By Grace Lien
When food connoisseurs want a bargain when dining out, they turn to online deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social. Tech junkies and the fashion conscious may turn to eBay. What about those looking to save on their next vacation?
Robert Holland may have the solution for those with a desire to take a vacation but are budget conscious.
“Travel-Perks is an employer administered platform that allows employees to plan, save, budget and pay for vacation in installments,” Holland said.
As a 2000’ graduate of Illinois State University, where he obtained a degree in Marketing, Holland said Travel-Perks was just an idea he had in the back of his head until through social networking, he met Alex Goldstein, one of the founders of Illinois Launch program.
Goldstein encouraged Holland to apply for the student venture program, in which he was accepted into and spent eight weeks in the summer of 2010 participating in the Summer Startup Development Program.
“It was great to have the opportunity to work on your business 24/7, they (AEL) gave me some assistance and internship, and the tools to get the prototype working,” Holland said. “Now I am at a point where I can go out and try to seek funds.”
Launched in August 2010 out of Enterprise Works in the University’s Research Park, the idea of Travel-Perks came from customers from his other online business, Lay-Away.com, a website that allows users to pay for technology products in installments.
“I had customers requesting payment services within travel industry,” Holland said. “They prompted me to take a look around to see what options were besides credit, and there weren’t many, so that’s how travel perks came about.”
Holland said companies that opt for the payment installment software service will pay a monthly service fee based on the number of employees that use it. Further revenue for Travel-Perks will come from commissions from the vacations.
Similar to Lay-Away.com, Holland said Travel-Perks will target individuals and families who may not have a large disposable income or access to credit. Whether it’s people looking to take a spring break or go on their honeymoon, users will have the option of to pay for their vacation through monthly installments from their paychecks.
Holland said currently, the primary target customers are large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Target. Secondary target customers will include groups, universities and individuals.
For Holland, his current biggest hurdles are getting the funds to continue setting-up the business and marketing the company.
“The hard part is a lot the times you don’t receive feedback,” said Holland about pitching to potential investors. “I can imagine the biggest risk for some investors or their biggest red flag is why an employer would pay for it.”
Calling the employers the gatekeepers to his business’ success, Holland said most recently he was able to convince a potential investor to conduct a survey amongst his employees. Even though the sample size was small, Holland said 79% of the employees said they would use such a payment installment service. The results of the survey surprised the potential investor who had doubts about employees utilizing the travel platform. More importantly, it gave Holland the confidence he needed to continue his business.
To cut costs of hiring web designers, Holland is currently obtaining his second Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Northern Illinois University. In between managing Lay-Away.com, attending classes, and raising a family, Holland said he spends the remaining he has talking to potential investors.
Holland, who expects to finish his Computer Science degree in a year-and-a-half from now, said the next phase for Travel-Perks will be to officially launch the online platform, hire management staff and build sales efforts.
While the future of the business remains unknown, Holland said he knows one thing for sure.
“When I graduated I was an insurance sales person, which paid the bills and loans, but I knew the long term plan was to be self-employed.”