Despite continuing spikes around both COVID and oil prices, that isn’t stopping many people from traveling this summer. And for many of those travelers, they’ll be trying to make the most out of their time away from home, often booking extended stays and working remotely on top of taking personal time off.
There are a number of new terms around this trend, sometimes referred to as “workcations” or “bleisure” (business and leisure) travel. Whatever you want to call it, this is a trend that might become a permanent practice for some professionals, and there’s a new luxury travel app tapping into the market right away.
Founded by two tech executives, Origin is a new travel company that creates completely personalized trips with expert support—all in one app through on machine learning based on the user’s interests, values, and connections with other travelers.
Based on a rising demand from travelers, Origin has created more itineraries that address adding work days to leisure trips. In response to the complexity of travel during the pandemic, Origin launched a “Where Can I Go” feature on the app, which helps users decide where to travel based on their interests and COVID restriction preferences.
Cofounder and CEO Eli Bressert recently shared more with Fortune about launching a new travel business as the world opens up again and trends to watch out for this summer.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Could you share a bit about your professional background before launching Origin?
Most of my professional experience is in machine learning, A.I., and product. At Apple, I led the Siri platform science and insights team. Before that, I was at Convoy, where I helped transform the trucking industry with data science and its impact on automation, economics, human-in-the-loop optimization, and scaling. I was also the data engineering and analytics manager at Netflix where I helped reinvent entertainment by leveraging data, algorithms, and engineering for Netflix Originals, recommendations, UI design, optimization, and messaging. At Stitch Fix, I led the research and development division on algorithms that created a high-touch service and style of clothing that we made hyper-scalable by using machine learning, and that’s what we’re doing at Origin.
The travel industry is certainly rebounding, but between the ongoing pandemic (and constantly changing travel requirements) and inflation (and a possible recession looming), it might not seem intuitive to launch a travel company right now. What inspired Origin?
I couldn’t agree more! Travel is now more complex than ever, with travelers spending about two to three days of planning and booking for each week of vacation with limited help and advice. It’s clear that for the last three decades technology has helped make travel more searchable, but there has been a growing lack of planning and personalization—exactly what Origin is tackling.
My cofounder, Tamar van de Paal, and I created Origin because modern travel has become extremely complicated and we believe that transformational travel allows people to live out their dreams. The barrier of travel planning, the time it consumes, and insider knowledge on destinations are holding people back from maximizing their travel experiences. Origin removes all those obstacles and makes the end-to-end experience a breeze. It was also conceived during a time of endless lockdowns, a desperate need for a change of scenery and a renewed craving for culture and exciting outdoor experiences.
We found that travel planning has always been a puzzle and a time trap. With locations open again, Origin curators will make the most of trip planning, they are available for constantly changing local travel regulation and COVID testing requirements, as well as cancellations policies. Standard online travel agencies do not offer this level of agility and support. Origin also allows members to unlock self-service support all within the app, helping members avoid the necessity of always doing phone calls and old fashioned self help tools.
Part of why Origin has gained attention is that it is touted for planning trips around “workcations,” or mixing working remotely with vacation time. How would this look in practice? And what are the benefits of mixing work and vacation time?
With remote work becoming more and more the norm, workcations are popular trips that Origin services on a regular basis now. Destinations and experiences vary, as well as time spent. Origin has seen clients request a quick weekend getaway with the following week set for work in a remote lodge, while others have sought out trips of 40 days+ to travel and work hand-in-hand.
As a remote-inclusive company, Origin is uniquely positioned to propose the best workcations designed by curators who are encouraged to work from anywhere around the world.
Workcations consist of a trip that is seven days long or more, with scattered morning and evening activities and plenty of time in the day to focus on work. Our curators select hotels especially for workcations to ensure they meet our criteria: spacious rooms or suites with floor to ceiling windows looking out to stunning views; a comfortable chair and wide desk; high-speed Wi-Fi of at least 100Mbps all around the property grounds; 24-hour room service; a fully-stocked coffee-station with healthy snacks in-suite. We make sure to include morning wellness sessions like a private yoga class or a surf lesson, prior to the blocks of time dedicated for work.
Many travel industry experts have been forecasting a busy summer ahead for the travel industry, and anyone who has been to a major airport lately can already confirm. What do you think will be some of the top travel trends this summer?
We’re seeing a spike in island hopping and yacht rentals in the Mediterranean this summer. People are running into availability issues at hotels on land and don’t want to miss out on the summer fun in the Greek Islands or the Amalfi Coast so they take to the waters with private boats and yachts. It’s going to be a busy summer on land and at sea!
Destination weddings and multi-destination honeymoons are very popular this summer. This trend is a result of being on lockdown for so long, not being able to travel and wanting to be with family and friends again in the same place. Travelers are requesting small wedding ceremonies to be arranged in stunning locations and then honeymoons with many stops. These adventure honeymoons are merging their celebration of love with their passion for culture and nature.
How is the company funded? Is it self-funded or have you reached out to investors? What has the financing process been like?
Origin has raised over $5 million in funding from top investors including Project A, Cavalry Ventures, and notable angels like David Rosenthal (cohost of Acquired), Brad Klingeberg (CAO of Daily Harvest and previously Stitch Fix), John Johnson (cofounder of Buzzfeed). We did our seed round in December last year and we are exploring the best moment for our Series A round.
Looking forward five years, how do you want to Origin to grow? What kind of services do you want to add in the future?
The future is bright for Origin. I have a few ideas in mind that we’re already working on. Some of these include:
- Continue to invest in our app to deliver seamless and augmented travel experiences. I’d like to see more pre- and post-trip user experiences to enhance features, and integrate with third party services to make Origin the one place on the user’s device that facilitates their whole trip.
- We’re currently focusing on the premium travel market. Once we develop our technology platforms to support this, we want to bring seamless travel experiences to all travelers of all budget segments.
- Today we offer our services and travel content in English. Five years from now, we plan to support five or more languages on the app.
- Arranging trips, passing along details to partners, and booking lodgings/flights with the right preferences is hard. The tools out there today are not user-friendly or unintuitive. We are creating our own platform to superpower our travel team and partners with A.I. and machine learning. This will, in effect, guarantee the best personalized travel experiences possible.
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.