available elsewhere. “At scale, I think hotel fees could be the majority of revenue” Steinberg tells me. “I think a lot of people in tech don’t realize how big travel is”, he explains, noting those referral fees can add up quickly. and that’s why companies like Booking.com and TripAdvisor have $10 billion-plus market caps.
Steinberg believes there’s a big business to be built here, but if it doesn’t work out, he notes that “I think we’ve built really good technology that could be complementary to things that are out there.”
Vamo will have to convince people there’s a better way to book multi-stop vacations than the standard travel engines. It will also have to fend off some direct competitors like AirTreks and Disrupt Battlefield competitor Wanderio. But with name-brand engineering talent and investors, plus tech that really works, Vamo could go wherever we want.