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Feature photo: Seedstars Cape Town judges during a startup’s pitch
Francesco Signoretti is the CEO of lastminute.com group, a European leader in the online travel and leisure industry. The Group has an impressive portfolio of well-known brands such as lastminute.com, Bravofly, Rumbo, Volagratis and Jetcost, with websites and mobile apps in 15 languages across 35 countries.
As an official partner of Seedstars World, lastminute.com group has agreed to power a Travel Investment Track that will award US$500 000 in equity investment to the best travel startup. Signoretti was with the Seedstars World team at the Cape Town event to help source the best South African travel startups.
Seedstars World sat down with him to chat about the Group, the new challenges for the travel industry and his role model.
Seedstars World: Hi Francesco, thanks for being with us! Lastminute.com group has partnered with Seedstars World to scout for the best travel startups and invest in the top travel entrepreneurs. Why is a group as big as lastminute.com interested in startups?
Francesco Signoretti: Historically, the group has always pursued a strategy to invest and partner with startups. We have always been keen about developing ideas and finding complementary business models in order to help them reach their full potential and to make sure that the group is always close to the market and the next trends.
We try to be hands-on by leveraging our services and IT facilities, all the while giving as much independence as possible to the startups. For example we have invested and acquired a startup called Mapp2app, a travel guide mobile app that creates guides for hotels and tourism offices.
However, it is true that with Seedstars World, it is the first time that we present ourselves in such a structured and marketable way.
SSW: And why do you think it is important to focus on emerging markets?
FS: The primary driver of growth today is definitely international expansion. Our main market is Europe (like the UK, France, Italy, Spain), but we have been very successful in expanding internationally with our platform, especially in the Nordic countries, Eastern Europe, South America and Southeast Asia, all markets with a huge potential.
With regards to entering a new market, we have a cross-border approach in which we start lean (such as leveraging our English language platform first) and once we see traction we go ahead and invest more time and resources to localise properly our services. Only then do we consider local partners for commercial partnerships and M&A deals.
SSW: What are the key trends to expect in the travel industry in the coming years?
FS: The biggest challenge and opportunity today is the huge traffic that is being generated by mobile devices. That is clearly something that is changing the way customers interact with our services. Hence the change of focus from being device-centric to customer-centric.
It is a must today to have the platform be 100% mobile-responsive to facilitate the whole booking process for the customer. The other trend that is very clear is the unique experience that we can provide to our client. It is important to increase the added value.
We are working on adding specialised vertical niche services to address the overall travel experience (parking at the airport, lunch, security, and so on). The success is in the detail and our capability of finding the right ancillary services that will simplify the life, journey and experience of our users. So now it is no longer only about helping the customer to book his/her flight, it’s about accompanying them all the way before, during and after their journey.
SSW: From a strategic investor perspective, what do you look for in a travel startup?
FS: Well first of all, we typically look at businesses that are complementary to our strategy, either from a geographical perspective and/or from a product perspective.
We started off as a flight-oriented company and we now have diversified our services, so flight actually only takes up 50% of our business. This is mainly due to the fact that we are pursuing acquisitions that are complementary to our vision and our business model.
Then, in terms of characteristics, we look for an entrepreneur that is fully on board and committed to the project. The ability to execute efficiently is one of the first things we look for.
This article was originally published on Seedstars World Blog with the title ‘Francesco Signoretti: The Man of The Hour’. It was republished with the author’s permission.