STARTUP OF THE WEEK: Pana
In this series, we visit Denver-metro, Boulder and Rocky Mountain region startups. Fill out the form at the bottom of the page to be considered or nominate other startups for a chance to win a free week at Galvanize.
Take a look outside for a minute. If you’re anything like me, you’re dreaming of sweet escape to a beach. Or maybe you want to take your MAX Pass for a spin somewhere new, like Whistler.
Whatever your choice rescue, there’s no denying: Traveling around the holidays is the literal worst. Pana’s solution: A free app that organizes your travel plans by scanning your personal data.
Pana acts as a travel concierge. It hooks up to your email to mine the messages specific to your itinerary. Then Pana’s chat-bot, Crosby, provides you with trip alerts on delays, gate changes, cancellations and even the weather at your destination — free of cost and free of thought.
The app also aggregates your bookings from all of your upcoming trips on a unified platform and lets you keep loved ones in the loop with updates, too If you’re traveling together, Pana lets you compare itineraries with your people.
Pana Free isn’t the first product from co-founders Sam Felsenthal and Devon Tivana.
For frequent travelers, there’s Pana Concierge. It’s a $49 per month package that gives subscribers 24/7 access to humans who do your travel and leisure bidding. Your designated concierge team will make travel, hotel and restaurant bookings, recommend local hot spots, or even sit on the phone with the airline for hours in your place, in the event of an extremely unlikely (actually, pretty likely) travel hitch.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, while only about 1 percent of flights were cancelled from January to October 2016, 17 percent of flights were delayed.
Need a new travel platform for your company? Pana’s got that covered, too. Pana Business offers the services of Pana Concierge, plus a host of other business features. Pana’s platform unifies all employees’ past and future itineraries, enables company-wide and role-specific policy creation and generates easy-to-read and transparent expense reports. Pricing on Pana Business varies by company and is offered on a subscription basis.
Sam Felsenthal and Devon Tivona, both Techstars graduates, took a risk by founding a travel startup, a sector Tivona described as a “graveyard.”
“Even for frequent travelers, the actual act of traveling is one of the less frequent activities we use technology for. Even for someone who is traveling weekly, it’s only weekly,” he said. “Encouraging people to always think of Pana when it comes to a travel related thing is challenging, even if we have a phenomenal product.”
But in just two years, Pana has recruited a couple thousand users for Pana Concierge and is working with about 40 companies in Pana Business, most of them local to the Rocky Mountain region. Pana decided to go free to offer their services to infrequent travelers, those who are less likely to pay $49 per month to use a travel service. It helps with getting their name out in front of a new audience, too.
But if travel tech is such a long shot, why start a company?
Tivona was part of the early stage team at Everlater, a Techstars company that later got acquired by Mapquest. He said working on Everlater made gave him the travel tech bug.
“There is just so much left to build in travel,” Tivona said. “When you book a hotel room on a website today, the odds are more likely than not that a fax is being sent from that travel website to the hotel to tell them that you are staying there that night.”
The Pana team wants to change the way professionals travel today.
“In our personal lives, we have apps like HotelTonight and AirBnb and even Expedia. But in our professional lives, we have to use websites and tools that look like they were designed in 1996. We want to level up,” Tivona said.
But despite the charm of Pana’s bot, Crosby, the team’s not interested in a fully automated service or the uncanny valley of AI. They don’t see their service ever losing the human element.
“The human component of our business in our paid tiers is really where the magic is. We have such cool interactions,” Tivona said. “There’s a empathy component when you can connect to a real human being in under five minutes.”
Founders: Sam Felsenthal, Devon Tivona
Industry: Travel, Customer Service
Launched: Dec. 20, 2016 (Pana Free)
Funding: $2.5 million led by Techstars accelerator and Techstars Venture Fund
Office: 1624 Market Street, Denver; Co-working spaces in Berlin, Hong Kong and New York City
Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here