A new travel planning company that uses technology to “superpower” its human experts was officially launched last month.
Called Origin, leisure travelers use its app to plan their trips with the help of seven in-house travel agents — or “travel curators,” as the company calls it — whose services are complemented by learning Automatique.
Technology, said Eli Bressert, co-founder and CEO of Origin, “superpowers” humans. For example, it helps advisors remember nuanced preferences and only provides the necessary information, not the full customer profile.
The longer a traveler uses Origin, the better the technology gets to “know” them. Advisors then contextualize this information to plan trips.
“Machines have very fine focus, and humans have very broad focus,” Bressert said. “So this combination of the two really gives you the best of both worlds.”
It’s called “human machine learning in the loop,” according to Bressert. Machines make decisions but are assisted by humans whenever the answer is unclear. Every time a human gets involved, the technology gets smarter.
“On paper it sounds simple, but in practice, unless you’ve done it before, it’s really, really hard to understand,” Bressert said. “And that’s something I’ve already put in place, and I know exactly what we’re doing now.”
Bressert was an astrophysicist in Australia, studying star formation. He said he always enjoyed working on difficult problems and basically started automating his PhD work through coding. This led him to Silicon Valley, where he held positions at Stitch Fix, Netflix and Apple.
While at Apple working through issues with the Siri personal assistant, Bressert realized he didn’t have the time to invest in travel planning. He tried using a travel agency, and he was “disappointed”, he said. “Maybe I was wrong, but they just didn’t hit the mark for me, especially in the customization component, and the tech component was definitely missing.”
He wanted a program that offered human help when the user wanted it, and the ability to help themselves when they wanted. So in 2019 he founded Origin, and he spent 2020 creating simulated trips for people, getting feedback, and learning from the process. 2021 has been a year of growth, with Origin recently raising $5 million in funding.
“After omicron, I’m pretty optimistic that things are going to be very, very different from what they were in 2020 or 2021,” Bressert said.
Origin’s in-house team of agents has a collective resume filled with former workplaces like Backroads, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Abercrombie & Kent. They are supported by another group of employees who work on the technology side of the equation, supporting Origin’s consumer-facing app and its agent-facing technology.
Currently, Origin is an independent company and sources its travel product supply from a variety of locations. It works with destination management companies and books flights directly with an airline or API provider Duffel, for example. Bressert said the company is also looking for other sources of supply.
Others have implemented similar concepts in leisure travel, such as Lola, Kayak founder Paul English. This product moved into business travel, then payment technology and eventually was sold to Capital One.
But Bressert said he thinks his professional history and specialties — combined with co-founder Tamar van de Paal, who has held roles at Nextdoor and Google — would set Origin apart.
“As CEO,” Bressert said, “I’m as data-centric as I can get.”