There is something to be said about the truth behind the “Instagram vs. reality” meme, but a new travel app wants to make it easier for you to travel. Drawing in recommendations from your friends and network is close to that.
As they approach the one-year anniversary of launching Out of Office in August, the co-founders shared more with Fortune about building a new travel app in a world awash with travel recommendations, as the travel industry teeters on the verge of collapse.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Before you launch Out of Office, could you tell us a bit about your professional background?
Jan Seale has spent his entire career in the consumer space and the last 12 years in the consumer technology startup arena. I worked at the Gap’s corporate headquarters for seven years after graduation from Cornell University. Finance, financial planning, and merchandising were some of the functions that I held in that organization.
I left the Gap to join the Trunk Club in Chicago, where I was among the first 20 employees. I met Coabi at the Trunk Club. I stayed at Trunk Club for six and a half years and helped grow the company through early growth, acquisition by Nordstrom and subsequent scale.
I joined Havenly, a high-growth startup, as vice president of revenue, focused on innovation strategy, after leaving Trunk Club.
Out of Office was founded by Coabi and me in 2020.
Before I got a job as a production assistant for an NBC show, I started my career in film and television as an intern. I worked my way up in the world of television production and was a TV producer on an award–winning show for Warner Bros. In the year 2011, consumer tech was starting to pick up steam in Chicago. I was a member of Trunk Club for seven years. When I left I was on the executive team as vice president of clubhouse sales, and I started out there as an individual contributor.
I joined Cameo, a Chicago tech startup, as a strategic adviser and vice president of talent relations after leaving Trunk Club. I oversaw the supply side of the marketplace before leaving after its Series B round.
The launch of Out of Office?
The idea for Out of Office was conceived by Seale and Coabi while they were still at Trunk Club. The need for what we wanted to build was solidified after a few travel experiences, so we picked our idea back up in March 2020.
The two of us were in charge of making all the arrangements for the trip to London with our girlfriends. We had a spreadsheet, notes on our phones, and confirmations in our emails. We used a spreadsheet to make sure we made it to all of the reservations, but when we showed up to a high tea on the wrong day, we realized that there had to be a better resource to both get.
When we looked at each other and said there was no better time to build Out of Office, it was right as the borders had closed and we were in the midst of a global pandemic. It was never a question of if, but when the world would bounce back and the tourism industry would have to be at the forefront.
We went to work to build the best platform for travel recommendations from people that matter the most to you.
The travel industry is certainly recovering, and search interest for international flights reached a new high after the White House revoked the requirement for a negative COVID test before entry to the U.S. but inflation and a looming recession have some people nervous about spending on travel.
Despite inflation and increased pricing for hotels and airfare, the travel industry is coming back. It is interesting to know what our users are doing. A mix of travel behavior is being seen this summer.
People are engaging in revenge travel and taking a big trip to Europe after two years home. The shift to remote work allows people to spend more time away from their homes. People are taking smaller weekend trips and road trips more frequently.
How is it funded? Are you talking to investors or is it self-funded? What has the financing been like?
Seale is a venture-backed startup. We raised over $5 million in capital over the past year. The journey has been full of ups and downs, but largely has been positive.
Raising money is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. We met some amazing people who became investors in our business and friends through the process. We both used to work for amazing people at different phases in our careers as investors.
The odds are against us being minority and female. I was one of the first 100 black women to raise a million dollars in venture capital for our company. With billions of venture dollars being deployed each year, it’s unfortunate that that number is so small. Ensuring that more marginalized groups get access to venture capital is a priority for Coabi and I.
How do you want Out of Office to grow over the next five years? Do you want to add more services in the future?
The problem we wanted to solve with Out of Office was always a clear vision of Jan and I. By giving people easy access to trusted recommendations, we wanted to improve travel. We want to be the most trusted place for travelers to connect with one another and the world, as we think about how we expand upon that and what OOO looks like five years from now. We have spent the last decade of our careers democratizing access to things, such asTrunk Club, personal styling, and Havenly, and we think about doing that in travel.