Rafat Ali’s travel media company Skift gets $500K from Vishal Gondal, Sanjay Parthasarathy, others

Skift, a New York-based travel intelligence media company that offers news, insight, data, tools and services to the travel industry, has raised $500,000 from over a dozen angel investors which include Indiagames founder Vishal Gondal and former Microsoft executive Sanjay Parthasarathy.

Skift is founded by Rafat Ali, who had earlier set up digital media industry-focused media company paidContent and subsequently sold it to the Guardian Media Group in 2008. Guardian recently sold PaidContent to Giga Omni Media, which owns the popular tech blog network GigaOM.

Besides Gondal and Parthasarathy, other investors in Skift include a mix of successful professionals and entrepreneurs like Chris Ahearn (former president of media at Thomson Reuters), Luke Beatty (founder of Associated Content), Gordon Crovitz (former WSJ publisher), Craig Forman, Jim Friedlich, Tom Glocer, Jason Hirschhorn (former MySpace co-CEO), Peter Horan, Alan Meckler, Mohamed Nanabhay, Amol Sarva and Chris Schroeder (former publisher and CEO of Washington Post).

The beta version of Skift – which means ‘shift’ or ‘change’ or ‘transformation’ in Nordic – had gone live a couple of months ago. According to Ali, the media company will also target the consumer segment which includes a “large community of business travellers who seek expert advice to help make smart decisions about travel.”

Valued at $2 trillion a year and 100 million jobs, travel (made up of tourism, hospitality and transport) is one of the world’s largest industries and the largest employer. A note from Ali says while digital has disrupted distribution and information systems, no information and intelligence brand has emerged that matches the travel industry’s size with its digital potential. “Skift will be that brand,” he says.

Skift is a “crossover media+information company” that will build a business spanning the professional as well as the consumer side (business travellers in Skift’s case). The closest parallel is Politico, which appeals to insiders as well as a large consumer base, Ali has said in the note.

In the first phase, Skift will focus on news/information/data site for the travel industry, and will subsequently add a consumer site aimed at business travellers – from news/info for the industry to news-you-can-use for active travellers.

Ali had successfully executed a similar model in the past with paidContent, which pioneered a blog-media company that was set up as early as 2002. Others like TechCrunch, GigaOM and VentureBeat followed suit in the US.

Ali said, “We’re building Skift.com with a four-legged stool on content. It is a mix of aggregation (pure software), curation (semi-software, human intelligence), licensed (from sources such as AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, LAT, Guardian, Telegraph and many others) and original reporting.

The revenue models will be a mix of endemic advertising for trade to the consumer advertisers for business traveller segment. It will also have a slew of premium/subscription services for the industry and freemium services for business travellers.

Skift will compete with legacy trade media companies like Northstar (with TravelWeekly & PhoCusWright as flagship brands) to industry blogs like travel tech-focused Tnooz, and on the consumer side, USA Today’s travel section.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)

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