This is a follow up story for AwardWallet, LLC. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, my name is Alexi, in 2004 I launched AwardWallet with my then business partner Todd Mera. AwardWallet is an online service that automates the process of tracking loyalty points such as frequent flier miles, credit card points, hotel points, etc. The solution itself is free to use but there are additional features that are enabled for users who buy AwardWallet Plus, a yearly subscription for $30 / year. In addition to this in-app purchase, we monetize our users via affiliate marketing by offering them credit cards that offer the best sign-up bonuses and earning capabilities.
In addition to providing a B2C solution, we package our parsing technology into APIs that we sell to other businesses. Two of our flagship APIs are Email Parsing API which is designed to extract travel data from travel confirmation emails and a Web Parsing API which is designed to retrieve loyalty information from users’ online loyalty program profiles.
We had a major setback in 2020 due to COVID, but now that leisure travel is starting to come back we are on target to make around $2MM in revenue in 2021.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since we last spoke, AwardWallet lost about 21% of revenue due to Covid in 2020. It is tough to be in the travel space during a pandemic when no one is allowed to travel. Today is June 22, 2021, and business has picked up significantly, as a matter of fact, June is shaping up to be our biggest month ever. However, we won’t see a full recovery until business and international travel returns to pre-Covid levels which are still going to take quite some time. It didn’t make sense to invest anything into growing our user base during the pandemic, as travel was the last thing people were thinking about. Instead, we focused on developing the product, we tackled some big items that we were putting off before the pandemic.
Develop an idea in your head, start building, and don’t stop. Just find inspiration or motivation to do it and do it.
To better understand when travel is going to come back we created and published a set of reports that reflect how much our users are traveling, as that closely correlates with how much they use AwardWallet. These reports can still be found here.
This report shows how many active air bookings our users track on AwardWallet on average per 1000 users. As of today, July 22, 2021, we can already see that July is the biggest month in terms of travel since the start of the pandemic, though still not at the pre-Covid level.
Here are a few things that we released during covid:
- We added discounted flight deals in our mobile apps (iOS and Android). Tap Menu -> “Discounted Flight Deals” to see it.
- Created a page that allows our users to extend AwardWallet Plus subscription for free for 3 months due to Covid and sent an email to our users about it.
- Added the ability to import all loyalty point expiration dates into the calendar of your choice like Google Calendar. Click “Views” -> “Account Expirations Calendar Import” in our web desktop interface.
- Added the ability to register for an AwardWallet account using oAuth services such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and AOL via both our mobile apps and desktop web interface.
- Added the ability to see a chart showing loyalty account changes over time in the mobile interface, both iOS, and Android.
- Added a new infographics page that shows one’s travel summary can be filtered by year and by a traveler. Also added it to our mobile apps.
- Added the ability to track parking reservations via AwardWallet.
- Added a new tool that analyzes all credit card transactions and makes suggestions whenever there is another credit card that could be used to earn more points with any given merchant. Also added this report to our mobile apps.
- Added a tutorial into our mobile apps that asks for push notifications and geolocation permissions from our users.
- Released a page that lists the value of each mile and point based on the objective evaluation of bookings that our users make. More info can be found here.
- Added dark mode to our Android app, which we were lacking for quite some time.
- Added the ability to gift AwardWallet Plus to a friend.
- Added the ability to scan our users’ mailboxes (after they grant us that permission) for new loyalty accounts, so right after the registration, our users don’t need to guess which programs they are a member of. We can now tell them that including their account numbers (in many cases) so that all they have to do is provide us with passwords to those programs so we can start tracking them.
- Added an option to reveal passwords in our mobile interface, integrated with native keychain technology for maximum security.
- Added an option to export an excel file that lists all the countries (with dates) that a user visited in the last 10 years. This report can be found under our Trips section in the left menu in our web interface.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
There are few things that I learned during Covid of our business that I can share. First of all our affiliate revenue plummeted very quickly. Even though it may generate 30% of our revenue in some years we can’t rely on this revenue going forward. All it took was a decision by a couple of banks to not pay affiliate revenue (or drop their commission rates) and our affiliate revenue just disappeared almost instantly. Next big hit was on the B2B (APIs) side of the business. Some partners that used to pay for our API all of a sudden we're not able to pay anymore. It became very apparent which ones were affected the most by Covid. Some went bankrupt, some had to cancel or put contracts on hold, and some, on the other hand, were just fine. What surprised me the most was that while our AwardWallet Plus revenue (in app purchase) did not grow in 2020 it also did not drop during Covid. So I started valuing that revenue stream much more after Covid as it proved to be the most resilient. We obviously lost some customers due to Covid but we also got some new ones and in the end, we broke even.
The other thing that Covid taught me is the value of diversification. I decided that going forward we are going to diversify our business even more, as much as potentially getting into other businesses that can use similar technology to what we already built. I am actively pursuing two new opportunities not related to AwardWallet directly just because they would diversify our portfolio and would hopefully make it much easier to survive the next force majeure event.
On a personal level, there is nothing that I achieved during Covid that I am proud of, I gained about 15 pounds and started drinking more. The only good thing is that due to the lack of travel I worked more and I spent more time with my kids. I became a kindergarten teacher for my daughter, as well as a cook and a nurse.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
At a high level, I want to diversify our business a little more. There are very specific features that I want us to work on but I don’t like to share those because most of them are just ideas in my head that may not be possible to achieve with the resources that we have.
Our current backlog of features, as always, is very long so we need to decide what to prioritize next. One thing that I want to develop is a set of tools to help our users research the best hotel and flight options when it comes to redeeming miles and points not based on exact dates and availability but rather broader guidance based on the data that we have.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I think I’ve read all of Haruki Murakami books, here are my top choices:
- Kafka on the Shore
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
- A Wild Sheep Chase
- Norwegian Wood
- Dance Dance Dance
- South of the Border, West of the Sun
- Pinball, 1973
- After the Quake
- First Person Singular
Right now I am reading Carl Zimmer’s book “She has her mother's laugh”, but I just started, I am a fairly slow reader, so it will take me a while to finish it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Develop an idea in your head, start building, and don’t stop. Just find inspiration or motivation to do it and do it. I think the idea is secondary, the main thing is doing it. Ask for help, hire help if you can afford it, you cannot do it alone, no one can. In most cases, it takes a lot of time so you need plenty of patience. In the process of developing it you will learn things that work and that don’t and be ready to pivot because on the way you will probably discover better ideas. Do it every day, every little bit counts. Get on calls or meet in person with other entrepreneurs, listen to what they have to say, and share your ideas with them. Try to attract people with a good track record to your business even if it means giving up equity. Look for a niche and look for professionals, they are the ones who can take you to the next level. Be careful with people who talk a lot but have no track record, there are plenty of those out there.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are looking to hire senior PHP developers but we need someone to work out of our office in Russia.
Where can we go to learn more?
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