How this travel startup raised $5M from ex-CEOs of Orbitz and Vacasa in the middle of a pandemic


TrovaTrip co-founders Nick Poggi (left) and Lauren Schneider. (TrovaTrip Photos)

The travel industry took a major blow when the pandemic hit last year, slashing revenue for airlines, hotels, and tech companies such as Expedia or Airbnb.

Despite those headwinds, Portland, Ore.-based startup TrovaTrip was able to not only survive, but convince investors to back its business.

The travel planning company on Tuesday announced a $5 million funding round led by Seattle’s PSL Ventures, with participation from Barney Harford, the former CEO of Orbitz, and Eric Breon, founder and former CEO of Vacasa. Elevate Capital and Oregon Venture Fund also invested.

Founded in 2017, TrovaTrip runs a marketplace that matches travel group hosts with travelers. The “Hosts” include content creators on social media who use TrovaTrip to generate revenue from their followers; the company lets them set their own trip prices. TrovaTrip partners with tour operators who charge a base rate and provide local guides for each group.

For example, say the base rate charged by the operator is $1,000. The “Host” can set the actual  price.

TrovaTrip makes money by charging a fee to the tour operators in exchange for bringing them leads, and to the travelers themselves. It has more than 110 itineraries across 40 countries.

“We’re in the business of helping others grow their business,” said co-founder Lauren Schneider.

TrovaTrip saw bookings fall by 75% last year when COVID-19 restrictions began. The company reached out to content creators and learned that many were struggling to earn money, as brands pulled back on traditional sponsorship and brand ambassador programs.

The startup responded by offering a new way for creators to monetize. It helped them run surveys with their audience and create travel itineraries for future trips.

TrovaTrip was actually able to sell more bookings last year than before the pandemic. Hosts were successful in promoting travel to email lists, using messaging focused on optimism, hope, and community, Schneider said. There are more than 350 trips planned from 200-plus “Hosts” through 2022.

“We were able to sell travel during a global pandemic and do it in a way that was brand-safe for content creators,” she added. “That’s how we got interest from investors and made them feel confident to invest in a company like us.”

Schneider, chief revenue officer, founded the company with CEO Nick Poggi. Both are graduates from the University of Oregon.

TrovaTrip will use the fresh funding to grow its 35-person team and add more tools for trip hosts. It had previously raised $750,000.

“We are excited to lead this investment in TrovaTrip, as the company sits at the intersection of the rapidly-growing creator economy and the re-emerging consumer travel industry,” Ben Gilbert, managing director at PSL Ventures, said in a statement.

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