Backed by $10M Series A, TravelJoy is riding the post-COVID demand for expert travel planning

A travel-focused startup that the COVID pandemic could have killed has instead thrived. TravelJoy, a company providing a suite of tools for travel entrepreneurs and travel business operators, is now facilitating over $1 billion in annual spend for its customers, as interest in travel rebounded in the U.S. in the post-pandemic months. Now, the company is looking to AI to fuel the next growth stage of its business.

For co-founder and CEO Dayo Esho, the idea for TravelJoy emerged from his experiences growing up in the travel industry, supporting his mom’s travel agency business.

“We knew there was something there, so we decided to go lean into it,” he says. “We actually interviewed 50 travel agents before we even started writing any software. The stories were very similar to what I saw with my mom — it was 5 million spreadsheets, people working until midnight every night, totally underserved — faxing forms, emailing credit card info — just trying to scrape by.”

Esho teamed up with longtime co-founder CTO Chris Kline to work on the project in the years following the wind-down of their earlier product discovery startup Shelf. Before that, the two had worked together for a good part of a decade at LiveRamp, which spun out of Rapleaf, and later exited for $310 million in 2014 when it was acquired by Acxiom.

“I like to joke that Chris is my longest relationship because we’ve been working together for 17 years now,” Esho said with a laugh.

Image Credits: TravelJoy; founders, Chris Kline and Dayo Esho

The co-founders began working on TravelJoy in 2018, while participating in NFX’s accelerator. The software is designed to help travel entrepreneurs compete with DIY travel planning tools like Expedia and, with or without having to pay to join a host travel agency with all its accompanying overhead and use of dated software. Instead, TravelJoy’s online dashboard allows its customers to keep an eye on all the trips they’re planning in one place and includes built-in CRM and messaging tools, as well as support for payments, and soon, more booking integrations.

The company also recently added integrations with travel insurance provider Faye and Viator, a marketplace for travel experiences.

Image Credits: TravelJoy

The idea is to centralize the travel entrepreneur’s workflow, with CRM, messaging, invoicing, payments, proposals, itineraries and group trip management in one digital solution. The software-as-a-service offering is priced at $30 per month, or $25 per month if paying annually. The company also monetizes on the payments side, where it partners with Stripe, and will monetize the booking process, as well.

The company was just getting off the ground in 2019, raising its seed round and growing its customer base.

But then 2020 came along and basically blew things up for the new company.

Despite the pandemic’s massive and immediate impact on global travel, TravelJoy surprisingly didn’t shut down. Instead, the founders focused on serving their existing customers whose clients were now no longer booking trips, but canceling them.

Image Credits: TravelJoy

“We ended up giving a two-month credit right when COVID hit because of the sheer amount of pain that we saw — GMV dropping over 90%…it was one of those things where we just put our head down and didn’t lay anyone off and kept working on the business. You just take the long view; it’s a long journey,” remarks Esho.

The team ended up building new tools to help its customers reschedule trips for their clients as well as gift card pages that would allow people to support their local businesses. Eventually, the height of COVID was over, and travel began to pick back up in 2022.

A little over a year ago, TravelJoy raised a $10 million Series A, which had not yet been announced. Theresia Gouw, founding partner of Acrew Capital and former board member of Hotel Tonight and Trulia, led the round, which also saw participation from NFX, Founder Collective, Forerunner and Concrete Rose.

The software today is used by thousands of travel entrepreneurs and aims to capture more of the market in the U.S. where there are roughly 200,000 full-time and part-time travel advisors. The remotely distributed team now includes 30 full-time employees and TravelJoy is hiring in engineering, product design, marketing and customer support.

With the additional funds, the service plans to add AI features to support its members’ planning workflows. It plans to announce more details about how these tools will work soon.

Hints Esho, “We’re¬†going to help level up humans to be able to not only compete but excel by differentiating with that extra level curation, that white glove service, that support when things go wrong,” he explains. “You marry that expert-level curation and support with modern technology and AI. Time will tell, but those are the two versions of the world that are forming — the Terminator versus the Iron Man suit. We’re all in on that Iron Man suit,” he says.