*BizSpark One startup PEAK 15 Systems powers unique travel experiences.*
REDMOND, Wash. — PEAK 15 Systems, a BizSpark One startup, provides tour operators with the software they need to build you the trip of a lifetime.
Anyone can go online to quickly purchase airline tickets or find a cheap hotel room, but when it comes to planning a truly unique travel experience, most people need the help of a travel professional. That’s where specialty tour operators come into play: They design specific types of trips or specialize in certain destinations, from Napa Valley food and wine adventures to luxury biking trips across Europe. PEAK 15 Systems, which builds software for tour operators, is the computing brain that helps to pull all the details together.
“A large part of our customer base builds specialty travel trips, like adventure, luxury or educational travel,” says James O’Leonard, CEO and founder of PEAK 15 Systems. “With our software, tour operators can spend less time pushing paper and more time doing the things they love — dreaming up the next great trip to an unexplored destination.”
O’Leonard is no stranger to specialty travel. He was born in Kenya and lived there as a child, ultimately growing to explore the world through various adventures that most people could only fantasize about. As his career in the software industry expanded, O’Leonard became interested in merging travel and software. Then, as luck would have it, a rare opportunity to follow that dream interrupted his life.
“A friend of mine with Geographic Expeditions was talking about the challenges his company was running into as they grew their business, and I thought, ‘you know, I bet I can help them.’”
Coined after the geographical name for Mount Everest, PEAK 15 Systems was born. It built software that helped Geographic Expeditions ultimately reduce labor costs, increase efficiency and reach more customers.
Today, the company provides more than 35 tour operators, outfitters and travel suppliers with integrated trip planning, marketing, reservations, operations and accounting automation as an easy-to-use and affordable online service. Carlsbad, Calif.-based PEAK 15 Systems is also a founding member of the OpenTravel Alliance Tour Operator Project Team, which develops technical standards to allow businesses to participate in a global online travel ecosystem.
Moving from a single client to more than 30, of course, hasn’t been easy. When the company began in 2005, the days of raising millions of dollars in venture capital based on a scribbled idea were over. Investors were looking for startups that understood the idea of capital efficiency and could make each dollar stretch as far as possible. O’Leonard looked into a variety of options that would make his business not only attractive to investors but effective and simple for clients to use.
The right technology was critical on all counts, and O’Leonard — a former Sun Microsystems employee who convinced startups not to build on Microsoft platforms — quickly saw the advantage of using Microsoft technology for his own fledgling business. A combination of technical and business reasons drove the decision to create all PEAK 15 products in partnership with Microsoft.
“The access we had to Microsoft through BizSpark meant we were writing less code, getting access to experts and receiving technical support we couldn’t get anywhere else,” he says. “It also meant we were able to avoid some of the mistakes that we undoubtedly would have made if we had just been out there on our own.”
Microsoft, says O’Leonard, really understood that PEAK 15 was trying to create something entirely new for tour operators as well as control its own branding and delivery of the final software product. “Under the covers,” says O’Leonard, “Microsoft Dynamics CRM might be humming, but the end result is PEAK 15 — an individual, unique application that solves problems for tour operators.”
Tour operators find that the software successfully cuts through the detail work. For years, operators had to exert a lot of time researching and tracking all the minutiae that go into planning adventures. PEAK 15 Systems reduces much of that workload by helping users organize their business and streamline operations. A Web-based component integrated with familiar Microsoft products such as Outlook and Word makes the software even easier for clients to use.
“The Internet has definitely revolutionized the travel business,” says O’Leonard. “While it’s been a tough couple of years for our customers, our business actually never slowed down. Most of them realized that this was a good time to start putting into place a system that could help them be more efficient and productive when the tourism industry turned around.”
A joint study conducted by Google and Ipsos OTX MediaCT in 2010 says that more than a third of travelers confirmed the Internet had prompted them to book travel plans, up more than 25 percent from 2009. More and more consumers, too, are using mobile devices to research potential destinations. O’Leonard sees the increased use of technology as an opportunity for both PEAK 15 Systems and the tour operators it supports.
“There are still plenty of travel opportunities that are difficult to plan on your own on the Web without somebody who knows or has traveled to a specific area,” he says. “When someone decides to travel using one of our clients, it’s because of their confidence that they’re not going to have to stress about the unpredictable things that inevitably happen when you’re traveling to a part of the world you’ve never experienced before.”
Whether that part of the world is the Galapagos Islands or South Africa, there is a good chance that PEAK 15 Systems is silently behind the scenes, hard at work.