Huge congratulations to Flocations.com, which confirmed today that it has secured S$700,000 Pre-Series Funding Led by TNF Ventures. SingTel Innov8 and Singapore-based business angel Ben T Ball also came in on the deal.
The team's roller-coaster ride began at Startup Weekend, took them through an early funding offer that would have forced them to accept a low valuation, then on to success after the JFDI.Asia accelerator program is inspiring, writes Hugh Mason.
Flocations calls itself an online travel discovery tool, which in everyday terms means it answers questions like “Where can I go for $200 this weekend?”. But the whole point of the service is really to avoid answering questions at all. Instead of wading through tables of prices and destinations, you get a map and a slider. Pump up the dollars and you can click on more destinations. Flocations makes finding out where you can go for your money fun and interactive.
That's the business but, of course, it all began with a team of people. Flocations' four founders Shaw, Florian, Tudor and Venkat respectively grew up in Singapore, France, Canada and India. They met at Singapore's second Startup Weekend, as Tudor Coman told me in September 2011:
The Startup Weekend that brought Flocations together was organized by Meng Wong, before he and I co-founded JFDI.Asia. Speaking earlier today, Meng told me: “At the time the notion of a Startup Weekend was still very new in Asia. The Flocations story is great because it shows how these events bring people together who might never otherwise have met. They get the chance to work with each other under pressure, not just talking but actually building a real prototype, and that's a great way to see where everyone can truly add value.”
Of course not everyone who goes to a Startup Weekend actually wants to run a business: just as a weekend learning to draw could be for fun rather than the first step on a career to become an artist. But for the Flocations team it was the start of a life-changing journey when they realized they had cooked up something truly innovative.
Others saw that too. By the time Flocations applied to the JFDI-Innov8 2012 Bootcamp, they had also been offered the chance to pitch on Angel's Gate, the Singaporean version of a successful TV format that started in Japan. The show pits entrepreneurs against business angels for entertainment as much as for investment. The episode featuring Flocations went live in mid March 2012.
To the surprise of many in Singapore's start-up community, Flocations turned down an offer of US$250,000 in return for 33 percent of their business, plus mentorship. It wasn't a difficult decision, Tudor Coman said at the time: “We’ve worked on our company for almost a year, spending hours agonizing over the numbers and producing the best code. Why would we only take 15 seconds to make a decision that signs away a third of our company?”
If turning down hard cash then seemed like a gamble to some, it certainly paid off. Backed up with investment from JFDI.Asia and supported by a team of mentors from around the world on our bootcamp program, three months later Tudor was pitching again. This time he could afford to be more confident because Flocations had evidence of success to show the 100 early-stage investors who showed up for our bootcamp demo day:
The detailed terms of the deal Flocations is announcing today have not been disclosed. But insiders suggest that they have secured several times the valuation they were offered back in March.
Looking to the future, today's cash should give Flocations the boost it needs to offer a bunch of new features, like integrated hotel and flight packages. Tudor Coman said: “This is an extremely exciting step for Flocations. Users can search for a whole vacation just by putting in their price and discover places they never even thought of within seconds.”
Flocations' new shareholders were attracted to the deal because they see it as a genuine game-changer.
Shirley Wong, Managing Partner at TNF Ventures, said: “Flocations’ targeted market of short haul travellers and their search-by-price methodology is what’s powerful. It changes the paradigm of traditional travel search and tries to disrupt the travel market by targeting a niche market.”
Edgar Hardless, CEO, SingTel Innov8, said: “Everyone loves a bargain and Flocations changes the way travellers discover vacation spots, enabling them to learn about places they never considered within a budget.”
In a small way, perhaps this deal is also a game-changer for Singapore's start-up ecosystem. It shows how the support structures that many individuals and organizations are building link together. What started with four strangers coming together for a weekend of ideas is now a real business, with a year or more to prove itself.
Flocations has a long journey ahead - today's deal is the start of a new chapter. Any team seeking to follow in their footsteps is very welcome to apply for the next JFDI.Asia bootcamp, which starts in February 2013.