#5 Bookaway: Transport tickets worldwide online

Bookaway founders Omer Chehmer, David Yitzhaki ,and Noam Toister  credit: Eyal Izhar
Bookaway founders Omer Chehmer, David Yitzhaki ,and Noam Toister credit: Eyal Izhar

A honeymoon in the Philippines led Noam Toister to found Bookaway, which sells tickets for buses, trains and ferries around the world.

Founders: Noam Toister , David Yitzhaki , Omer Chehmer and Jonathan Bensaid
Investors: Aleph, Entrée Capital, Red Dot Capital Partners
Year founded: 2017
Employees: 380
Capital raised: $81 million

In the "About Us" section of the Bookaway website, is a picture of Noam Toister and his wife Shuli hugging. The photo was taken in 2016 while the couple was honeymooning in the Philippines -- a honeymoon that led Toister to found Bookaway, which sells tickets online for intercity buses, trains and ferries around the world.

It all started when Toister discovered that the only way for him to pre-purchase a bus ticket from Manila to the rice terraces of Banaue, about 400 km to the north, was physically to go to the station. Because of the capital city’s traffic jams, this required an hour round trip by taxi, to and from the hotel. Others would have cursed the situation, but Toister turned the problem into an opportunity.

Shortly before the trip, Toister had closed his advertising startup after four years, and when he returned from the Philippines, he unsuccessfully went looking for a salaried position as a product manager. Between one disappointing interview and another, Toister made contact with a travel agent in the Philippines, and asked him to purchase bus tickets on the Manila-Banaue line. Toister then resold the tickets through a website he built using Wix. Once he realized the business was working, Toister set up more and more websites for different transport lines. After ten sites, he gave up the job search and instead brought in three partners - David Yitzhaki, Omer Chehmer and Jonathan Bensaid (who is no longer active in the company) - and transformed his pirate venture into a start-up.

"Every company has a different standard"

Bookaway will sell six million tickets online this year to tourists traveling mainly in Southeast Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. The world is undergoing accelerated digitization, but there are still transport companies in these areas operating with outdated computer systems or completely manually. Bookaway works with about 7,000 different transport companies, and the core of its technology is the ability to connect with those suppliers and sell their ticket inventory online.

In some cases, to manage ticket sales, Bookaway provides the transportation companies with a proprietary software called SeatOS. The software was developed for transportation operators in Asia, when, a year ago, Bookaway purchased an Argentinian company called Sisorg, which provides a similar tool in Latin America. But even when the operators have their own systems, Bookaway’s development team will tailor a unique login interface for them.

"Make buying the ticket an experience"

Today, Bookaway Group brings together four consumer brands selling transportation tickets, with Toister serving as the group's CEO. In addition to the original Bookaway brand, the group includes the following acquisitions: 12Go , a Singaporean site that covers Southeast Asia; GetByBus , a Croatian site that covers the Balkans region and Western Europe, and Plataforma 10 , a Spanish-language site that sells regional transportation tickets to South Americans.

These acquisitions were carried out precisely during Covid-19, the most difficult period for Bookaway. At the beginning of the pandemic, sales dropped by 99% and the company was forced to lay off 40% of its employees. But after the initial shock passed, Bookaway decided that it was worth raising additional funds and seizing the moment for making purchases cheaply of competitors that had run into hard times.

The Bookaway Group currently employs approximately 380 people worldwide and logs 10 million visitors monthly to its various websites. Annual revenue is in the tens of millions of dollars, with sales up 50% in 2022 compared with 2019 (before the pandemic). Toister says that although the company is not profitable, its cash burn is low.

Bookaway's income derives from the discount it receives from the transportation company on the ticket price, which it then resells at the original price. When it is unable to get a discount, Bookaway collects a small fee from the buyer. "Our hope is that, in any and all cases, the price on our site will not exceed more than 5% of the purchase price at the station, and in many cases the price is the same," explains Toister. "

Bookaway is not the only player in the ground transportation market. One major competitor is Berlin-based Omio, which has raised about $400 million to date and focuses mainly on Europe and North America. Another big Europe-focused player is Trainline, which is traded in London at a 1.5-billion-pound market cap. Canadian company Busbad, which has raised $43 million, is active mainly in North and South America, and Europe.

"Today we are the second or third player in the market and I believe that within a year and a half we will be the biggest player, ahead of Omio and Trainline," states Toister. "What makes us unique is that we work in markets where it’s hard to access ticket inventory. We are also more consumer-oriented and want to make the purchase of the ticket an experience. Besides, Bookaway is a very intense company that moves fast."

The Most Promising Startups rankings are part of the annual Enterprise Technology Summit held by "Globes" and JP Morgan.  

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 14, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Bookaway founders Omer Chehmer, David Yitzhaki ,and Noam Toister  credit: Eyal Izhar
Bookaway founders Omer Chehmer, David Yitzhaki ,and Noam Toister credit: Eyal Izhar
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