Yapta Taps Business Travel Veteran as New CEO

7/18/12Follow @curtwoodward

Airline price-tracking startup Yapta has found its new CEO: James Filsinger, a travel industry veteran who will be in charge of growing the Seattle company’s footprint in the big-bucks market for business services.

Filsinger comes to Yapta after a short stint running EZYield.com, which helped hotels sell their rooms online by giving managers a single place to post rooms to online travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz.

Filsinger

EZYield.com was sold to TravelClick last November, which is just what Filsinger was brought on board to do—and even quicker than planned.

Yapta found him as part of its search for a permanent CEO to replace co-founder Tom Romary, who left the company late last year.

Filsinger has been in the travel business for about 16 years, the majority of that in the business-to-business market. A big chunk of that time was spent at Sabre Holdings, a major travel tech company (not to be confused with its fictional cousin).

That resume says an awful lot about the new business-to-business direction for Yapta, which had been more of a consumer business during its previous five years of life.

Yapta.com 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.

The company was able to apply that price-tracking expertise to develop FareIQ, a new service that plugs into the software used to manage corporate travel spending. Once it’s in place, companies can watch ever-changing prices to reap credits or refunds if airfares drop on tickets they’ve already lined up for employee travel.

Yapta has been testing the new FareIQ service with some pilot customers, and Filsinger says the results are proving out the company’s hopes that it could save companies around 5 percent on travel spending—a significant chunk of change on annual budgets that can reach the $100 million range at big enterprises. Airline tickets that were eligible for re-booking at a lower fare showed an average savings of more than $500 in the beta test, Filsinger says.

“If you look at the amount of money that is spent through corporations to travel management providers, it’s astounding,” he says. “And while many travel management companies do a good job of making sure that they’re getting the best rates … we bring in the opportunity to save real, hard dollars.”

That doesn’t mean the Yapta.com consumer business is going away. Just as interim CEO Ken Myer told me in May, the plan is to keep the consumer side operating, where Yapta earns money from advertising, referral fees, and some partnerships.

But it’s clear that the business market is the future for Yapta. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, I guess, following last year’s $5 million investment from Concur, the Redmond-based provider of corporate travel software. Yapta also is backed by venture investors, including Voyager Capital, Bay Partners, First Round Capital, and Swiftsure Capital.

Concur has been inking quite a few acquisitions and partnerships in recent years to expand its global footprint and product offerings, including a big purchase last year of TripIt, a San Francisco-based virtual travel assistant service.

If Yapta’s foray into corporate travel software is a success, you could easily see it getting snapped up by a bigger software provider that wants to capture the company’s price-tracking expertise for itself. Or, if the market’s rich enough, it could continue to grow on its own.

Filsinger agreed with my assessment of those options, and wouldn’t bite when given the opportunity to compare this gig with the EZYield.com job, in which he was brought onboard to steer the company to an acquisition.

Fair enough—there’s plenty of work left ahead of Yapta to develop its business-software identity. In fact, today is Filsinger’s third day on the job, after moving up to Seattle from Orlando, FL (he’s actually a native of Richland, WA and a Washington State University alum).

“I think the barriers to entry for our particular type of product and solution are fairly high,” Filsinger says. “We have a very strong leg up because we’ve been on the consumer side of things for several years now and we’ve seen a good, valid proof of savings from our pilot customers.”

“It’s a great little company that is positioned for a great deal of success,” he says.

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

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