Avian: How a startup is making life better for travel agents all around the world

Challenged with the self-appointed task of revolutionising the way commission and incentives are managed by airlines and travel agents (TAs); Avian is a startup on a mission to drag the complex and convoluted process kicking and screaming into the future, with the application of some 21st-century smarts, deep data and machine learning.

To find out more about the company and its plans I spoke to CEO and co-founder, Mickey Haslavsky — listed in 2017’s under 30 list by Forbes magazine — to discover how exactly Avian are taking on this herculean task and what is in store for TAs and suppliers in the future.

(L to R) co-founder and CTO, Oran Epelbaum, alongside founder and CEO, Mickey Haslavsky

TD: Before we can into the real meat of the interview, tell me a little bit about your background and how you first conceived of the idea, that has become Avian.

Mickey Haslavsky (MH): Well, I come from a technology background and previously co-founded a company called RapidAPI, which was, and still is, the largest API market place in the world, allowing for developers to connect to APIs, using one simple hub and one platform, to browse through all the API’s which exist in the world. My cofounder Oran Epelbaum, an essential component in Avian, has twice been the CTO of two large cybersecurity companies in Israel.

We had been exposed to the world of NDC (new distribution capability). And as NDC is mainly about API’s I, naturally, had an interest started watching NDC APIs for a long time.

“Nobody speaks about the future of business and commercial communication”

When Oran and I teamed up and began working to help distribution and sales within the airline industry, we soon saw the problem airlines had with keeping track of the commission and incentives data. Then we realised this an issue throughout the industry and from there we began working with agencies as well.

We began by asking why has NDC adoption been so slow, and what we realised was that everything is around technology in the distribution space — but nobody speaks about the future of business and commercial communication between TAs and airlines. We asked, specifically, how will TA’s be incentivised to use new products and distribution methods. This is a big problem for TAs, who struggle to manage backend and frontend incentives, coming from potentially hundreds of airlines, at any given moment — because they are paper-based.

Conversely, the struggle for airlines, or indeed any supplier, is the management a lot of different incentives, from hundreds or even thousands of different agencies all around the world. This has become a very big problem.

TD: OK, so you have an idea for a concept, how did you then put it into action?

MH: Basically we developed online software which allows TAs to scan all of their backend agreements – all their incentives and commission contracts with airlines – allowing them to match that information with their sales performance data and show them how far off they are from achieving the targets we set up for them.  what is the ROI on each one of the commission schemes and the sales of the airlines they work with,  as well as providing real-time insights into what is the best product for them to sell at any given moment.

On the other side, we allow suppliers – currently airlines but in the future hotels, cruise lines and car rentals – to create real-time incentive campaigns and deliver them straight to the travel agent’s computer screen.

TD: Are you the only guys doing this?

MH: Well, there are analytics tools available that allow TAs to manually fill their commissions and incentives. But we are not taking it into the analytics level, we use deep technology and machine learning and literally given our partners insights into their supplier relationships and ROI they have on their sales.

TD: What have been the biggest challenges of launching Avian?

MH: When you enter the B2B world you can see a lot of challenges with data management and consolidating data all into one place, and we have had a lot of hard times building a machine that will analyse the data and make sure we can extract the most useful insights out of from this information. We are talking about billions of dollars in sales we are looking at and it is very hard to get these specific pints and information. But this is the amazing part of what we have built it literally allows you to have your big data machine learning algorithms as a service — that’s a big deal

TD: What stage are you guys at in the development of the operation?

MH: We have raised 2 million dollars so far, from Village Global, network venture capitalists from San Francisco, andJourney Ventures a travel VC from Israel – along with other angel investors, of course  And we already have TAs from the US, Europe and Africa now using our software, who are very happy with the service.

TD: Where do you see yourselves in five or ten years?

MH: Looking forward we can see how complex the booking experience is going to become. There are so many booking engines and pipelines which are evolving the market — NDC for airlines is one example but you can see this in the hospitality industry too — and the complexity of managing commission and incentives through all these booking engines is just going to get bigger, bigger and bigger.

We want to be the place where those suppliers and distributors have the ability to communicate and manage business relationships in real-time, creating opportunities and collaborations, together, digitally by leveraging this amazing technology and insights.

TD: What does the future hold for Avian?

MH: Today we have the ability to track and manage incentive agreements for TAs, but we are about to launch an API that will allow online booking tools and OTAs, and even travel management companies with online booking engines, to not only track the incentive and commission agreements they have but also implement them into their search engines, imparting the ability to bring much better prices content and profitability to TAs in the very near future.

We’re about to release that in a couple of weeks and I am super excited to, as it might just change the way things work in the supplier space today.

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