Why Locomote’s co-founders bought back their travel tech business — in the midst of the pandemic

Locomote co-founders David and Ross Fastuca. Source: supplied.

Back in 2016, cousins and co-founders David and Ross Fastuca sold their travel tech startup Locomote to a global, listed organisation. Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with flights grounded and lockdowns still in place, the cousins agreed to buy it back.

With the sale now complete, the co-founders say they have big plans for the startup as well as “unfinished business” to attend to.

Locomote’s beginnings

Founded in 2012, Locomote is a tech-led corporate travel agency, designed to streamline booking processes for business travel.

In 2016, it merged with NYSE-listed giant Travelport, in a deal reportedly worth tens of millions.

After the acquisition, the co-founders stayed on board for two years, before leaving Locomote behind them in 2018.

Just a year later, Travelport was acquired itself and a new chief executive was appointed, bringing a different focus to the business that shifted away from what Locomote initially provided.

It was about this time, the cousins tell SmartCompany, that they were asked to consider getting involved again.

Conversations were underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, and — naturally — as travel ground to a halt all over the world, the entrepreneurs shied away from getting back into the biz. That is until they started fielding requests from other travel agencies for consulting work and support in building their own Locomote-style tools.

Suddenly, it was clear there was an opportunity. In fact, now, the co-founders believe they may have been a little ahead of their time back in 2012.

“The biggest travel companies of the future will be technology-led companies,” Ross says.

“The timing now is actually perfect,” he adds.

“As the world of travel was going backwards, we had an opportunity to go forwards.”

The deal was agreed in June 2020, and the handover was completed at the end of the year.

Bringing the band back together

The co-founders didn’t reveal any specific details about the value of the re-acquisition; however, David does divulge they received a “heavy pandemic discount”.

But, this isn’t only about the financial opportunities. The cousins describe the business as their “baby”. It’s something they poured their blood, sweat and tears into — and invested thousands of hours of their time into as well.

“Since leaving, there was a bit of a hole, a bit of emptiness,” David notes.

Now they’re back in the saddle, with a refined vision of where they want to take the business.

“There’s basically unfinished business,” David adds.

“Now we feel like we’re fully ready to execute that.”

The co-founders are also bringing the old band back together. When they left Locomote in 2018, they were invited to a Slack community group of some 150 former employees who had stayed in touch.

Now that they have the business back, some of those people are reaching out again and looking to get involved.

The founders have re-hired their old chief technology officer, as well as some of their old software architects and account managers.

And the very fact that these former employees wanted to come back again was “one of the highlights” of the whole process, David says.

“The culture certainly shifts when you get bought out by such a large business,” Ross adds.

“We’re bringing back that entrepreneurial culture.”

Locomote sets sail on the travel of tomorrow

Now, in a challenging travel landscape, these founders have their eyes on the future, and big plans for growth.

We may be moving away from interstate day-trips for business meetings, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that Zoom meetings can’t quite ever replace face-to-face interaction.

In the post-COVID business world, the founders believe we will see people travelling for business less frequently, but staying for longer and striving to get more out of their trips.

That means there’s opportunity for a business that can help those trips run seamlessly, with Locomote aiming to lead the charge.

“We think in the next five years, the biggest travel agencies of today will be overtaken by the new travel agencies of tomorrow,” Ross explains.

He wants to see Locomote become one of the biggest travel companies in the APAC region, and it’s already expanding into the US and the UK.

“We see ourselves being one of the big travel agencies of the future.”

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