Travel has rebounded in exciting, anxious, and sometimes confusing ways over the course of 2021. And how we are booking travel is changing just as quickly, too.
Elude is a budget-first booking platform in which people can book and discover trips—from the flight to the hotel—within their ideal budgets. Founded in 2019, the Los Angeles-based startup just completed a $3 million seed round that the company says will allow it to continue developing more user-friendly booking experiences.
Fortune recently spoke with cofounders Alex Simon and Frankie Scerbo about the first year in business and plans for its future.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: What inspired you to launch Elude?
Simon: Before founding Elude, I started my career on Wall Street, working in investment banking at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank. At Morgan Stanley, I worked for the private wealth division of Morgan Stanley investment management, later joining Deutsche Bank as the business manager of fixed incomes/debt operations. I ended up returning to Morgan Stanley before founding Elude and rejoined the company as a business manager for global banking and worked on the firm’s global operations reporting, analysis, and metrics team, focusing on commercial reporting and analysis.
Throughout my corporate career, I would spend hours researching affordable getaways and trips to escape monotonous, daily routines and explore new places and learn about other cultures. As an avid traveler, I quickly became passionate about finding affordable ways to experience global travel. My former bosses have played an instrumental role in Elude’s journey and inspired me to take the leap, quit my job, and start a travel company.
Frankie: Throughout my corporate career, I had the opportunity to travel the globe. During the early days of the Elude, I would sit in a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., putting together hundreds of different options and itineraries manually, sending them back over to our customers.
Eventually, our popularity exploded with travelers coming directly to us to find flights and hotels that were within their budgets—and we booked over 2,000 trips. At that moment, we understood that there was a real demand for budget-first booking, and today Elude is pioneering this new model for discovery and booking travel. Doing all of this manually wasn’t scalable, which sparked the inception of Elude, a first-of-its-kind technology that is reflective of today’s agile consumer; we’re the only booking platform, answering: “Where can I travel for $2,000?”
The last year to two years have been rough on the travel industry, to say the least. What has it been like launching a company within this industry during the pandemic?
Simon: When we set out to build Elude, it was because of our own passion for travel. When the travel industry came to a pause and people were canceling trips they had planned months out, we knew their interest in travel would only increase. This really inspired us to double down on creating a great product that would unlock the world when it reopened.
This hopefulness for the future of travel also inspired our investors to believe in Elude’s potential as well. Ahead of our launch last summer, we were really excited to see our community beginning to form with an eager waitlist of over 10,000 people. People were clearly ready to get out and travel again—some even more than before. Overall, the past year has been a key lesson for us in terms of learning how to build a product and listen to our community of eager travelers.
As travel rebounded this year, a number of different trends have emerged, from working remotely from hotels to revenge travel to trip stacking. What are some of the trends you have noticed through Elude bookings and surprised you most?
Scerbo: People’s travel habits changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, producing a significant shift in the ways people searched for and booked their vacations. Gone are the days of once-a-year, 10-day vacations. Many businesses worldwide are keeping their hybrid, or “work from anywhere” models, which lowered travel barriers for workers around the world. Many have taken advantage of regularly and frequently traveling on the job, working from the beaches or mountains instead of their small, city apartments. Younger employees are driving this trend, with millennials spending over $200 billion a year on travel.
Elude just launched a new function, Feature Trips. How does it work and why did you introduce this now?
Scerbo: We are constantly listening to our customers about how we can make their travel booking experience more efficient. Our new “featured trips” option will show up right when and allow them to book a trip in one click. This makes Elude the fastest travel booking experience on the market, offering people the ability to buy travel with the same ease as ordering food, buying concert tickets, and purchasing nearly anything else online. Travelers are now able to explore every potential trip without having to spend hours combing through different websites and apps. Expedia recently reported that the average American visits 140 different websites in the 45 days leading up to purchasing their trip. Now travelers are now able to explore every potential trip in one convenient window.
Looking ahead, how do you want to see Elude evolve in the next year, as well as the next five years?
Simon: Right now, Elude is a new-age travel agent that exists in your pocket, showing you all the options you can afford based on your expressed interests. Booking a vacation should be as relaxing and enjoyable as the vacation itself, and Elude’s key feature is the budget-first search engine that allows users to discover travel packages (flights and accommodations) leaving from their nearest airport all in line with their budget.
We see enormous potential for Elude, and in the next year, we want to implement new features to modernize the booking experience to cater to the next generation of travelers. We’re excited that Elude will soon launch in web browser and Android to reach a greater community of travelers. We’ve brought personalization to the industry, as our onboarding experience customizes trip packages and curates future travel suggestions based on customers’ preferences. We are also gearing up to create an enhanced personalized experience for our users. By analyzing their past trip patterns, we want to provide users with their ideal destinations before they even know it themselves. Additionally, we are committed to having all-in-one packages and will be rolling out itineraries with alternative accommodations like Airbnb and VRBO on the platform.
Within the next five years, our mission is to expand the ways Elude can enhance the vacation planning experience. We are dedicated to creating extraordinary travel moments and want to connect our users with authentic and local options during their stays. We want to add features like local guides curated by travel influencers, locals, and experts to Elude. This will allow members of our own travel communities to provide engaging and collaborative travel tips that are exclusive to the Elude platform. Additionally, we want to foster a growing community around global travel, adding a social layer where users can book trips with friends and share their plans all within the app.
This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.