Fundraising:, unlocking long-haul international travel business for boutique hotels in Africa

Today’s featured member of the VC4Africa platform is entrepreneur Sarah Fazendin 
of, a travel tech startup that was selected as one of only three winning companies to participate in the 2013 Telluride Venture Accelerator, dedicated to the acceleration of high-growth potential businesses in travel and tourism. secured a lead investor and is now fundraising on VC4Africa – see’s venture profile. Only registered investors can review documents, see details for this deal, and express their interest to participate.

What’s the story of how you set up

“In 2001 my co-founder, Maisa Fernandez, and I were managing the Kenya Tourist Board’s North American marketing together. While global travel came to a near standstill after 9/11, we were able to grow travel from North America to Kenya over the next 5 years. Together we spent countless hours listening to the challenges boutique hotels in Africa were facing, and then both went off on our own to individually help these companies via marketing consultancy firms.

In the past year, over 7 years later, we came together once again with the shared belief that technology was the answer to help boutique hotels in places like Africa sell more rooms. This time the question wasn’t one of marketing, but rather in creating a better distribution platform from the ground up.”

Please describe your business plan?

“ is the first online marketplace for boutique hotels in emerging markets. About 60% of boutique hotel rooms in places like Africa and Latin America sit empty every night. That’s a lot of empty rooms, and works to fill these rooms by giving travel agents and tour operators a more efficient way to book boutique hotels in emerging markets. As a business-to-business reservations platform, connects boutique hotels to distributors who are actively booking this kind of inventory and desire a more modern, more efficient way to do business.”

Why are you launching first among hotels in Africa?

“Africa is a market that my co-founder and I know extremely well. We have strong support, network and connections here. Also, African travel has a very focused distributor network, so on the hotel booking side our model works quite well.”

Can you highlight the main milestones you have achieved with the business to date?

“Making it through an extremely competitive selection process and being accepted into the Telluride Venture Accelerator program was our first key milestone. Our development team is currently head’s down building our reservations management platform for hotels and in the next week will begin working on the reseller portion of the ecosystem. We are working in 7-day development cycles and have very aggressive milestones on which the development team has done an amazing job of delivering.

The second week of May the biggest tourism trade show is held in South Africa, called INDABA. We’re working against these dates for an official launch.

On the business side, my co-founder and I have been very busy with calls every day with boutique hotels across Africa. We have about 20 hotels confirmed for our Beta test which we plan to begin mid-April, including some well known boutique hotels in Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. It has been such a pleasure working with these intimate, boutique properties to understand their needs and get them excited about’s plan to create an online booking environment exclusively to help them sell more rooms. The support has been motivational for our team!”

What was the single greatest challenge/obstacle you faced to date with your business? How did you overcome this?

“The biggest challenge we’ve faced has been navigating the notoriously complicated distribution atmosphere of international travel. There are many layers between the hotel and the end traveler.

While the natural inclination of many travel tech startups today is to cut out all middlemen and go direct to the traveler, we know in emerging markets and exotic locales this doesn’t work. Middlemen continue to add value, and we’ve worked very hard to create a platform that make the process as efficient and disintermediated: now the “right” middlemen continue to add value, but the hotel is enjoying as direct a booking process as possible. We work every day to make the experience as user friendly and efficient as possible.”

How can you prove your business will deliver?

“The concept of a dynamic booking environment for hotels and distributors that makes the process more efficient has been enthusiastically embraced both by hotels and distributors. We’ve had to turn hotels away from our test, as we want to keep the initial test pool limited to 20 hotels.

We’re set to begin our test on April 8th and from this we’ll confirm that the hotel/distributor interaction is efficient and intuitive (and make changes along the way based on test user feedback), and we’ll be able to verify some assumptions we’ve made as to number of bookings a hotel can expect to receive on each month.”

What are your unique selling points as opposed to other suppliers?

“Our biggest competitors are companies like Sabre, Travelport, Amadeus and the other mass-market travel global distribution systems. mirrors their proven business model but is solely focused on boutique hotels in exotic locations. Our focus is supporting the unique needs of these small properties with intuitive, powerful technology and offering this in the context of a business model with which they are comfortable; business to business, supporting specialist agents and operators from the start.”

What kind of investors are you looking for and for which amount? Which milestones do you want to reach with the investments?

“Our bridge round, which we’re in the process of closing now, will support rapid onboarding of the first 120 hotels in Africa. We’ll be hiring Business Development Managers in Africa to support our on the ground efforts.

Our full seed round of about $500k, which we’re planning to raise later this year, will support staffing, continued development, mobile development and continued support and onboarding of hotels in Africa and later expansion into Latin America.

We are looking for investors who share a passion for exotic destinations, who have some experience with the travel industry and it’s complexities as well as investors who can support the evolution of our business and financial model by staying involved and supporting our management team.”

How do you see and use VC4Africa, as a platform and as a community?

“For us it’s been a really powerful way to keep up to date with what’s happening in technology and innovation in Africa, as well as gain valuable insight from the VC4Africa team on our business model as we move into fundraising and this next exciting phase of our business.”

What is your message to the VC4Africa community?

“We’re thrilled to be part of this evolving and expanding African technology innovation movement. We want to be involved and look forward to connecting with and interacting with as many of the community as possible!”

For more information, see the venture profile of on VC4Africa. Only registered investors can review the documents, see details for this deal, and express their interest to participate. 

If you are an investors interested to meet entrepreneurs fundraising on VC4Africa, sign up here. Entrepreneurs who want to get noticed by international investors can join VC4Africa here. Also see VC4Africa’s five steps to fundraising.