rafat-ali-headshotBefore Skift you founded paidContent, which covered the business of digital media. With Skift, you decided on the business of travel. Why?

It’s a mix of my personal interest in travel in general and also seeing how big the industry is and how much disruption is still left to be done.

I thought, here’s an opportunity to disrupt the business information space and travel, which happens to be the world’s largest industry. I can create something very large that’s at the intersection of media and data – essentially using data services for the travel industry.

You have described Skift as a mediata company. What’s that?

Media is good at building a brand, it’s good at creating that daily addictiveness. And data is good at creating insights out of it.

From a business perspective, we look to marry the media element to the revenue scheming potential of data services. So that’s essentially what the mediata concept is – data is almost an extension of media.

People are consuming media in streams like Facebook and Twitter, where text, audio, video and photos all come together. Why shouldn’t data be part of that flow as well? Our thinking is to make data content part of that same stream.

Travel is a broad topic, but travel industry news is also pretty niche. Do you think of Skift as a B2B or B2C brand?

One of the problems with the travel industry generally is that historically, it’s been very siloed.

Airlines, hospitality, tourism and cruises, online players, tech players – all have their own publications and media. But because of digital and globalization, the siloes in travel are collapsing as they have in other industries.

There needs to be a brand that speaks across the siloes and that talks with a bigger picture voice. We want to change how the travel industry looks at itself and how it projects itself to the world.

The “project itself to the world” part is essentially where the consumer comes in. So we see ourselves as a B2B2C player, where  “C” for us is not really about building a business but more in terms of building a brand.

We want to change how the travel industry looks at itself and how it projects itself to the world.

You’ve spoken in the past about how Skift is data-based, data-led and data-focused. SkiftIQ, for example, is a proprietary system that gathers real-time social information on travel brands. Why the emphasis on data?

In general Skift is an information and travel business focused on three specific areas: Strategy, marketing and tech. With SkiftIQ, we’re trying to build data around digital marketing as an extension of our media brand.

The premise is that if you believe that all transactions in travel are happening in the digital world, which is increasingly true both in leisure bookings and corporate travel bookings, what can you build from a competitive intelligent data perspective that is transaction adjacent?

Not to get too jargon laden, but the channels that consumers are using in digital to reach the endpoint of transaction happen to be social, mobile, online search, reviews and email, so these are the digital marketing channels. Can we build competitive data intelligence for travel brands along these digital channels? That’s the bigger goal.

SkiftIQ collects social data and ranks brands by category within the travel industry.

SkiftIQ collects social data and ranks brands by category within the travel industry.

Skift is still really young, but can you talk about how it makes money?

We’re a venture-backed company and the funding has given us the luxury of being able to build without worrying too much about revenues. But in the last six months we have started the revenue process.

First, there is revenue on the media side. We’re focused a lot on branded and sponsored content and storytelling for brands in our environment.

We also do trends reports and like SkiftIQ, they’re paid. People come to Skift on a daily basis to look for trends, so we thought, why don’t we create some deeper reports that aren’t research but are state of the market industry reports, if you will. It’s been six months since we launched and they’ve been very popular.

We’re also creating a Skift Future of Travel Global Forum, which is our flagship conference. It’s a one-day conference this year but the goal is for it to be multi-day and held at a venue that people actually want to travel to. So that’s for next year.

Skift has managed to make a big impact despite its small size. You have said [PDF], “You don’t need to own the content, you need to own the voice.” Do you think that applies to media brands in general?

This is a world where tons of sources exist. How do you, especially as a startup or upstart, break through?

One way is to throw tons of money at creating something – a sort of a shock and awe strategy that some of the larger, well-funded media startups have done.

We’re not huge, we haven’t raised tons of money, so for us the voice seemed like a great way to start. That is, to have a take on the world, to be aggressive about it and be pointed and sharp about it.

The other thing is that nobody else in the B2B travel world had a voice. There were media companies that were essentially publishing press release-driven crap. The one word we hear time and time again from our users is “fresh.” Our voice is fresh.

With features like SkiftTake, which provide a simple takeaway by the author, Skift is working to create a fresh voice.

With features like SkiftTake, which provide a simple takeaway by the author, Skift is working to create a fresh voice.

So by defining your own voice you’re starting conversations that weren’t really happening before?

Yeah. We’re doing a story about why there aren’t enough women CEOs in airlines. There’s one, Carolyn McCall, she’s the CEO of EasyJet. And there are some small random airlines across the world. That’s it. So we’re doing a story on why there are so few women CEOs in travel.

At the same time we’re doing a story about Priceline business issues, or TripAdvisor – industry stuff. Marriott has a new campaign, so we’re covering that and other daily business stuff. We try and mix the serious with what we consider the creative parts of travel as well.

You call Skift a “pervasive travel media brand.” What does that mean?

If you’re creating a business information company in 2014, you can’t be divorced from the larger ecosystem.

You have to have connections to the open web, you have to focus on larger brands, and you have to have more than a narrow target niche. For every subject there are tons and tons of sources, so how do you cut across that?

One way is to focus on building a brand and for us that means not just being a brand for the industry but being present everywhere. That means syndicating our content to bigger and more mainstream consumer media like NBC News, CNN, Mashable, Vox News, Quartz and AdAge.

Anytime anybody in the larger media world thinks about travel, the first thing they should think about is Skift. We’re not there yet, but that’s the long-term goal.