Skift Take

Switchfly, a travel tech firm specializing in loyalty and e-commerce upselling, has been taken over by private equity firms Golub Capital and L Capital.

In a just-revealed October 2018 investment, private equity firms Golub Capital and L Capital took a controlling equity stake in Switchfly, a startup specializing in e-commerce and loyalty tools for airlines, rental car companies, hotel groups, and insurance providers.

Daniel Farrar, CEO of Switchfly for seven years, stepped aside this month. He was replaced by Craig Brennan, who was previously CEO of software firms Brio Software, Overtone, and QuickMobile.

Switchfly announced the changes Friday.

Brennan said in an interview that the company planned to use the growth investment to fuel its international growth, the application of deep learning tools to its products, and other enhancements.

The parties didn’t disclose the terms of the transaction. Switchfly had previously disclosed raising $34 million in venture capital. Its last raise was a Series C in 2012 from investors Thayer, Azure, Canaan, and StarVest that one source said have exited in the past year.

Switchfly, a San Francisco company founded as ezRez in 2003, helps airlines, hotels, car rental firms, and credit-card companies with selling and upselling travel services. Behind the scenes, its redemption software powers the complex loyalty redemption functionality for British Airways, American Airlines, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, and the co-branded loyalty programs of credit card issuers such as American Express and MasterCard.

Switchfly, which has about 200 workers, also offers tools to help travel companies sell brand-specific products and services in many languages or currencies. For example, it can help an airline upsell a customer on add-on products and services from the airline or other companies on an airline’s direct website and mobile app or on other online channels. In other words, it has aggregated amenities, products, and services and helps an airline or other travel supplier sell them as ancillaries or offer in them in a loyalty program redemption catalog.

“Unlike most loyalty solutions providers, which deliver one or more of five core modules — a points or miles bank, a loyalty rules engine, CRM, marketing campaign management, and running a redemption catalog — Switchfly has focused much more on providing a comprehensive redemption catalog on a white label basis – while accepting loyalty currencies as the form of payment,” said said Charles Ehredt, managing director of Currency Alliance, which offers a software platform for loyalty partners to collaborate.

“When it comes to dynamic packaging, we have some of the biggest clients worldwide,” said Alan Josephs, who has just been appointed EVP of product, partnerships, and marketing. Josephs has previously been chief marketing officer for Allianz Global Assistance and was the CEO of Perfect Escapes, an online booking company.

“Dynamic packaging is more complex than just matching two components in an offer,” said Josephs. “The rules, rates, the pricing mechanisms, the ways in which you display content, all create a lot of moving parts behind the scenes that we’ve tamed with our tech.”

Private equity has long had an interest in travel. The firms pool money from investors and borrow from elsewhere, and then use that money to buy, revamp, and sell off companies with methods typically geared toward generating returns for investors within a matter of years.

The financiers seem to have a renewed interest in travel. The private equity arms of Elliott Management and Siris are on track to take private Travelport, a publicly traded technology company. Private equity firm Court Square Capital Partners took over online booking site Getaroom last September.

“It’s not surprising that a private equity firm would be interested in Switchfly because of its long-term growth, predictable revenue streams from long-term contracts, and talented leadership team,” said Ehredt. “PE firms have been getting more interested in loyalty program investments because they are undervalued when combined with a broader travel supplier’s flight or hotel operations.”

A key challenge for Switchfly will be balancing customizations with scalability. Brennan doesn’t anticipate any problem with that, given that the company’s revenue is primarily driven on a subscription model rather than through implementation fees.

“End users get unique implementations thanks to our platform’s configurability, offering about 4,000 potential tweaks,” said Brennan. “Yet we keep the system something that can scale up globally rather than have to be a custom build for each client.”

Note: This article was updated after interviews with company executives.


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Tags: loyalty, m&a, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, startups, Switchfly, travel technology

Photo credit: Switchfly, a travel tech firm specializing in loyalty and e-commerce upselling has been taken over by private equity firms Golub Capital and L Capital. Shown here is the executive team. Front and center, seated, is new CEO Craig D. Brennan. Switchfly

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