The making of flight concierge app AHOY
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
We spoke with Sylvia Brune about her journey on developing a booking app that's used by entrepreneurs and execs globally, and find out what's in store for her next.
Invent a solution to your own problem. That's what Sylvia Brune thought to herself while working for a start-up fund & accelerator in Africa, travelling around the continent, investing in start-ups. She thought the business travel experience was broken, especially when plans change a lot. Sylvia set out to fix it by offering business travellers the option to book, change and personalise flights at short notice – initially run from her WhatsApp. We've spoken to Sylvia about her journey from booking flights on WhatsApp to developing a booking app that's used by entrepreneurs and execs globally, and find out what's in store for her next.
ADM: What is the story/idea behind AHOY.io?
Brune: The idea behind AHOY is: business travellers are super busy, the world is their workplace, and they shouldn't have to worry about anything while travelling.
I used to travel a lot for work across Africa. In the beginning, it was really exciting, even when it was slightly crazy. But after a while, I experienced how time-consuming and stressful business travel could really be; trying to stay productive while battling issues with travel agents we used, in addition to the general disruptions that come up when travelling frequently.
Travellers can spend so much time checking details and worrying about traffic, queues, disruptions and plans changing while fixing the admin fumes that come with it all. When that was me, I kept thinking: "Why is business travel so broken? This was supposed to be fun."
You are expected to stay connected to colleagues and clients when travelling, while also needing to spend hours managing travel info and small changes that come up along the way. It's not easy to do both, so it results in stress, and can ultimately lead to burnout.
ADM: How did you get started?
Brune: When I got back to Europe, I sent my WhatsApp number around to some frequent business travellers I knew. I said, "If something is not working, or you're frustrated when travelling, just WhatsApp me and I'll fix it."
It started off with random requests, but as they started trusting me more, it morphed into a flight booking and change service. My number got passed around a lot, and I started charging a monthly fee.
It took off from there and I ended up booking and changing flights around the clock. I often woke up in the middle of the night to WhatsApp buzzing under my pillow. It's a miracle that I never missed an urgent message, or messed up someone's flight. Thankfully, a friend sat me down and said, "If you ever want to sleep again, you need to stop what you're doing or turn it into an app." – so I turned it into an app.
ADM: What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome initially?
Brune: Business travel, for me, is something that should never not work. And having been a frequent traveller before, where unreliable products and support had driven me insane, I wanted to eliminate all uncertainty and worry for our travellers.
The problem with travel, however, is that it is uncertain. The underlying tech is not consistent, for every "rule" there are hundreds of edge cases, and each airline and airport is different, operating on numerous different systems. Not to mention, weather, traffic, security queues, and other real-world disruptions.
Secondly, since most travellers have had this experience before, getting them to trust a completely new product is not easy. Even if you have a significantly better or faster product – they are used to the problems and providers they're using, and it's tough to get them to give you a chance. Nearly all our travellers initially came through word of mouth, which was great, but not sufficient to grow. We eventually found ways through this but had to fail a LOT to get there.
ADM: How does the app work?
Brune: We took some of the biggest frustrations that travellers told us about and fixed the ones we could.
For example, being able to put flights on hold and make calmer, smarter booking choices without needing to rush. Previously they had worried that prices would go up or the flight would get sold out.
Also, having lots of last-minute types of travellers, we made it possible to not only book closer to departure than other apps, but also focused on a faster booking flow.
Our auto ticket changer in the app helps people quickly calculate the costs of needing to move their flight time.
And for all the edge cases, we created an in-app 24/7 chat powered by human travel agents, so that everything business travellers need to get smoothly from A to B is possible to do in one app.
Extras like auto check-ins, passbooks sent, preferred meals, seating, and miles are also taken care of - anything to make sure business travellers can slide through the airport, land at their destination happy and able to focus fully on their real job.
ADM: How is AHOY.io different from other business travel apps on the market?
Brune: Business travel tools are made for many different things, but only a small part is focused on great experiences for business travellers. A lot of them are built for finance, HR, and managers.
There's a reason many business travellers prefer to book on tourist sites and airlines through metasearch sites like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Google Flights. But then flight details are scattered everywhere and getting help is a pain, so when you're stuck it really sucks.
ADM: Who are some of your customers?
Brune: From a really early stage, when I was still booking flights via WhatsApp, AHOY has attracted people with busy schedules who don't want hassle when they fly for business. We've helped CEOs, entrepreneurs, consultants and engineers, as well as Buzzfeed reporters and Uber launchers. Basically travellers with demanding jobs whose plans change a lot - or who just want to know that someone has their back when they do.
ADM: What are your ambitions for the coming year?
Brune: We want travellers to be able to personalise their journeys even more than is possible at the moment – giving people the option to do anything at the tap of a button, without needing to chat to agents. Anything from buying preferred seats ahead of check-in, adding fast track if they're running late, to letting them know what in-flight food is available, and giving them a head's up on luggage rules, which will allow them to book extra in-app if they need to.
All part of the greater goal of creating smarter, happier, and stress-free business travellers.
Sylvia Brune is the founder of flight booking and concierge app AHOY. Their mission is to create a stress-free experience for business travellers, enabling them to quickly fix anything they need while on the go.
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