It all began in 2011, having almost hit rock bottom Ross and Dave asked themselves whether they were cut out for the entrepreneur life or should they just get jobs and work 9 till 5? That week they were invited to a networking event called The Entourage, and they thought “why not”.
At the event, they sat next to two guys who had their own startup called Innovative Beverage Co., they made a relaxing drink called ESC (think the opposite of red bull).
They had a great product but no sales, no website and no marketing. So while at this event Ross and Dave pitched the idea to them that if they took over all of their marketing and digital presence would they give them $1 for every can we sold. They agreed, and a new business model for them was born. After working on this product for about six months, they introduced ross and Dave to their investor Philip Weinman.
They instantly connected with Phil, and were invited to work out of his building in St Kilda which was a quirky old mansion next to a church filled with over 10 other startups the place was buzzing. Also just a small side note David got married this year to his darling wife, Grace.
During 2012, Phil had launched a new travel agency along with Clive Sher (PlanB Travel), and that was our first exposure to corporate travel. At the time Plan B was a startup of its own, they were in the midst of building their brand while getting their travel licenses to be able to operate. Phil wasn’t happy with any of the logo designs he was receiving for the PlanB so asked Ross and Dave if they wanted to submit a pitch.
They did, and they worked tirelessly to ensure they made a good impression, they got the brief on Thursday and delivered the first draft on Friday (which was Good Friday – Easter). Phil and his team loved the new brand, and we were then invited to work on another project for PlanB which was to revamp the booking tool that they were using with their clients at the time.
Dave, Ross and Stephen (who joined them part time in 2009) designed and coded a fresh look for the tool which helped PlanB win over 50 clients since launching it, and again they did this for a small fee and a clip of every booking that went through the booking tool.
Word spread fast about they had done within the travel industry, and it was late one night that Phil got a call from a friend who was consulting to Xstrata Coal on their travel programme and they had a meeting the very next day. They needed a new way to manage, approve and book their travel as they had tried all the current tools on the market and nothing met their needs.
Phil then called Ross and explained the problem and the next day Ross flew to Sydney to chat through the potential idea. The very next day Ross, Dave and Stephen began working on what this product could be.
Ross discovered that there were problems with duty of care, risk management, customer complaints with existing platforms, adoption rates were very low and when asked the question, why are things the way they are? The response was always the same, “Because that’s the way it’s always been done.”
That week David created a slide deck with what the product would look like and how it would work and with this slide deck in hand Ross flew back to present the idea to Xstrata Coal. The meeting was a success, Xstrata loved it. But they didn’t want to pay.
They discovered that corporates get incentives from Global Distribution Systems (GDS) to stay on their network and moving Xstrata from one GDS to another would provide them with the funding they required to get started. So they convinced Xstrata that if they converted them to an alternate GDS with no disruption to their business would they pass on the incentives, and they agreed.
They were on Sabre GDS at the time, and they moved them to Travelport GDS which got the attention of the CEO Gordon Wilson, and that’s when they started working with Travelport.
So before a line of code was written they had their first paying customer, and at the time if you visited their website Locomote was still providing website design and marketing services, with a little feature box that showcased the corporate travel platform, crazy when you think about it.
Amongst all of this David and Grace were blessed with their first child Chelsea (named after the football team of course, he tried to go with Zola but that didn’t sit well with Grace).
With the help of Phil and Clive who later invested into Locomote to help speed up the development of the platform, through Phil and Clives network, they opened up doors into various other corporates which allowed Ross and Dave an opportunity to go in and pitch what Locomote was, why they were doing it and the vision for the company. As each meeting passed, they knew they were on to something as each corporate loved the idea each adding their own insight into how they managed travel.
“We had customers signed up before we wrote a single line of code. We basically asked them if we build this will you use it, and most of them said yes. You run things very lean when you’re a start-up, but it’s always better to know you have a customer on board before you start building.” Ross says
But that doesn’t mean the Fastuca’s think you need everything solved up front. In fact, solving that first problem usually evolves into another 100 problems.
They originally conceptualised Locomote as a pre-trip workflow platform but the bigger objective was to develop a corporate travel platform that would enable companies to discuss, request and book travel from any device wherever they may be around the world.
Knowing that they finally had a product they started to build a team to help bring this vision to life they made the decision to solely focus on this product and to sell off the service side of their business that they had been working on for the past 12 years (which provided web design and marketing services), which was a huge decision for them at the time.
Stephen was also a major part of the journey to this point but decided to follow his passion to become a pilot for Cathay Pacific which he still is to this day. An amazing achievement in itself for such a young person. Ross and Dave wouldn’t have achieved what they had without the help of Stephen.
In 2014 is when they officially launched the travel product into the market and with the launch they started to get on a roll signing flagship clients such as World Vision, ANZ Bank and Medibank just to name a few. Travelport (NYSE: TVPT), a leading Travel Commerce Platform that was mentioned earlier, acquired 49% of Locomote after they had successfully collaborated on some projects together.
This was an important strategic investment made by Travelport as they now had a stake in a corporate facing product that they never had before. The win with ANZ Bank was a landmark deal as it was a first of its kind where the corporate chose the technology first, then the GDS, and lastly the travel agency sparking a shift in the ways travel was bought and managed by corporations at the time. Also just a small side note Ross got married this year to his darling wife, Rachel.
Along the way, the pair has snared a partnership with Japan Airlines and sealed a deal with Travelport who took up a majority stake in the company increasing their shareholding to 55%. Although terms were not disclosed, media reports peg it at valued from $50 million to $100 million.
This was a significant deal as it showed how serious Travelport was taking their corporate direct approach and their confidence in the Locomote team. They had also signed up strategic travel agency resellers to help them build momentum and to build their sales force globally.
“We believe Travelport is the best there is in corporate travel and if we wanted to change buying behaviour, we needed a GDS partner that shared the vision of Locomote.” says David.
At the time of the acquisition, Travelport CEO Gordon Wilson said the deal was part of the company’s wider strategy to grow its Beyond Air division (areas outside of airline distribution), with Locomote, in particular, giving it a “much bigger footprint” into the corporate world. To add to this great year David’s second son Leo was born.
Locomote grew it’s footprint from just an Australian operation to a global force opening up operations in the United Kingdom while having a presence in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. In June 2016, they agreed to sell their remaining stake to Travelport as the time was right on many fronts for the co-founders Ross and Dave along with initial investors Phil and Clive. To top this phenomenal year Ross and Rachel were blessed with their first son Alexander.