Yapta Continues Makeover With Corporate Airfare Tracker FareIQ

5/7/12Follow @curtwoodward

Five years into its existence, online airfare tracker Yapta is going through a major overhaul. The company is searching for a permanent CEO, after co-founder Tom Romary stepped down late last year. And for the last six months, its team has been building a new product that could be a major turning point for the business.

The new offering, called FareIQ, brings Yapta’s airfare price-tracking to the big-business market. The venture-backed company had previously focused on the consumer travel market with Yapta.com, but it sees an even bigger opportunity in expanding to help companies save money on employee travel.

The reason is pretty simple: big budgets. Ken Myer, a veteran technology executive currently serving as Yapta’s interim CEO, says major employers can easily spend north of $100 million a year on travel expenses—and they still aren’t saving as much as they can.

“When you talk about being able to save, we believe, comfortably 5 percent to 7 percent of your airfare budget, the amount is pretty compelling,” Myer says. “At $100 million, that’s $5 million-plus.”

Those savings, in fact, are where Yapta will make money. FareIQ, a software service, has an up-front fee, but Myer characterized it as “nominal.” The real revenue is based on performance, with Yapta getting a slice of the money its clients save when they reduce airfare costs. He didn’t disclose Yapta’s percentage cut.

Yapta’s original consumer service allows travelers to monitor plane tickets and hotel rooms as the price changes over time. Yapta also will alert a traveler if an airfare drops enough after they buy to trigger a refund or credit that airlines sometimes offer.

And while the company’s five years of experience with price-tracking technology was a big head start in developing a new enterprise service, Myer says it also wasn’t just a simple job of porting the consumer service over to the business market.

FareIQ has to be able to plug into different software services being used by big companies or their outside travel management contractors, and be customizable for each enterprise customer’s specific needs. But the result is the same, giving companies the ability to reap credits or refunds if airfares drop on tickets they’ve already lined up for employee travel.

Just like anyone shooting for a big enterprise market, Yapta definitely faces some competition. Myer says he’s confident that Yapta’s FareIQ will shine because it’s an independent service focused on its specialty, as opposed to being one of many features that other travel management software companies offer.

Could the enterprise side of things eventually take over Yapta’s business? Myer says that’s possible, but it’s far too early to tell. Yapta is keeping its consumer business in place, which makes money through advertising, referral fees, and some partnerships—Yapta runs a price assurance program for MasterCard customers, for example.

“We learn a lot from the business-to-consumer side that we can apply to the business-to-business side,” Myer says. “Even though the technologies are different, the needs to support them are fairly similar. So we think we can drive both of those businesses.”

Yapta is actively looking for a permanent CEO to take the reins from Myer, although he says the board isn’t at the point of having identified specific candidates just yet.

“I think in a reasonably short period of time, we’ll be finding the right next leader to take the company forward,” Myer says. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a fantastic team, a very high-performing, really tight group of people..”

The company, which has about 15 people, is backed by venture investors including Voyager Capital, Bay Partners, First Round Capital, and Swiftsure Capital. Concur (NASDAQ: CNQR), the Redmond, WA-based travel and expense billing software company, invested $5 million in Yapta last summer.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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