Some of the earliest internet startups and success stories focused on the travel industry – an industry that’s been inherently ripe for disruption. In the successive 20+ years, much of the focus has been on supporting the consumer experience where individuals can plan trips and easily book travel. Despite pressures from other channels, travel agencies were responsible for 29% of gross bookings in 2021. However, in other adjacent industries like transportation and delivery, the gig economy has flourished (eg Uber, Seamless, etc.) providing newfound independence for workers. Fora is a tech-enabled travel agency that is seeking to provide the same flexibility to travel agents and advisors whether they want to work full-time or as a side gig. The company has shrewdly identified that personal travel recommendations go a long way and there are many people that are looking to monetize their travel expertise. Fora provides advisors with the platform, social tools, and knowledge framework to build and grow a business around their passion while offering their travel clients curated and individualized itineraries as well as added premium benefits like upgrades and spa credits for booking. The bulk of each commission earned is kept by the advisors and there are no monthly minimum sales goals or quotas. The company has already onboarded 500 advisors with a ballooning waitlist of 30,000+.
AlleyWatch caught up with Fora Cofounder Henley Vazquez to learn more about the business, the company’s strategic plans, latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $18.5M, and much, much more…
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Our Series A round was led by Heartcore Capital and Forerunner for $13.5M.
Tell us about the product or service that Fora offers.
Fora is a modern travel agency that is thoughtfully designed, proactively inclusive, tech-driven and well, cool. We’re building the platform and community to empower anyone to transform their passion for travel into revenue as a travel advisor – side hustle, full-time, or anywhere in-between.
Fora was born from our founders’ conversations centered around:
- Women were disproportionately laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic
- As travel resumed, there was pent up demand for travel
- A desire for more purpose-driven, flexible work
Fora exists at the intersection of empowering anyone with a passion for travel to transform it into a meaningful career, on their own terms.
How is Fora different?
Fora is reimagining the travel agent industry with fresh eyes. We’re firm believers that travel isn’t one-size-fits-all; we’re different from the online booking sites because we connect you with a real person who can give you customized support. And we’re different from traditional travel agencies that have had little innovation since their inception (resulting in issues like a lack of inclusion, late or missed commission payments, and beyond). We’ve built Fora with a focus on flexible work – so our advisors aren’t restricted by high minimum sales requirements like traditional agencies. We want to be more democratized than traditional agencies – if our advisors succeed, we succeed.
What market does Fora target and how big is it?
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending hit a new pandemic high of $101 billion in May 2022. The American Society of Travel Advisors reports that nearly half of travelers (44 percent) estimate they are more likely to use a travel advisor when the pandemic is over.
What’s your business model?
Fora Advisors are paid a commission from their bookings in a way that is not very different from an online booking site. Fora takes a cut of the commission, and the advisor keeps the majority. Hotels and other travel providers also love working with us because we put a lot of effort into recommending the right place for each traveler.
How are you preparing for a potential recession or economic slowdown?
While the pandemic brought tourism to a trickle, the industry is resilient and we’ve seen that there’s still demand for travel. Fora Advisors have the ability to book for any type of traveler, whether that’s a far-flung destination or a more budget-savvy staycation. In addition, even if travel bookings are flat across the industry, we’re still constantly adding new advisors, so we’ll see growth in our bookings. We’re investing heavily into training and support for our advisors, so they are set up for success at every stage of their journey as a travel entrepreneur.
What was the funding process like?
We raised our seed round with Forerunner and were very fortunate to work with their team as partners straight out of the gate. When it came time to think about raising our Series A, we worked with Forerunner again, alongside Heartcore Capital. Since they knew our brand, team and vision, it made it a natural fit to deepen our partnership and take the brand to the next level alongside one another.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
We started a travel company in the midst of the pandemic when tourism was at a standstill. Raising capital in any industry right now is difficult; being in tourism made it even harder.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
In a very short period of time, we proved the two milestones that we set out to demonstrate when we started:
- There are lots of people – thousands, tens of thousands – that are at least notionally interested in a new career as a travel advisor.
- We can support these people – through training, tools, brand, and community – and transform them into successful travel advisors.
I think investors really saw – and believe – we’re onto something.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re excited to build the next iteration of our tech-enabled client & booking management system, the first of its kind in the industry. We’re also launching a cohort-based training program for our advisors. 97% of them hadn’t sold travel prior to becoming a Fora Advisor, and so we want to provide them with all of the tools they need to succeed in this space.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Get creative with the resources you do have. Community and connections are a huge part of what drives us at Fora, and networking opportunities are abundant. Support others and look for opportunities that are win/win to build your brand alongside other companies with value-aligned missions.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Our mission is bold: we want to empower 100,000 travel entrepreneurs to build meaningful careers on their own terms. Since our launch, we’ve onboarded around 500 advisors (with a waitlist of 30,000). Our fundraise round represents an investment in continuing to build the platform and community to support our advisors from their 1st booking to 1,000th.
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