According to the 2015 research findings of the firm Phocuswright, the Middle East travel industry is expected to rise to US$98 billion by 2017. This is the market that online travel portal HolidayME.com is targeting, and to its credit, it’s been gaining traction steadily, and catching the attention of investors. In a Series A funding round, HolidayME.com has raised $7 million from a variety of investors, which consisted of U.S. VC firm Accel Partners, Saudi Arabia-based F&C Overseas Investment and former investor Al Sanie Group, which had invested $4 million in the enterprise in 2015.
The startup can be seen as one of Accel Partners’ entry points into the MENA market, as its previous investments include Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook, Dropbox and Spotify. In a statement, Prashanth Prakash, Partner at Accel Partners, commented that it was the startup’s focus on “building a personalized customer experience platform” that makes it well poised towards capitalizing on the MENA’s future travel market.
Founded by Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap in 2014, HolidayME.com is available in both English and Arabic and offers customized travel services and curated itineraries for holidays, hotels, flights and activities, integrated with customer reviews from TripAdvisor. On deciding its valuation, Bhalla explains that they looked into the current traction and gross merchandise value, the tech and differentiators, market size opportunity and the team. “A lot of good money is chasing good startups,” says Bhalla, on how they determined which investors to seek. “But it is important to go beyond money and understand how an investor can add value in the long run.”
He notes the benefits of having investors like Accel Partners “who are very adept at providing the technology and business expertise” with their experience from numerous startups, as well as the advantage of having regional investors who could “help open doors for conversations to expand our business across the GCC”- all of which are important attributes to their future growth plans.
The funding process started at the end of last year, with Bhalla saying that it took about 5-6 months to complete, noting the relevance of having structure and schedule through the course. “It includes convincing the investors of the overall vision of the company, current traction and how it can be scaled for the future, technology development, the team and its execution capabilities,” recalls Bhalla. Once the investors were convinced, getting the standard paperwork and agreements together took about 2-3 months, resulting for the entire procedure to take 5-6 months.
What happens next
The CEO explains that it’s all about using the funds across multiple areas of the business, particularly in enhancing their technology, acquiring customers, expanding regionally and making strategic hires as part of their 12-month plan.
Geet Bhalla, co-founder and CEO, HolidayME.com
ON THE ECOSYSTEM “I think the MENA ecosystem has started maturing well. There are a number of smart investors who are looking at the right investment opportunities, which align with the market requirements. E-commerce in the region is growing phenomenally, so the market opportunity is not in question. It is more about the execution capabilities, differentiation and traction. With this in mind, investors will be investing in teams that will build companies of the future.”