Noam Toister has raised tens of millions of dollars on his journey to improve the travel experience worldwide. His venture, Bookaway, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Entree Capital, Corner Ventures, Aleph, and, and Tenere Capital.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Raising money at each stage of your startup
- Surviving a crisis, and growing through it
- How to consolidate your industry by merging other companies with yours
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Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
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About Noam Toister:
An experienced entrepreneur, focusing on product and biz-dez, Noam Toister is the CEO and co-founder of bookaway.com, a startup that helps travelers with everything to do with ground travel tickets (bus, ferry, train, you name it). Formerly, Noam was the CEO of Verdata – a mobile advertising startup that he co-founded in 2011. His passion is in creating something completely novel and seeing people use it.
In 2020 when the pandemic struck, and the travel industry suffered the largest crisis in 100 years, Bookaway crushed from significant revenue to tens of dollars a day. Noam’s is a story of resilience, of pushing forward against all odds, and choosing the right investors that can make or break your chances of success.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Already hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a pretty amazing guest. You know we’re going to be talking a lot about the you know, scaling financing I mean growing everything that comes really with building. You know a company from nothing. And also you know like what happens you know when you’re in the travel space and and you have an event like covid so I think that you know without a doubt you’re going to find this episode very inspiring so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Noam Toister: toyster welcome to the dealmakerr show.
Noam Toister: Hi Ajandro Nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in Israel there in Jerusalem. So how was life growing up i.
Noam Toister: Well I think ah growing up in Jerusalem is pretty good experience. It’s a very very culturally mixed city. One of the most special cities in the world I think um, very different from any other place. Ah, but generally I grew up as any any other kid like I I had ah um, a warm family with None parents that were teachers um and and they basically grew up ah steadily and nicely during their years
Alejandro Cremades: And how come did you get this, you know, kind of like business drive instead of like maybe academia since your parents were teachers.
Noam Toister: Yeah, really really good question. Nobody knows where that came from really I think that um it started the sometime when I was a student um I was working as a a salesperson in a camping store and. At some point I got promoted to being the manager of the store and I started to actually you know, learn a little bit about real businesses. You know, income our expenses suppliers ah customers and so on and that kind of got me interested in in different aspects of business and and. At that point I was a student I was studying psychology and it was kind of clear to me that I’m not going to be a psychologist and I was looking for. What’s my next step and I said okay this is you know I kind of enjoy this world. So let’s go and and and study an Mba and which is what I did and during the Mba. I kind of came up with some sort of business plan to a a a startup that during some course which ended up actually becoming a real company after I graduated so you know kind of that this whole couple of years gave me the. The confidence or the actual belief that hey you know I can go into that direction even though it’s not something that I ever thought I would end up doing.
Alejandro Cremades: And and obviously this same this company called Verdata You know what you were doing. There was mobile advertising. So I know that you know that was a boosttrap company but obviously the outcome was not the one that you had hoped for. And in fact, you ended up winding down the operation and as they say. You either succeed or you learn when it comes to startups right? So So what? what was that journey like and also what was that listen you know that you needed to learn from that from that journey.
Noam Toister: Yeah, so verdeta was was basically a bootstrapped company. It was a a location based advertising coming so we were focusing on the location based advertising market back in the days when it was pretty complicated to do on mobile phones. And we gave a solution that was a pretty good solution and worked for many advertisers in in Israel and actually generated the ah nice ah significant amounts of money. So I wouldn’t say it was a failure in that sense because it was a a business that generated income and basically provided work for for several people. And for myself obviously um, but I guess the biggest mistake that we did as a startup was building a product a product that was really ah like suitable for the israeli market and we didn’t have the the product to match to actually penetrate the us market or other markets. Other bigger markets and we kind of ended up being a lifestyle business that then generated money and was doing good good business but wasn’t a startup that explodes and and you know turns you into like the biggest company in your industry and changes things in the world which is you know something that you. Lot of entrepreneurs when they go into a boom business is what they want to do actually affect a real kind of ah industry or or or a world that that exists today. So for that. It turned out to be a lifestyle business and. Not exactly what I what I wanted to do in my life so I wanted it down at some point.
Alejandro Cremades: And in this case I mean winding it down. You know you ended up a consulting for a few years now consulting you get to you know, meet different people see different. You know types of stuff. So so what was that like for you.
Noam Toister: I actually enjoyed it a lot because I I taught myself to teach I didn’t come from a technical background but I taught myself to to to code front end. So I ended up ah doing 2 things None consulting other startups on on what not what not to do don’t do the mistakes that that I that I’ve done in the startup ah in last four years and and you know what how to do things better and and none basically just building ah websites and and online tools for different companies that needed it as a freelancer and I kind of like that lifestyle it allows you a lot of flexibility. Ah. Generates income and and and and sort of I guess it suits my personality of of you know, being my own boss. So I did that for for a few years and and and I enjoyed it? Um, but at the same time I was always looking for. You know the next big thing I was always looking for. For my next good startup idea and I tried several things um and and and each time you know I iterate and iterate until you know I realized this new idea is either working or not working and moved on and that’s the point where I basically got to book away which.
Alejandro Cremades: And we’ll we’ll talk about that in just a little bit but when you were trying and figuring things out I mean you really got to learn I mean you even tried you know like with they saying initiatives with different partners that it didn’t work out So what did you learn about you know, choosing the right partner or or being with.
Noam Toister: Worked amazingly.
Alejandro Cremades: You know, maybe they’re wrong partners.
Noam Toister: Yeah I think partner is partnering is choosing the right partners is one of the most important things that that you have to do in ah in a business and a lot of times. It’s it’s really hard to know in advance. There is. It’s like I like to like job interviews which is. As you might know are not super reliable, right? So you you can end up interviewing an employee for 4 Or 5 Sessions and then the success rate would still not be 99% right? A lot of employees would end up being not the right person for your company and if you’re not so so that’s. So. There’s None options right? So either you partner with someone that you have not known before and you just spend a lot of time with him before you understand that that he’s a he’s a fit and you might understand it only after you know a few months so that’s very important that when you choose partners. You also make sure that you have your founders’s agreement and and it kind of bounces. Up with possibilities and defines what happens if you don’t get along um and allows you to kind of split ways in a polite and and friendly way because both sides need to understand that you know it’s a possibility that you you won’t ah you won’t get along ah or. 1 of the people in in the partnership won’t have the right skills to take that company to to where it needs to be um and the other option is actually partnering with with someone that you know for many years a friend and then you you say to yourself got to be fine, but but you turns turns out that working with friends is not always um. The same as as you know, hanging out with friends and again solution is is ah is a fair and transparent agreement in advance.
Alejandro Cremades: And in your case I mean you ended up going into your honeymoon and that was the kind of like what led to to really what you’re doing now but during that honeymoon you went to the Philippines and then you decided to take a bus to a heritage area and that kind of like sparked. The idea for what ended up being book away. So can you walk us through the chronology of events there through the sequence of events in order to really bring book away to life.
Noam Toister: Yeah, so I was traveling in my honey moon and I trying to get to a place in the north of manila in the Philippines which is called manawi and it’s a it’s very famous rice ter says it’s consider world heritage site I think and. And everybody goes there and it’s basically impossible to book the bus there. It’s a 9 hour bus and to buy the bus ticket you need to get a taxi to the bus station buy the bus ticket and come back the next day because the the buses are always fully booked on the same day and. And this is what we did it spade it takes about 4 hours because of benit manila traffic. It’s crazy and you wait you end up wasting a day and then you come back to the bus station the next day and you realize that everyone or did the same drill. Everyone are tourists there and they took a taxi and they boughtered the ticket on the station and that’s how it worked it goes. And it seemed seemed crazy to me because in 2016 you book your hotels online you book flights online. Why would you have to take taxes to book a bus ticket but that was the situation. So I came back to Israel and I built a very very simple website that basically allowed you to book bus tickets on that very specific route. And when and I basically I contacted a local travel agent and I told him go to the bus station bus buye buy tickets and take a photo of them. So ah and and and I received a bunch of photos of tickets and I used to send it to the customers every time they booked and the customer would show the bus ticket at the station on his phone. And we go on the bus and the bus company at that point did even even know that it was me who sold the tickets. Ah, as far as they knew might it might have been at the station but but it’s just a picture of the tickets and it worked and it worked very well and and that thing sold um and was. Sold few hundreds of dollars ah a day and and without any marketing efforts right? So I did I did the marketing myself and I’m not um, a marketing professional at that point and and not ah Adwords professional anyway and and it worked very well. So I decided to duplicate it and I did it in a couple of other places in the Philippines and then I moved to to trying it out in Vietnam and realizing the same drill works in different places and when I ended up researching the industry I realized it’s just an underserved industry inside travel. While you book hotels online you book flights online transportation is not a digitized market yet. So most of the operators the bus companies the ferry companies in the world. Do not work online and that’s crazy to me and and and at that point I knew that this is real opportunity and.
Noam Toister: And then we kind of I kind of I got a co-founder and and we turned these a bunch of of separate website into 1 platform that actually sells transportation in in different places in in Asia and we raised our seed round and to actually scale it up.
Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the for for the people that are listening to really get it. Why didn’t that up being the business model of book away. How do you guys make money.
Noam Toister: And 20 here.
Noam Toister: So We buy the bus tickets from the bus companies. We get a discount from the bus companies because we sell quite a lot for them and then we sell it to the customer. Um, we would take some processing fee on on top of that. So So you’ll probably. I end up paying it a little bit more than you would paying the station but you get the service Online. You get the get the ticket delivered to you by email. Um, and so on so we this is the model we kind of get a commission off the ticket that we sell.
Alejandro Cremades: So you got started in 2017 but nobody will tell you that March Twenty Twenty you know would be knocking you know and covid and especially for you was earlier because you guys were serving. You know the the region of Asia where were really you know like where everything started. So. So how was that that face you know, tell us you know when you realize that there’s something off and and what what happened after.
Noam Toister: Yeah, so um, well nobody knew there was going to be a pandemic and nobody expected that and and 2020 early Twenty Twenty we start with the the pandemic basically started and we were one of the companies that felt it. Very early because most of our business at that time was focused in Asia and we saw a significant drop in sales in in basically overnight sales dropped by 50% and then you know a couple of weeks later ah almost 90% decline nobody like asia free froze nobody nobody travel used to travel and that was March Twenty Twenty and as a company that’s a very very traumatic experience because you end up being at a point where you have to make very very hard decisions. Ah, or you’re not going to be there then a year later and what we end up doing is basically deciding to that was postar a round by the way. So at that point we did have some some ah great investors backing us and. And we sat down with them and we decided we need to make sure that the company so survives the next two years so we had to cut down on expenses. Let a lot of great people go um and refocus the company on on long-term efforts such as improving the technology improving the content contact contracting more companies worldwide. And and waiting for the covid to to subside which at that point March Twenty Twenty everybody fought. It’s going to take like None right? Everybody said you know the the virus doesn’t last the the heat is going to kill the virus. So um, so that’s what we end up doing in about six months later it was kind of clear that that the covid is something that’s here for at least a year or 2 and and as a company we need to eager either change strategy and do something differently or um. Or we’re not going to be or or or maybe just send everyone home and turn to come back after covid um, and that’s the point where we were facing and I think at that point the company has a couple of options. One would be actually pivoting the product into something a little bit different. Another option would really be to sort of hibernate a lot of the employees and and and and wait wait it out what we ended up doing is taking a different strategy and looking at the market and saying covid is here but but but it’s going to end. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to take a year two or five years but it’s going to end.
Noam Toister: And when it ends we want to get out of this crisis on the other side a much stronger company and what we ended up doing is actually raising more money from our current investors and new investors that believe in our in our vision and consolidating four different. Ah. Competitors that we had into into bookoway and creating kind of the sorry creating kind of the the biggest a grand transportation company in in in these regions.
Alejandro Cremades: So basically you took up you took advantage and you saw some of those other companies that were folding and you just bought them out is that what was that what that was what you what you guys did.
Noam Toister: Well I wouldn’t This is the part of the strategy. But what we actually did is we partnered with ah founders other found like-minded founders and what what we did is is we talked to a lot of companies and and the the founders and the companies that. We believed our really great companies and could tie into our vision and believed in in the same vision as we did of digitizing the entire transportation industry and believe that there is a global opportunity to do it and that we can do it together. Um. Then then then we then we joined we actually ended up merging with them into one big company. So yeah, technically we took we took companies that that were the same situation as us and we kind of convinced them to and inspire them to actually actually dream Bigger. And and and and sort of realize that there is a bigger opportunity post covid.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. Well, it’s as the saying goes when it’s sunny is hard to overturn a car and when it’s raining you can overturn None in one go so it sounds that you guys you know, like really took advantage and and how do I really you know, solid it and crystal clear vision. You know and and and and that’s remarkable now. For you guys. How much capital have you raised to date.
Noam Toister: Um, today we’ve raised over $80,000,000 in capital eighty one.
Alejandro Cremades: None and the the most recent round that you guys did you know was actually quite recent I mean that was a done in 2022. So obviously you’ve done you know the a you did the venture round the b last year and then the c this year. So how different you know? would you say that they that that those rounds have been. You know what has been the progression especially given the challenges. You know that you faced with with covid to raise the money. In fact.
Noam Toister: So I think ah, um, it it was I think the most challenging round was was the b round was the around that we we came to investors with ah almost no revenue and at a point where there was no vaccine available. Even. And said look covid is going to end and this is the opportunity and with this amount of funding we can create a this this this big of a company right? So you you can take a relatively not huge amount and create a a billion dollar company right? after covid and that was a hard pitch and we need and and it required very unique and very and very bold investors to to to to go along with it. Luckily it worked right? So that was I guess the the most the hardest round. Afterwards this was kind of a not as hard to to raise arounds because what we have done actually proved itself to to be successful. So so company companies emergrged and the sales grew and we see ah a huge value in this synergy between the different companies. Um. And that that is easier. So I guess the b round was the the hardest None and then having said that every funding round is very hard to the any entrepreneur that tells you hey just go to the Vc and they tell them give me a hundred million dollars doesn’t work like that.
Alejandro Cremades: I hear you I hear you now for the people that are listening to get a good understanding on the scope and size of bookaway today I mean anything that you can share in terms of number of employees or anything that you feel comfortable sharing.
Noam Toister: So bookwe today is None employees globally um, we have grown way over to what we were in 192 as you know as bookoin as as the sort of consolidated company that we’ve created. Um, and we see the travel recovery and we see that that things are picking up very very nicely. So we basically let’s just say that we we did this kind of ambitious move during covid to become a multibillion dollar company
Alejandro Cremades: Now you know it’s amazing. You know like the the what you guys did with Covid you know and how you really took advantage of you know a breakdown in the in the space and how you really you know took it to your advantage. So that now you can thrive you know coming out of it. So I guess.
Noam Toister: And we are on path to be there.
Alejandro Cremades: You know for you as a leader and I guess more as a human being you know that was that was a tough time I mean how who did you need it to be in order to really you know, get over. You know the hurdle I mean I’m sure it was not easy for you.
Noam Toister: Yeah, a.
Noam Toister: It was a very hard time for for me and my cofounders and also but you know even more for my employees because they saw a lot of their friends go home. They had to work in. In an uncertain environment where they’re doing stuff that actually affects nothing right? because there’s no customers right? So you deploy things to production you get you? you get new new new bus companies working with you but there’s no customers so they they work in an environment that they’re saying ah what what am I doing here? um. And and I think that the most important thing first of all as a personal level you have to be very very kind of ah I guess strong and and and a little bit you have to be comfortable with uncertainty otherwise it’s kind of hard to do this but but that’s kind of true about every I guess startup experience. But on the company level I think that the most important thing that helped us helped us was transparency because we we didn’t keep this to ourselves and we never said to anyone not our investors and not our employees hey everything is fine I worry um we were very very clear about where we are what are the problems um what are the chances that that you know what are we doing to get over these problems and what are the chances that that doesn’t work and and we made sure to create a a financial kind of situation where we could promise all the current and. Employees look everything is fine until a certain date right? So we got a year and year and a half or a year and a half from now until then nothing, you know, nothing’s gonna change if things don’t improve until you know 2022 yeah, it’s a we. We’re all in the same boat. But I think that’s what is most important is being very transparent and very outspoken and open about the problem and what how you want to solve it and. And being you know, having everyone as part of the process.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight. Um, and you wake up in a world where the vision of bookaway is fully realized what does that world look like.
Noam Toister: Yeah, so you’re basically booking a a flight to the online so you would book a bus a train a ferry also just a car with a driver anywhere in the world in 2 minutes from your phone. With the easiest seamless experience with all the information that you need so you would know exactly where that bus comes from what it looks like where you you have to board it. What are the amenities that that you have on a bus wifi and http://owifitv and otv. Ah. And you would book it online because that’s the only way to do it. That’s the most natural way to do it. Why would you not book it online to make that happen. It would mean at that point that bookaway has has ah a sort of a connections with with all the companies in the world that our. Software we. We also provide by the way saas software for bus companies to go online that that software is distributed in a significant part of the market already and and that bookaway is the top of mind for ground transportation to transportation. Which I by the way call travel. So so travel is ah is a big world which includes hotels and flights and so on. But for me the actual experience of traveling is is moving between destinations in a kind in a new country right? So hotels is hotels. You’re staying in a place you’re enjoying it. It’s great. Flights is pretty standard. It’s traveling but it is flight the actual experience of getting around a new country that is traveling so for us bookoi is about traveling and we want to be the top of mind off traveling.
Alejandro Cremades: I love it now. Imagine if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time. Maybe maybe to that time where you know you were coming out of the and Nba you knew that you wanted to do business you wanted to do something of your own and.
Noam Toister: Yeah, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: And you had the opportunity of going back in time and having a chat with that younger self with that younger, no and being able to give that younger Noam Toister: one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Noam Toister: Yeah I think that advice would be whatever you’re building is is find someone a person a company that really wants to pay you for for whatever you’re building not not saying hey that could be nice I would try it. That just council. We say take my money and shut up take my money build it and shut up. Um, that’s when you know you have a good idea.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it so clear validation right? So building on on data versus assumptions right.
Noam Toister: Yeah, but because a lot of you and what I did in the first you know as a sort of young entrepreneur is is a lot of times I came and I said I talked to this huge ah selling a company and I thought this is my idea and so on I said yeah, this could be nice. You know, let us discuss it internally nice Idea. And I came came out of the meeting and saying yeah they said it’s nice Idea. No, that’s if they said okay this is account This is the account and tell him your bank account. This is a good idea.
Alejandro Cremades: Got it now. No for the people that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi to you.
Noam Toister: Ah, can reach out on Twitter on Linkedin my email is pretty straightforward. No I’m at http://bokbookoway.com I tend to answer any anyr relevant approach.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey no I mean it has been an honor to have you with us. Thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show today.
Noam Toister: Thanks for having me.
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