September 28, 2017
PUBLISHED BY Wildcat Venture Partners
When a group of guys got together to send their buddy off into the land of marriage, they needed a few beers. Specifically, they needed 840 cans… of Bud Light. They wanted it stocked in the hotel refrigerator. Not 839 and not 841. It was some kind of inside joke.
But the reason didn’t matter. It was their bachelor party and the only thing that did matter was getting the exact number of beers in the fridge upon arrival. So KEY Concierge went out and got the beers and placed them in the fridge—with all the labels facing forward for maximum visual effect. When the gang arrived, all they had to do was pop them open and drink.
That kind of curated, personalized service is just what KEY does. And it was a hit.
KEY, a concierge service that matches traveler preferences with the best a specific destination has to offer, is leading the travel industry’s third wave of technological innovation. In the first wave, online travel agent (OTA) companies, such as Expedia and Priceline became multibillion dollar companies. In the second, vacation rental platforms, like Airbnb, exploded.
KEY is now at the threshold of this third wave of companies, which are providing experience-based platforms that serve both leisure and business travelers with a curated experience.
KEY combines real human concierges—all of whom have hospitality backgrounds—with technology that enables travelers to plan a wide variety of experiences, from family vacations to romantic getaways, girls or guys weekends, and business meetings, in a personalized and efficient way.
The idea is that customers always have a concierge in their pocket—especially when staying places that don’t have those kinds of services.
The online platform and on-the-ground experts help travelers with everything from restaurant reservations to guided adventures. KEY also uses machine learning (artificial intelligence), which enables it to compile valuable databases about destinations and customer preferences.
Currently KEY is offering its services in 17 markets and is busily expanding both geographically and technically into the hottest travel destinations.
For instance, if you visit Austin, Texas, where the company is based, the concierge will make sure that you experience the local delicacy of breakfast tacos.
Sure you could find this information on Yelp or elsewhere online—if you happen to be both patient and lucky. But you won’t know for sure that it’s the best. Sometimes Yelp leads visitors to the cheapest place with the most reviews, rather than the one with the best food and ambiance.
That’s what happened to KEY founder Kim Shrum, and led her to launch KEY.
Shrum worked for a global law firm managing sales strategies as a client development executive. In her first five years there, she worked with the corporate securities group, which interacted with venture investors, entrepreneurs and others. That gave her a taste for tech startups.
For her second five years, she ran global sales strategies for the international tax group. She was on the road a lot, usually staying at top hotel brands, where a concierge always took care of her needs.
Then her company asked her to move to San Francisco for the summer. They got her a vacation rental home. She left with her two small children and a nanny. They were on their own and had no idea where to go, what to do, or which places were the best and coolest, she said.
That was a problem. Like all working parents, she wanted every moment with her kids to count.
“When I have an afternoon with my kids, I want it to be a great experience,” Shrum says. “I don’t want to spend the time figuring out what to do and where to go on the internet or Yelp and then get it wrong.”
Then there was the time her partner flew out to meet her. She knew San Francisco was filled with great Italian restaurants. So she searched online and found a highly-rated popular restaurant. Any local concierge could have told her that she’d stumbled on a chain known more for its party atmosphere and large quantities than for its food or fine wine. And in a city known for quaint Italian bistros and fine dining, it was a missed opportunity.
This experience (or lack thereof) is what led to KEY, a service that could match your personality and preferences.
Shrum likes to joke that KEY is a great cure for FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). “There’s plenty of information on the internet about what to do and where to go. However, there’s not a filter on what type of person you are.”
In addition to Shrum’s experience and expertise, she’s joined by board members who include former Dell Chief Financial Officer Tom Meredith, former Amazon General Manager Steve Oliver and Wildcat Founding Partner Katherine Barr.
While travel is one of the most competitive industries around, it appears that KEY is on its own as a company that combines all the services of private concierge companies like American Express concierge and Quintessentially with a highly scalable technology platform.
Combining the human and the technical pieces make KEY unique.
The data is what makes KEY so valuable. It’s clear that data is the new digital oil. And KEY’s technology enables it to leverage data to put together the very best experiences for its customers.
MINDING THE TRACTION GAP
Wildcat often strategically invest in companies that are well within the Traction Gap, and help them during that critical time between launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and achieving minimum viable traction (MVT), on their way to scaling.
KEY was at initial product release (IPR) when Wildcat invested. The company is now beyond minimum viable product (MVP) and moving towards MVR as it scales and expands into new geographies.
The thing to remember is that KEY Concierge is really an “experience platform,” Shrum said. It’s all about curating experiences, using a strong combination of human know-how and machine learning.
“We hire the best, most talented and connected people in the market,” she added. “There is always a person on the ground who is curating the market. Ultimately my vision is to create a company that delivers curated experiences based on your profile and why you’re there. That’s that local touch. What KEY is to your travel experience is what Pinterest is to ideas and what Etsy is to do-it-yourself projects.”