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“Consumers see the immediate benefit of our product, strategic partners see the value in joining forces and investors see a crystal clear path to revenue.”

With over 20 years in the financial technology space Robert Brown is taking his knowledge and expertise from the markets and applying them to his other passion: travel. From back-packing through Europe and Asia through reaching ‘George Clooney’ status as a frequent flyer, Rob is an expert travel consumer and understands the needs of travel planners. Robert holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Western Ontario and an MBA from London Business School.
Options Away is an online travel booking site that offers a new service that is long overdue – providing consumers more time to decide when booking flights.

Options Away is a fully accredited travel agency that offers the same low fares offered by the leading flight purchase companies. What’s new is the possibility for travelers to hold their prospective flights for a small fee, eliminating the need for hasty commitments. This exciting innovation was started by a team of travel addicts from the financial markets who were tired of missing great travel opportunities because of ever-changing flight fares. The team used their knowledge in options pricing and applied it to air travel, all while building out the team with veterans from the travel industry.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you expand on how Options Away is disrupting the travel industry and at the same time bringing a new level of value to consumers and industry participants alike?

Robert: The travel industry has always been driven by bookings, since this is the point that real revenue is generated.  Countless companies have tried to move further up the funnel by providing better planning tools that can inspire travel and motivate the customer to make a booking earlier.

Options Away changes the game by creating a new revenue source with a low cost item that is available to a consumer BEFORE they are ready to book their travel.  By giving consumers the value-added ability to hold an airline ticket while still planning their travel we are not only inspiring customer travel but actually showing the intent of these consumers.   While this is truly disruptive, it actually adds value to the overall travel workflow.  While most new solutions look to manage the existing workflow more efficiently, Options Away is changing the workflow and generating new revenue.  Rather than trying to slice the same pie into different pieces, Options Away is actually making the pie bigger.  As we build out our strategic partnerships we have the ability to share this new revenue with other participants in the industry (airlines, online travel agencies, etc.).

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk about taking the concept behind Options Away and any challenges you encountered during the development process?

Robert: Options Away started with the idea of taking the concepts and models from the financial markets and applying them to travel.  In the financial markets there are some very well defined models that are used for pricing options on financial instruments (e.g. stocks or exchange traded commodities).  While this idea is complex in and of itself, the real challenge came when we realized that airline pricing and revenue management behaves in a very unique and equally complicated way.  We spent considerable time and effort building out our models so that we could accommodate both the concepts of financial options and airline revenue management.  But there was actually a third component to our modeling that applied – consumer behavior.  We had to build our entire solution and launch it to the public before we could really fine tune it based on how consumers hold flights.  I don’t think we will ever have a ‘final’ pricing engine.  The more people use our solution the more we learn about our models and we are continually fine-tuning the way our system works.  While this makes for an exciting and dynamic environment it is certainly a challenge to have a solution that is never quite finished!

BusinessInterviews.com: Options Away only launched this past September but there already seems to be a buzz about the company and what you can do. How have you managed to gain such an impressive amount of traction in such a short period of time?

Robert: Well, as I said, Options Away is providing a service to the consumer that has never before been available. It is amazing that almost every individual has the same reaction when they hear about us. “You can’t do that! You can? How is it even possible?” This has been an incredibly difficult endeavor based on the complexity of the pricing models and airline revenue management systems. Once we cracked the code and launched our website, people were amazed that they were able to do something that they had often dreamt of. The beauty of Options Away is that it is a win-win for travellers. If the price of the flight increases, the customer pays the locked in price and saves money. If the price of the flight goes down the consumer gets that lower price instead. Either way, they have saved money and that gets people talking. We have had some great press, that’s true – and I think that’s because our concept is so different. Look, there are thousands of startups that promise to make travel planning more enjoyable but their value propositions are often unclear. Consumers see the immediate benefit of our product, strategic partners see the value in joining forces and investors see a crystal clear path to revenue.

BusinessInterviews.com: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose and why?

Robert: I would have to say the Maldives. I have been close to visiting this gorgeous island chain a few times and something has always interfered. Before we started a family my wife and I would try to incorporate scuba diving into our holidays if at all possible. We have been to some pretty fabulous spots, but there is something about the Maldives that is so appealing – I think it’s the absolute serenity. Outside of diving there is not a lot to do there but relax and it has been a very long time since I have been anywhere remotely like that. The fact that these islands are literally disappearing into the ocean adds an extra sense of urgency that fuels my desire. If the sky were the limit, we would spend a weekend heli-skiing the Himalayas in the Kashmir region beforehand. I spent my childhood in Switzerland and my wife grew up in Canada so even when the warm ocean waters are calling, skiing is firmly in our blood.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some trends in the travel industry that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?

Robert: I think we are going to see a continued move toward mobile.  Initially we saw a migration of travel products from the web to mobile. More recently, we’ve seen companies launch with mobile-only solutions driven by consumers’ constant connectivity and the expectation that they get what they want, where and when they want it. Where there is still room for improvement is how these solutions make consumers feel comfortable about finalizing their travel transactions via mobile. Trips are expensive and, for leisure, exciting purchases that people want to feel comfortable about. Options Away speaks to this by making it easier for travellers to make impulse decisions that they won’t regret. The data shows us that people are willing to spend $10 on their phones to hold a flight when they’re not necessarily ready to purchase a $400 ticket. You can imagine how nervous someone might be booking $600 flights for a family of four while riding on a busy train or in line at the bank. Our mobile app is really about peace of mind, and we could all use a little more of that these days.

BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally in 2014?

Robert: I would have to say that more than anything, professionally and personally, I am looking forward to expanding our team. We have a significant development staff of course but there are only a few management-level employees, including myself, who run the day to day operations. We just closed a seed round which will allow us to proceed with a few new hires. We are still at the stage where everyone we invite to join our team is responsible for wearing many hats, for example we look for marketing staff with mathematics backgrounds and quants who love blogging. These people are not always easy to come by but there is a very impressive pool of young talent out there. The travel element helps here – Options Away seems to have enough sex appeal to attract young people at the top of their games. From a personal perspective, just being able to outsource basic operations like accounting will be liberating for me. I want to spend 100% of my time ensuring that our strategy is the right one and scaling the business effectively. We will be kicking off a Series A round very soon, and shifting from a B2C to a B2B2C model so it seems that professionally I have my work cut out for me. And personally? Well the joke around here is that I started this business because I love to travel and I haven’t taken a vacation in two years!

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