UpLift brings marketplace lending to travel industry

A new company recently introduced by an entrepreneur with a history of blending travel and technology is offering a way for tourists to hit the road more often.

Through their flagship product Pay Monthly, UpLift allows customers to book vacations and make monthly payments at low interest rates, CEO Brian Barth said.

Mr. Barth described himself as a technologist at heart. While studying at MIT, he spent summers working in Silicon Valley.

CEO Brian Barth

CEO Brian Barth

“I fell in love with innovation,” Mr. Barth recalled.

In 1999 Mr. Barth founded SideStep, known as the “Traveler’s Search Engine”. The company invented, patented and commercialized travel meta-search. Within six years it had exceeded $1 billion in annual gross bookings from 600 airlines, 150,000 hotels and 30,000 car rental agencies before being sold to Kayak in 2007 for $200 million.

“Back then it was considered innovative to apply search to multiple inventory pools,” Mr. Barth said. “It seems obvious now.”

Crawling the web could take months in the early days, Mr. Barth explained, and with information like flight and room rates going stale fast, better solutions were required for a travel search engine to fulfill its potential.

“I wanted to build a real-time search engine and on the way I realized travel was interesting.”

After selling SideStep Mr. Barth was looking for an opportunity to work with some of his former partners and became intrigued with Lending Club’s model and its ability to efficiently move capital from the source to people who need it. He began considering how to apply a similar model to travel.

“Something was missing from the travel industry,” Mr. Barth explained. “Existing options were costly and weren’t helping travelers or sellers.”

Enter UpLift, which is already integrated with more than 200 travel partners, Mr. Barth said.

“With the focus on pay monthly, we are simply bringing the low cost of capital from marketplace financing and applying it o travel.”

Many people dream of going on a trip and even browse online before abandoning their plans before checkout, Mr. Barth said. With a pay monthly option shoppers see a palatable monthly total and more pack their bags.

“We turn more dreamers into buyers, while also increasing conversion rates and total transaction value,” Mr. Barth said.

upliftMany travelers will spend more when they see, for example, that an ocean view room will only cost them $15 per month more, Mr. Barth added. Insurance purchase rates double when it costs three or for dollars more per month.

While it has taken a lot of effort to develop UpLift’s back end, users will see a quick and seamless process, Mr. Barth said. Often it only takes one additional question because so much information is already captured during the normal booking process.

It is clear to see UpLift’s allure to travelers, but investors find it equally attractive, Mr. Barth said.

“For people who want to invest in marketplace lending we have an interesting proposition instead of investing in the Lending Clubs. These are shorter duration loans with the same yields as Lending Club but with less time and risk.”

Smaller average loan sizes also make it easier for institutional and accredited investors to diversify, Mr. Barth said while adding UpLift does not tranch loans.

“It’s a win-win. Investors get better risk-adjusted returns and we can provide good capital (to borrowers),” Mr. Barth said.