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Friday, October 10, 2008

IS EXECUTION ENOUGH TO FUEL INNOVATION? Comment on Timothy O'Neil-Dunne's article on "Technology is great, but it's the how that matters"

In a recent article in 4Hoteliers.com, Timothy O'Neil-Dunne (who incidentally is my former partner, and knows me quite well) made the following observation, focusing on how we frequently fall in love with technology, yet "see it parked on a shelf".

He segued from a discussion about smart phones, Blackberry, the iPod, right into the following comment.

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For example, at the 2007 PhoCuswright Conference, arguably one of these places where the arbiters of what’s cool in Travel Technology hang out, the winner of the 5-minute pitch was a company called LeisureLogix. Great idea, lousy execution and zero sales. They quietly sank beneath the waves.
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Timothy, Timothy, Timothy - It is beneath the waves where the power builds up....... Keep your eyes open. True innovation doesn't happen overnight. Rip tides can be terribly deceiving and hidden under churning waters.

I actually loved the segue between the iPhone and our Journey Planning product. I frequently use that in our pitch to investors. Our journey planning tool takes trip planning/booking, location based content and mapping/navigation and knits them together, much in the way that iPhone knits together personal assistant technology (phone book, calendar, to do lists), a camera, a music device and a GPS. What has previously been a very fragmented experience (planning a trip by car) is now a much easier task with RoadEscapes.com.

I will say that I guardedly agree with you about having technology see the light of day all being about execution.

By the way, it is very easy for companies like Apple and Rim to innovate AND to execute. Deep pockets have a way of smoothing that over and shortening development to market cycles.

Try doing that with your own life savings and talking angel investors into backing your dream before you can even demonstrate a product, or getting someone like Travelocity to sign an agreement to put the product on their site before you have written a single line of code. Paying payroll with Master Card and Visa, borrowing against your life insurance and working without a salary for two years have a way of ferreting out how serious you are about innovation. Remember the old adage "put your money where your mouth is"? I've been living that!

And I'm in very good company. Patrick Grady of Rearden Commerce at the recent Beat Live conference in Cleveland talked about how he paid payroll with his savings until Rearden got to the place where they could raise significant external capital. I will venture an educated guess that it took Patrick longer than 2 years to achieve his vision, since he began his journey in 2000 during similarly challenging financial times. So I actually feel very blessed Timothy to be where LeisureLogix is right now.

We did, quite wisely I might add, ramp down earlier this year when the original business model didn't match our expectations. That is what smart entrepreneurs do when their own funds are on the line for their dream. I have the incredible good fortune to have a patient angel investor and a very loyal group of supporters who have in large part donated their time (in exchange for equity of course) to keep the product moving forward and the company alive.

I also am blessed to have 12 years of business growth consulting experience (4 glorious years with you as my partner I might add.....), and am now applying that business incubation expertise to LeisureLogix, with the help of Solutionz Managing Partner and co-owner, Annette Hogan, who is acting as the CMO of LeisureLogix and Kit Cox, doing the work of what seems like 20 people right now, who you will remember from when you and I helped to build LasVegas.com, also in very challenging economic times, in 2002/2003.

Bottom line is that the product was and is still on target in getting this industry out of what I believe to be a broken metaphor - WHERE are you going and WHEN and a total focus on price. This dialogue, whether online or in a traditional travel agency environment only suits an air traveler, which in this country only includes 15% of all travel. 85% of all travelers drive. And check out the balance of spending, all the while remembering that the top Private Equity firms in this industry (TPG, Silverlake, Blackstone, BC and Cinven) have invested over $16 BILLION in the 15% piece of the pie that produces just $140b in annual spending.


According to TIA, the drive market represents 78% of all spending on travel in this country. And online travel and even the tradtional travel community have not even scratched the surface on the spending in the drive category.

PhoCusWright cites that online travel is at $137b and offline travel agency revenues are just over $129b. Do the math. There is still a LOT of opportunity to tap and at LeisureLogix we have our sights squarely on the bigger pie.

With LeisureLogix' award winning RoadEscapes.com product (by the way, we recently were awarded the new online travel category Silver award from Travel Weekly) we have introduced not only a tool for the drive market, but we've overhauled travel search to allow you to begin planning from WHO you are traveling with, WHAT you like to do (irrespective of WHERE you are going) and HOW you are traveling. We've even broadened the WHERE and WHEN metaphors. And we have introduced a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted "persona" known as the electronic twin or eTwin™ that allows you to actually get cross-category, relevant results when you enter a phrase or a keyword.

We have spent the last 9 months regrouping in incubation mode, but you of all people, know me well enough to know that we are definitely not out.

The product is alive and well at www.roadescapes.com. We just did a soft launch of this site in September as we further refine our new model and some very exciting and totally unique capabilities.

We have raised $6m to date and are not done by any stretch of the imagination! AND we are very patient. The news of our demise is greatly overstated.

I bought a book last night in the airport, published by the Harvard Business School Press in a new series titled "Lessons Learned" that quotes Brent Hoberman, co-founder of LastMinute.com as saying "Entrepreneurs must be tenacious. They should never take no for an answer." That is my mantra.

Thanks for remind us how important execution is Timothy. I do agree wholeheartedly, but don't forget that investment and risk are also essential elements and that with the $16b investment in the GDS industry by the Private Equity players we are still in a "sea of same".

I may be "quietly beneath the waves" right now Timothy but make no mistake, it is under the Blue Ocean and I am happy to ride this out and harness the power of the rip tide.


Chicke Fitzgerald
Extreme Entrepreneur, Author of "Bootstrap Business" (coming 1Q09) and CEO of both the Solutionz Group and LeisureLogix




(to read Timothy's original article - please click here) Your comments welcome!
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