Via.com co-founders to launch new travel start-up

via--621x414The two founders of travel website Via.com have moved out of active roles at the website and will soon launch a new business in Singapore in the travel space, although both of them as well as one of the original website’s investors maintain that the new venture doesn’t clash with Via in any way.

Earlier this year, the company promoted COO V. Swaminathan as CEO, and CEO Vinay Gupta was named chairman. Co-founder Amit Aggarwal, formerly CTO, was named “board observer”.

“The idea has nothing to do with OTAs (online travel agencies). It is a little open ended right now…it’s a concept really. We are looking at solving some very large problems in the travel business globally,” said Gupta in a phone interview.

While he declined to share the name of the new start-up “pending its official launch”, he said, “we are looking at building something in the search travel space that involves sophisticated tools and technology”.

Gupta and Aggarwal together own about 30% stake in the company.

Gupta said Via’s structure permits it to do only one kind of business.

“We can’t marry everything. We are not necessarily in the business that we were funded for,” he added

Via.com, launched in 2006, received $5 million from IndoUS Venture Partners in 2007 and another $10 million from Sequoia Capital in 2009. It turned profitable in 2007.

While Gupta did not reveal Via’s revenue and profit numbers, its annual revenue is close to $500 million, according to the company’s website.

Gupta said Via’s focus is on expanding extensively overseas including Asia, South Africa and Latin America. He expects the travel company to be present in 45 nations by the end of the month.

The company’s investors appear to have no problems with Gupta and Aggarwal’s new venture.

“The new start-up is non-competing and non-overlapping with Via’s business,” said Ravi Shankar, managing director, Sequoia Capital. “The two are there for Via and will now provide mentorship.”

The management reshuffle notwithstanding, Via continues with its expansion plans and may look at fund raising for its global entities. The company may also strike an alliance with other online travel agencies said four people familiar with the matter who did not wish to be identified.

In 2011, the Bangalore-based company, formerly known as Flight Raja Travels Pvt. Ltd, had plans to raise as much as $100 million from venture capital and private equity investors to fund its global expansion but deferred the plans, funding the expansion through internal accruals.

“We are not ruling out fund raising plans in the near future. We will raise capital for our regional entities and not at the company level,” Gupta said, adding that the amount could be in line with their earlier fund raising plans of $100 million.

“Via has very good traction in the Philippines and Indonesia. So we want to consolidate our leadership position. Focusing on growth is our priority,” said Vani Kola, managing director, IndoUS Venture Partners.

Meanwhile, the company has also been attracting other online travel agencies for strategic partnerships. These include at least two domestic and one global company, said one of the four persons cited above.

A senior executive with a New Delhi-based travel company, requesting anonymity, said his company received a proposal to invest in Via.com through a Mumbai-based investment bank.

Gupta played this down. “No Indian online travel agency has the financial muscle to buy us out. We have not seriously looked at any strategic alliance. Anybody can send you a mail. These are not financial proposals.”

Source: Live Mint

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