Bevan: Key Travel is a provider of travel management services to the charity, academic, and faith sectors.
Saad: We do all the activities that relate to travel for our customers and our focus is very much on trying to save them money, delivering great service, and helping them with their duty of care towards their employees.
Bevan: Livingbridge has got quite a long history of successful investing in travel management companies. We looked around the market and wanted to find other sort of specialist travel management businesses that had an absolute competitive advantage in a particular vertical which Key had.
Saad: By reducing travel cost and complexity for those who travel to do good, you’re enabling them to spend more of their time and money on fulfilling their mission in doing good.
Bevan: Livingbridge invested in July 2013. One of the first things we did do was build out a senior management team. We hired a group marketing director who had worked for BT and other sort of blue-chip organizations. We also brought in a CFO that had been CFO of flights into New Zealand and we introduced a nonexecutive chair that had a real sort of strength in software and technology businesses, which was a really important part of the value story at Key Travel. As we went through our investment period and we just got more confident in the market opportunity, sort of realized that we needed to bring in a chief exec that just had more experience of scaling a business internationally.
Saad: I’ve have had over 15 years of travel industry experience centered on the airline sector. I was the Chief Commercial Officer at easyJet and helped drive their commercial transformation. It was tremendous, unfulfilled potential at Key Travel.
Bevan: The technology roadmap was sort of really important for Key Travel to get right and that’s something that we spent a lot of time developing in the early part of that whole period because that underpinned scalability. So the technology needs to be robust. It needs to be future-proofed. Travel pulls in information from a lot of different sources.
Saad: Livingbridge had driven a major investment in an online booking tool that was launched in the UK in 2016.
Bevan: We felt that we could develop something that really addressed the needs of customers in that market.
Saad: The notion was, how do we then internationalize this online platform and launch it in the U.S., which we did very much in April of this year. And, again, Livingbridge were very good at sort of interrogating the, what could work in the U.S. and what do we need to do to modify what had been done for the UK before taking forward.
Bevan: Growing and scaling in the U.S. was a really important part of our growth strategy. So, we went out and found a business based in Boston that serviced MIT, Princeton, and Harvard and we acquired that business which gave us clearly sort of fantastic reference customers that we could then leverage to grow elsewhere, but also gave us a geographic footprint in the area where there’s a lot of universities and gave us a bit more of an understanding about how to properly service that customer and make money in that market.
Saad: We’d agreed upfront that we would target an exit in the spring of 2019. Now, as we started preparing that process and we appointed advisors and we started talking to people, we got a lot of very strong early interest.
Bevan: It’s sort of a testament to the quality of the business that we built actually that we had a private equity buyer approach us off-market.
Saad: So we said we’d only do that, we’d veer away from an exit in 2019, if we got…the value we would have got 2019 now. And if we had effectively a five-week process end-to-end to see whether we could get a bid agree. When I look back, there’s nothing I don’t think we would have done differently or I would have done differently in terms of the process. It went remarkably well. And I think the front, when I look back on it and then think hard, there’s an underlying root cause. And I think it’s that upfront alignment with our investors. And we had such a great relationship with the Livingbridge team. You know, it was open and all through, transparent, full of trust, and then I could, therefore, go into battle effectively knowing the Livingbridge guys were always going to be behind me to deliver the right outcome for everyone.