It was in July of last year that I hit rock bottom, with one thought blaring through my terrified mind: Our product was only half-built, and a huge player in the market had suddenly pulled our partnership, making it impossible for our company, a corporate travel booking site called, NexTravel, to go online.
Not only did our partner pull out, they also stole a client.
I felt like an Olympic athlete who’d just torn a muscle opening a jar of pickles: Is this how it ends? All that hard work -- the hustling, the all-nighters, the boring networking, the sweet-talking investors -- for nothing?
Actually, forget that pickle jar metaphor because the athlete doesn't persevere to win an Olympic event in the end.
Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
My cofounder and I were at our breaking point. We had been building our product for months while physically booking travel for a bunch of clients to stay afloat.
My sleep-deprived brain tried to wrap itself around the very possibility of having to write checks back to our investors. But we had already inked a deal with another fairly large client and were supposed to go to market.
We had no idea what to do: Roll the dice that we could deliver in the long run for the clients we did have? Or cut our losses, massive though they were? I was freaking out.
Luckily for me, Alexey, my level-headed cofounder, sat me down, looked at me with unwavering confidence, and said, "Wen, you’ve closed big deals for us before. You can do it again. Go get them."
I pulled myself together and got my game face on. I sent out hundreds of emails to corporate travel agencies and travel companies. I cold called. I flew out to LA and took meeting after meeting. I got probably fifty emails saying, “We don’t think this is a fit for us,” if I got any reply at all.
Apparently, getting a partnership with a travel company was impossible for a startup.
But, just like a seat on an overbooked flight, it only takes one. Not only did we get the travel partnership we needed, but they also turned out to be exactly the kind of progressive and accommodating partner that was a good fit for us.
I wouldn't call it a blessing, exactly, that our initial partnership collapsed, but we can count ourselves lucky that we ended up with such a perfect fit.
Getting To Market
Even after inking a brand new partnership, it wasn’t smooth sailing.
As a startup, you’re used to things moving quickly and being done right away. It took us three months to get from booking a ticket on NexTravel to getting it issued. We weren’t used to working through compliance issues and with the logistics of a brick-and-mortar corporate travel agency.
We were launching six months later than planned, which, in start-up time, is an eternity. At around that time, we got seed funding from Y Combinator.
We were on the fence about moving to SF for a few months, and we weren’t sure it was worth the equity. We were getting offers from other seed investors for a bridge round of capital. So, when we flew out for the interview, we were actually pretty lukewarm about it. But then we went in for the interview, and we got in.
We knew right away we wanted to do it.
Our three months in SF were probably some of hardest but funnest times we’ve ever had. We worked non-stop and seriously got our sh*t together. They forced us to launch in the press, throwing cold water on the too-cool-for-school attitude we arrived with. We also zeroed in on growth and retention metrics, examining where our bottlenecks were, which we still do day-in and day-out today.
Most importantly, we were surrounded by 100 other teams of talented, visionary individuals who had similar hopes and dreams; other entrepreneurs who were going through the same growing pains of starting a company.
Grow, Grow, Grow!
Six months post-launch, we've had over a million dollars worth of bookings on our site. We’re growing between 50 to 100 percent every month. We have hundreds of customers that love using our product, and we continue to scale up our consumer base by the day.
We work hard at making our core product better, and we are starting to work on new things existing travel companies aren’t even thinking about. We’ve established solid partnerships, and people in travel actually know/care that we exist!
We’re only scratching the surface of what we can do.
No one ever talks about all the random, crazy steps you have to cover to get from zero to a million, like watching as bigger companies screw you over just because they can, or selling a product that doesn’t even exist, or learning blue-screen command chains so you understand the infrastructure of travel, or worrying about how long you can keep yourself and your cofounder motivated when it’s not entirely certain you're even going to get to market.
There’s no straight line to success, and the sooner you accept that, ironically, the shorter your path will be. You just take things one day at a time and trust your gut.
All those sleepless nights made us appreciate our wins even more. I am so grateful and happy to have the opportunity to build a product that helps makes people's lives easier.
As we grow, of course, we continue to have our ups and downs; it's a never-ending roller coaster.
I’m sure this is only the beginning of our journey; we’re only starting to fly.
NexTravel is an online booking platform that makes it easy for companies and employees to book and manage their travel for work. We even have discounts for smaller companies! Click here to check us out.